On 21 January 2019, Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe gathered at a side event organized by MPs Mr. Pieter Omtzigt (EPP/CD, Netherlands), Ms. Kerstin Lundgren (ALDE, Sweden) and Lord Anderson (SOC, UK). The side event was cohosted by the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) and Femmes for Freedom. Two courageous women from the Netherlands shared their unpleasant experience with Sharia law and ultimately their legal struggle to defend their human rights.
Pieter Omtzigt opened the panel by stating that “today, some groups of women are third class citizens within our society and that is unacceptable. Human rights are a set of universal values that should be protected regardless of what religious community a person lives in.”
Following Mr. Omtzigt’s introduction, Grégor Puppinck, Director of ECLJ, explained the problematic at hand: “We are looking at a structural incompatibility: two different systems of values and norms. It is important to protect the universal human rights. This is what the Council of Europe should consider when voting.”
Shirin Musa, director of Femmes for Freedom, pointed out that “Europe hasn’t only become a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society but also multi-legal one.” She furthermore stressed her disappointment in European politicians for not sufficiently listening to the voices and struggles of religious women in Europe and taking action to protect their rights: “Universal human rights also apply to Muslim women. We ask the Council of Europe to help us protect our rights by enforcing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By not doing so, Member States are letting the oppression continue.”
Finally, Yasmine, a Muslim woman who had lived through the nightmare of marital captivity and persecution due to strict application of sharia law concluded: “I am not the first woman and not the last women in such a situation. My story is that of many women and girls.”
After the different testimonies, MPs engaged in a vivid discussion, asking what could concretely be done to prevent human rights being violated in the face of such legal limbos.
On 22 January 2019, one day after the seminar, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted the resolution “Sharia, the Cairo Declaration and the European Convention on Human Rights.” Mr. Pieter Omtzigt’s amendments to defend freedom of expression and the right to marry were adopted. The resolution states that Sharia law contradicts human rights and calls on Albania, Azerbaijan and Turkey to consider withdrawing from the Cairo declaration. It calls on Greece to abolish the application of Sharia law in Western Thrace and United Kingdom to protect women from Sharia councils. The resolution calls on these countries to take actions and to report back to the Assembly by June 2020.