Thursday, June 7, 2007

Universal Human Rights as religious principle

Could have been written by a baha'i...but no...

"The example of the Baha'i faith is one way to discredit the idea that universal human rights are in fundamental conflict with the belief in a supreme being. Baha'is have actively used the tools of the United Nations to try to protect their followers from being persecuted for their beliefs. Bahai's have not only benefited from the machinery of human rights, but advocate universal human rights as a point of religious principle. The principle could be extended to other faiths. After all if you believe that a supreme being created the universe, then surely the universal cannot be in conflict with its creator?"

Found on The Guardian thanks to Marco...impressive!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

New blogs with legal insights

Two new(ly discovered) blogs of interest to lawyers (even if not only :-)):
with for example a very interesting post on Due process or another one about the Baha'i scope for political activism

about the situation in Egypt from a legal perspective.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Children as target in Iran

Below is an article taken from Baha'i World News Service on a very disturbing development . Incredibly, even children are not immune from the ever increasing harassment on Baha'is. But now the toll is on students who are in primary and secondary schools (ages 6-14 my guess) ; what is going on?? From a human rights perspective, this is astonishing, that children are faced with humiliating and degrading treatment.

Perhaps this is a sign that the Iranian authorities believe that their boundaries holds no limits, now even the young are targeted. Intense anger is the only emotion I can sense especially being the mother of two; one who will start elementary school this Fall. I cannot imagine the fear, restlessness, despair and worry that must face these parents and community of Baha'i s. And yet at the same time, I know that only hope, courage, patience and prayer can sustain them.

Any insight by human rights experts on this type of escalation in religious discrimination would be very insightful.


NEW YORK, 5 April 2007 (BWNS) -- Baha'i students in primary and secondary schools throughout Iran are increasingly being harassed, vilified, and held up to abuse, according to recent reports from inside the country.

During a 30-day period from mid-January to mid-February, some 150 incidents of insults, mistreatment, and even physical violence by school authorities against Baha'i students were reported as occurring in at least 10 Iranian cities.

"These new reports that the most vulnerable members of the Iranian Baha'i community -- children and junior youth -- are being harassed, degraded, and, in at least one case, blindfolded and beaten, is an extremely disturbing development," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"The increasing number of such incidents suggests a serious and shameful escalation in the ongoing persecution of Iranian Baha'is," said Ms. Dugal. "The fact that school-aged children are being targeted by those who should rightfully hold their trust -- teachers and school administrators -- only makes this latest trend even more ominous."

Ms. Dugal said the Baha'i International Community has been aware of scattered reports of abuse directed at schoolchildren but has only recently learned that young Baha'is are now widely being forced to identify their religion -- and are also being insulted, degraded, threatened with expulsion, and, in some cases, summarily dismissed from school.

"They are also being pressured to convert to Islam, required to endure slander of their faith by religious instructors, and being taught and tested on 'Iranian history' in authorized texts that denigrate, distort, and brazenly falsify their religious heritage," said Ms. Dugal. "They are also being repeatedly told that they are not to attempt to teach their religion."

According to Ms. Dugal, one Baha'i has reported that the school-age children of a relative in Kermanshah were called to the front of the classroom, where they were required to listen to insults against the Faith.

"Another student, accepted at an art institute, has been followed by the authorities and on three occasions seized, blindfolded, and beaten," said Ms. Dugal.

"While a few of these may be isolated attacks, the extent and nature of this reprehensible activity has led the Baha'is in Iran to conclude that this is an organized effort," said Ms. Dugal.

Of special concern, she added, was the fact that a high proportion of the attacks against high school students have been against girls.

"While the attacks reported to have taken place in elementary and middle schools were leveled evenly against boys and girls, those at the high school level targeted girls to a far greater degree: of 76 incidents, 68 were against Baha'i girls," said Ms. Dugal.

Ms. Dugal added that the ages of the children and junior youth affected are as follows: at the elementary school level, grades 1-5, students 6 to 11 years old; at the middle school level, grades 6-8, students 11 to 13 years old; and at the high school level, grades 9-12, students 14 to 17 years old.

The reports of attacks on innocent Baha'i schoolchildren come at a time when a growing number of older Baha'i students seeking to enter Iranian universities have been expelled after being identified as Baha'is.

So far this year, at least 94 college-age Baha'i students have been expelled from institutions of higher education. That figure is up from 70 as reported in late February.

