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Council of Europe requests abolition of the application of sharia in Thrace
3. The Assembly also recalls that it has on several occasions underlined its support for the principle of the separation of State and religion as one of the pillars of a democratic society, for instance in its Recommendation 1804 (2007) on State, religion, secularity and human rights. This principle should continue to be respected.
4. The Assembly considers that the various Islamic declarations on human rights, adopted since the 1980s, while being more religious than legal, fail to reconcile Islam with universal human rights, especially insofar as Sharia is their unique source of reference. This includes the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which, while not legally binding, has symbolic value and political significance in terms of human rights policy under Islam. It is therefore of great concern that three Council of Europe member States – Albania, Azerbaijan and Turkey (for the latter, with the limitation: “so far as it is compatible with its laws and its commitments under international conventions”) – have endorsed, explicitly or implicitly, the 1990 Cairo Declaration, as have Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco and Palestine, whose parliaments enjoy partner for democracy status with the Assembly.
5. The Assembly is also greatly concerned about the fact that Sharia law – including provisions which are in clear contradiction with the Convention – is applied, either officially or unofficially, in several Council of Europe member States, or parts thereof.
6. The Assembly recalls that the European Court of Human Rights has already stated in Refah Partisi (The Welfare Party) and others v. Turkey that the institution of Sharia law and a theocratic regime are incompatible with the requirements of a democratic society. The Assembly fully agrees that Sharia rules on, for example, divorce and inheritance proceedings are clearly incompatible with the Convention, in particular its Article 14, which prohibits discrimination on grounds such as sex or religion, and Article 5 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention (ETS No. 117), which establishes equality between marital partners. Sharia law is also in contradiction with other provisions of the Convention and its additional protocols, including Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 6 (right to a fair trial), Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), Article 10 (freedom of expression), Article 12 (right to marry), Article 1 of the Protocol to the Convention (ETS No. 9) (protection of property) and Protocols Nos. 6 (ETS No. 114) and 13 (ETS No. 187) abolishing the death penalty.
7. In this context, the Assembly regrets that despite the recommendation it made in its Resolution 1704 (2010) on freedom of religion and other human rights for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and for the Muslim minority in Thrace (eastern Greece), asking the Greek authorities to abolish the application of Sharia law in Thrace, this is still not the case. Muftis continue to act in a judicial capacity without proper procedural safeguards. The Assembly denounces in particular the fact that in divorce and inheritance proceedings – two key areas over which muftis have jurisdiction – women are at a distinct disadvantage.
8. The Assembly is also concerned about the “judicial” activities of “Sharia councils” in the United Kingdom. Although they are not considered part of the British legal system, Sharia councils attempt to provide a form of alternative dispute resolution, whereby members of the Muslim community, sometimes voluntarily, often under considerable social pressure, accept their religious jurisdiction mainly in marital issues and Islamic divorce proceedings but also in matters relating to inheritance and Islamic commercial contracts. The Assembly is concerned that the rulings of the Sharia councils clearly discriminate against women in divorce and inheritance cases. The Assembly is aware that informal Islamic courts may also exist in other Council of Europe member States.
9. The Assembly calls on the member States of the Council of Europe to protect human rights regardless of religious or cultural practices or traditions on the principle that, where human rights are concerned, there is no room for religious or cultural exceptions.
10. The Assembly notes with approval the 2008 judgment of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords addressing these principles.
18.5. allow the Muslim minority to choose freely its muftis as mere religious leaders (that is, without judicial powers), through election or appointment, and thus to abolish the application of Sharia law – which raises serious questions of compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights – as recommended by the Commissioner for Human Rights;
A copy of this resolution can be download here: PACE Resolution 1704 - abolish application of sharia in Thrace