Letter: Iraqi constitution must not erode women's rights

Letter to the Chair of the Constitutional Drafting Committee

Mr. Humam Hamoudi
Chair of the Constitutional Drafting Committee

Mr. Hamoudi:

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned by recent reports that provisions of the constitution currently being drafted may erode some of the rights Iraqi women have worked so hard to establish, and in fact may violate international law on women's human rights. We write to urge you and the members of the committee to ensure that the draft constitution due to be finalized in the coming weeks respects and upholds the full range of women's human rights consistent with Iraq's international obligations.

The draft constitution of Iraq should contain explicit guarantees of women's equal legal status in all matters relating to civil, family and penal law. Given concerning trends throughout the region, the constitution should include: women's equal rights to marry, within marriage, and at its dissolution; to inherit on an equal basis with men; to acquire and pass citizenship to their children if they marry foreigners; and to equally participate in the political and public life of the country.

The constitution should include these essential guarantees and create institutions that will ensure that they are enforced. As a party to the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Iraq is obliged to promote all these rights and more.

While it seems clear that an equal-protection clause (granting all Iraqi citizens the equal protection of the law) will be included in the final draft of the constitution, it is crucial that this be explicitly stated. Without specific assurances of women's equal rights in key areas, equal-protection clauses could prove to be no more than hollow promises. Regrettably, throughout the Middle East and North Africa region, laws have often conferred on women an inferior standing before the law, despite equal-protection clauses in constitutions. The drafting committee should learn from these lessons and ensure that the Iraqi Constitution marks a new era in the legal protection of women's human rights in the country and in the region.

Regardless of whether it is rooted in religious or secular law, the new Iraqi permanent constitution should be based on equality, in line with Iraq's international obligations. There should be no compromising of women's rights for political gain.


Janet Walsh
Acting Director
Women's Rights Division


Human Rights Watch
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