Since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, the 300,000-member Iranian Baha'i community has faced ongoing and systematic persecution. In the early 1980s, more than 200 Baha'is were killed, hundreds were imprisoned, and thousands were deprived of jobs and education.

At the present time, more than 120 Baha'is are out on bail and awaiting trial on false charges, solely because of their religious beliefs and activities. Over the last year, as well, international human rights groups have expressed concern at the Iranian government's efforts to step-up their covert monitoring and identification of Baha'is.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Egyptian decision : an analysis (3/3)

Not to let the suspense be to intolerable, here's the last (but not least, and the longuest) post on this Decision.

In the two previous posts we saw that the first decision, even if better, was still far from granting real religious liberty in Egypt, that the Court accepted parts of the appeal on really fallacious arguments by a most probably biaised Government Commissioner, and that it had really no other choice than to dismiss all procedural arguments brought by the administration.

It has to be mentioned, that politically, reversing this decision only on procedural reasons would have been a bad idea from the stand point of the Court, as the case would probably (comparing with the French system again) have been sent back to a first instance court without any control over the material aspects of the new decision where as now lower Courts need to have a strong will and courage to fight against a Supreme Court ruling.

So the court went into a specific legal argumentation letting aside almost all material legal arguments raised by the appellant.

Material arguments

The material argumentation of the Court goes as follows…lawyers (and non lawyers), please sit down, such a legal nonsense it just unbelievable…

The order of the arguments is reorganized here for the sake of clarity. The decision follows the « historical » way (which makes it even less convincing). Unless otherwise mentioned, all the facts mentioned are taken from the text of the decision…

  • today, religious freedom is protected by Article 46 of the present constitution (since 1971 according to a rapid « googling ») which reads as follows: “the state guarantees the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites”. Fine, quite general, BUT…
  • exactly the same provision is to be found in the article 34 of the Constitution of 1964. Nice, what’s the point ? Just wait…
  • exactly the same provision is to be found in article 43 of the Constitution of 1958. Cool…so what ? Just wait…BECAUSE,
  • in article 43 of the Constitution of 1956 the said provision read as follows : “The freedom of belief is absolute and the state protects the freedom of the practicing of religious and belief rites in accordance with the customs observed on condition that they do not violate the public order and morals.” You begin to see the point. But it is not yet finished…
  • this provision was to be found initially in article 12 and 13 of the Constitution of 1923. From the « travaux préparatoires » and the wording of the provisions at this time, it appears that the protection of religious liberty was only to be granted to the three heavenly religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism).
Such a nice history…from the evolution (bottom-up in the bullet points), it appears that with the time the protection of religious liberty has increased. And the Court even acknowledges this.
« It is clear from the above that all Egyptian constitutions guaranteed the freedom of belief and the freedom of religious rites, as they constitute fundamental principles of all civilized countries. Every human being has the right to believe in the religion or belief that satisfies his conscience and pleases his soul. No authority has power over what he believes deep in his soul and conscience. »
This statement is really nice, could be read in France, the US or anywhere else...

But now it comes…rub your eyes, pinch yourself to be sure you’re not dreaming (it’s a legal nightmare), and read…
« As to the freedom of practicing religious rites, this has the limitations that were explicitly mentioned in previous constitutions and were omitted in the present constitution, i.e. the condition of respecting the public order and morals. »

« This omission does not mean the purposeful forfeiting of this stipulation and the permitting of the practice of religious rites even if they violate the public order and morals. The legislature considered that this stipulation is self-evident and a fundamental constitutional provision that must be observed without express mention. »
So, what the Court is basically saying is that, every one has the right to believe. But, in 1923, it appears from the discussions around the writing of the Constitution that only the three main religions had to be protected. In 1956, this discussion element is not any more to be found, only the condition of respecting public order and morals stayed in the text.

In 1958, this last condition was NOT taken again, which was confirmed in 1964 and in 1971.

BUT, this is was just an omission (three times in a row during 13 years…they have certainly slept all this time…) because it is self-evident and a fundamental constitutional provision…

A law student conducting such a legal interpretation would probably be given the worst possible mark ever in its whole life! Interpretating a 1971 provision in the light of discussions about a 1923 provision which is no longer worded in the same way and has been replaced four times of which three times without any limitation...It's simply unbelievable...

