MADRE Articles

US-Appointed Council Abolishes Rights of Iraqi Women: MADRE Supports International Campaign to Repeal Resolution 137

Posted on: Friday, January 30, 2004

Keywords: Iraq

January 30, 2004 - New York.  MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, opposes the imposition of Islamic law on the people of Iraq by the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Under IGC Resolution 137, issued on December 29, 2003, arbitrary interpretations of religious law threaten to replace one of the Middle East’s most progressive personal status laws. The Resolution gravely threatens women’s rights, undermines prospects for democracy and foments a dangerous sectarianism in an already destabilized society.

Resolution 137 could give self-appointed religious clerics the authority to inflict grave human rights violations on Iraqi women, including denial of the rights to education, employment, freedom of movement and travel, property inheritance and custody of their children. Forced early marriage, polygamy, compulsory religious dress, wife beating,  execution by stoning as punishment for female adultery and public flogging of women for disobeying religious rules could all be sanctioned if the Resolution is upheld.

The Resolution would replace Iraq’s 1959 personal status laws with religious law. These laws are the culmination of 50 years of struggle by the Iraqi women’s movement and other progressives, and are not a product of Saddam Hussein’s regime. While the 1959 laws were applied universally to all Iraqis, the new law would be administered by un-elected clerics from each of Iraq’s multiple religious groups for members of their own communities. Tensions between Islamic groups with differing rules about personal status issues are sure to be exacerbated. The resulting civil strife will further endanger Iraqis and facilitate a “divide and rule” strategy for the new US-dominated government.

Iraq, which was overwhelmingly secular until its social fabric was destroyed by the US-led economic siege of the 1990s, is being catapulted towards theocratic rule. The US bears direct responsibility for the ensuing human rights crisis. Under Paul Bremer’s leadership, the US appointed reactionary clerics to the IGC, virtually guaranteeing this attack on Iraqi women and the threat to democratic secularism.  Moreover, as an interim body directly installed by the US Occupation Authority, the IGC has no legitimate power to change Iraqi civil law. Under the 1907 Hague Conventions, the IGC is empowered only to address issues of public order and safety.*

As MADRE Associate Director Yifat Susskind commented, “In less than 15 minutes of discussion, the IGC – none of whose members were elected by Iraqis – passed Resolution 137, effectively abolishing women’s legal rights in ‘liberated’ Iraq. Under the direct authority of the Bush Administration, the IGC has privileged sectarianism over inclusiveness and violated core principles of democratic governance: transparency, accountability, the independence of the judiciary and the separation of the legislative and executive bodies. Iraqi women are organizing against this US-imposed cancellation of their human rights and MADRE is supporting their call.”

MADRE emphasizes that:  

  • Iraqi women and their families will only be able to exercise the full range of human rights when Iraq is free from war, economic exploitation and military occupation.
  • An immediate end to the US military occupation of Iraq is necessary. A US-funded, UN-led peacekeeping force should assume authority during a speedy transition to Iraqi sovereignty.
  • Nurturing democracy in Iraq requires defending the leadership of progressive forces inside Iraq, particularly the Iraqi women’s movement. Genuine democracy will mean that the Iraqi people, not US-based corporations, control and benefit from Iraq’s resources, reconstruction process and future economic policies.

*Resolution 137 also violates Iraq’s international legal obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (ratified by Iraq in 1986) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by Iraq in 1994).

 MADRE supports the call of our sister organizations, including the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and Women Living Under Muslim Laws, for an immediate repeal of Resolution 137.
We ask you to send a version of the following letter to the US Occupying Authority, and to CC it to your local media and to MADRE.
Sample Letter (drafted by Women Living Under Muslim Laws):

To Mr. Paul Bremer
Chief US Administrator

Dear Mr. Bremer,

We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the Iraqi Governing Council's proposed 'Resolution 137', dated 29 December 2003, that seeks to introduce the implementation of Sharia and the cancellation of all laws deemed incompatible with this decision.

We fear that this decision threatens the 1959 Iraqi Law of Personal Status which has long been considered one of the most progressive family laws in the Middle East. It was achieved through the struggle of the Iraqi people for much of the past century.

We support Iraqi women's protests against 'Resolution 137'. We strongly agree with their analysis that it will have negative effects on Iraqi society and will mean withdrawing rights that have been guaranteed to Iraqi women for many decades. Inequality in the family obstructs national development.

'Resolution 137' would mean the introduction of separate provisions and rules for each of the various sects in Iraq and will thus threaten the fabric of Iraqi civil society. The decision establishes sectarianism as an organizing principle of social and political life in Iraq and will deeply damage the cause of national integration. Moreover, it will introduce legal chaos as there are differences even within the various sects regarding interpretations of Muslim laws.

The passing of the 'Resolution' by the IGC lacks transparency and is not part of any democratic or consultative process. It was done without public debate and a process of consulting experts in social and legal matters or women's organisations. We also understand that only a minority of the Council was present. Iraqi women have raised their voice against this IGC 'Resolution' and demanded their full participation in a future Iraqi Government.

We draw your attention to the obligations of an occupying authority, under Article 43 of Convention IV of the 1907 Hague Conventions, to respect the laws in force in an occupied country and to restore public order and safety and respect existing laws in force.

Any change in Iraqi personal status laws must be carried out by a democratically elected body, which includes the genuine and equal participation of women, and after a proper process of national consultation.

Finally we would like to make it absolutely clear that Iraqi women can never be free unless their society is free from continuing war and occupation.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.
Yours Sincerely...




Paul Bremer
Chief US Administrator
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Choose 'Foreign Policy Opinions' via online form at

Ms. Condoleezza Rice
National Security Advisor
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Fax: +1 202 456 2461

Please CC to your local media and to MADRE at

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