Now, the Court had to prove that the Baha’i Faith by its mere existence is not respecting public order and morals. Here we go for a festival:
  • "the Baha’i belief – as unanimously concluded by the Muslim “imams” as well as the rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court and the Supreme Administrative Court – is not among the recognized religions, whoever follows it from among the Muslims is considered apostate “Murtad""
Quite interesting !
  • "principles and tenets confirm this declaration by their variance with the principles of the Islamic religion as well as their contradiction to all the heavenly religions."
Obviously !
  • "They absolutely and totally forbid the Jihad that is provided for in the Islamic shari’ah, because they want people and nations to submit to their executioners without any resistance, in return for poetic and sweetened words calling for the establishment of a world government, which is the main purpose of the Baha’i movement. This is one of the secrets of their ties with the colonialists old and new, who embrace and protect them."
I think the « and new » may address the US…the “old” obviously Israël ;-)

Just to remember that when Baha’u’llah arrived in Haifa, it was Palestine and he arrived there after having been exiled by…Muslims!

I have the feeling not to have read the same baha'i writings as the Egyptian judges...
  • "Furthermore, they made up a “shari’ah” for themselves in accordance with their beliefs which forfeits the provisions of fasting…"
[I only selected kind of a “best-of”]
« For this reason, the legislator promulgated Law no. 263 of 1960 concerning the dissolution of all existing Baha’i Assemblies and centers in the country and forbade at the same time individuals, establishments or bodies to perform any of the activities that these Assemblies and centers used to perform. »

« This is the law that was brought before the Supreme Court under no. 7 of 2 J. C. on allegations of being unconstitutional, which case it was decided on 1st of March 1975 was unfounded and to be dismissed. This ruling is binding upon all the authorities of the state. »
At least one point which is legally speaking difficult to question. The Supreme Court ruled that way…
"In addition, that court also ruled that the said law does not violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10/12/1948 and which Egypt signed, because this declaration, despite its guarantee in Article 18 to give everyone the right to freedom of thought, expression and religion, [provides that] “this latter right should be understood within the limits of what is recognized i.e. what is meant by religion is one of the three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism”.
For the sake of remembrance article 18 of the mentionned declaration goes as follows…
« Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. »
Personally I read nothing in there to limit this right…
A purely legal point. Interestingly the Universal Declaration is invocable under Egyptian Law. French judges consider it as not self-executing and thus not invocable. They refer mainly to constitutionnal guarantees, the European Human Rights Convention and sometimes the International Covenants of 1966.
To come back to our subject, I would be delighted to discuss with Egyptian judges how they would explain to Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians…that they are not protected under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…what ever!

Concerning the baha’is, one could also wonder why a religion that is not protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is regularly mentioned by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council of the United Nations notably because of the situation in Iran (and maybe soon because of the situation in Egypt).

From all this, it follows, according to the Court, that the Baha’i Faith as such violated public order and morals.

Considering that the legal provisions regulating the information to be provided on official papers are considered part of the public order, “no data that conflict or disagree with it should be recorded in a country whose foundation and origin are based on Islamic shari’ah."

Thus…the claim of the baha’is asking for their religion to be mentioned on their official papers is unfounded.

Amazing how flawed this decision is. Under rule of law, the Government should bear the burden of proof whether or not a specific behavior threatens the public order. Nothing in the decision is said about the Government proving anything except invoking contradictions to Islam.

With respect to the material merits of the case, and except the obedience to a Supreme Court ruling, the legal argumentation is just a succession legal nonsense the justifications of which barely hide the deep motivations (contradictions with Islam, alleged support of “colonialist” powers).

No explanation on how these allegations (even if they were to be true), concerning a few thousands of baha’is (in a country of near to 79 millions) may trouble public order and morals without even be organized, and ignoring the fact that baha’is are obedient to their Government and thus did effectively dissolve all their administration…

A wonderful example of how you can state almost anything with the appearance of being legal…and a strong appeal to pay permanently attention not to enter similar bias ourselves.

This really illustrates the importance of the baha’i position not to mix up political and religious power, to keep the state administration separate from the religious administration.

The “New Legal World Order” baha’is are working for has safeguards against this kind of nonsense!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Egyptian decision : an analysis (2/3)

Before continuing an analysis of the Egyptian decision (to be found here) let's use the opportunity to wish a happy Naw-Ruz to all readers, hoping that this new year will see this blog continuing it's life with more contributors :-)

Brief recall : the previous post concentrated on the history of the case, and on a short comment on the first instance decision noting that it was better than nothing, but still not a real sign of religious liberty. Now we’re turning towards the actual decision.

Arguments raised to support the appeal

The first argument raised were procedural ones claming that the lower court « did not seek the state commissioners’ views after the admission of the altered requests of the defendants ».

Another similarity with the French proceedings. Under French administrative proceedings a claimant has to raise both what are called internal and external legality arguments. If he raises just one of both type, he will all the proceedings long be able to add new arguments to each category.

Typically the first category contains procedural arguments, the second one, material argument (violation of any relevant rule).

If he forgets to raise say an argument of internal legality in the beginning, he will never again be able to raise such an argument during the proceedings.

As a consequence, plaintiffs just file any such argument, even obviously not standing, just to be able later on the complete their claim if they find new arguments to claim for illegality.

The State Commissioner (Commissaire du Gouvernement) intervenes in the proceedings, but is in principle not a party (neither claimant nor defendant) to the proceedings, he is (in France at least) an independent judge who’s job is to make proposals to the Court as to how a specific case can be solved in law. He does not represent the State which is the other party (defendant) to the proceedings.

Here the argument was to say that the State Commissioner was not given a chance to react to the change of legal strategy by the claimants in the first instance (the baha’is).

Other material arguments raised were that the appealed judgment based it’s ruling under an abrogated law of civil status the new law taking into account the amendment to article 2 of the Constitution stating that « the principles of Islamic shari’a are the primary source of legislation ».

A last argument was to state that :
« the judgment under consideration ignored the unanimous view of the scholars (fuqaha) and the formal opinions (fatwa) issued by competent authorities concluding that the meaning of the freedom of belief is that the individual has the freedom to embrace his like of the fundamentals of any belief, under the condition that his embracing of such a belief does not imply interference with the public order of the state or its stability; [and thus also ignored that] Baha’ism is excluded from divine religions and that its practice infringes on the established order of the state, and therefore it should not be inscribed for children because this is against the public order. »
Interestingly, the Court did not answer all of these arguments, at least on the material assessment of the case the « legal » argumentation went to quite a different way.

The Judgment of the Court

Procedural arguments

As to the interest of the first (private) appellants requested for their appeal to be admitted, the court states that the interest of a private person in appealing the first instance decision is drawn from the fact that « such an act implies recognition of the Baha’i religion contrary to
the established opinions of scholars and to those opinions included in fatwas emanating from competent authorities, as well as to the provisions of the Constitution. »

Legally speaking, it is amazing that the contradiction of the judgment to the Constitution (which obviously under rule of law can justify an appeal) comes after established opinions of scholars and fatwas about the fact that the baha’i faith is not a religion.

In any case, as the Shari’a takes its legal legitimacy from the modified article 2 of the Constitution (see above) and not the other way around, at least legally speaking, this is a first legal clue for the bias in the reasoning of the Court.

It continues : « It is probable also that such an act may also have effect on him, [and] his family members, as a result of proselytizing activities that harmfully target the Muslim religion. »

No comment. For a religion in which any form of proselytism is forbidden, and which is anyway forbidden from being organized in Egypt, it seems that the little number of baha’is in Egypt are frightening the establishment. One may wonder why!

Too much of a bias would have been too evident, so the court had no other choice than to dismiss some of the claims (but only procedural ones) brought by the administration.

The administration argued there was no negative decision, and that the claimants (the baha’is), should have brought their plea to a civil status committee. The Court answers, that according to law, the refusal or desistance from making a decision is a negative decision, and that the said committee had no competence whatsoever over such matters, dismissing the claims of the administration. Taking another standpoint would have been legally allmost impossible!

Similarly, the Court stated that the first instance Court was under no obligation to seeking the State Commissioners’ view after the plaintiffs’ changed their position (see first post). If making a parallel with the French system again, this is quite normal as the State Commissioner is not a party as such in the proceedings and is thus not harmed by the fact that he could not answer new claims so long as the State representatives could answer.

So the appearance of independence is saved, now the real legal fun can begin…but this will be for the last (but not least…) post.

(to be continued…maybe tomorrow...)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Egyptian decision : an analysis (1/3)

This posts will deal with the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court ruling with deprived Egyptian baha'is from their basical citizen rights (i.e. having valing ID cards and birth certificates) because of the obligation to mention a religion (either Muslim, Christian or Jew) and the impossibility to indicate Baha'i instead. For further information.

The precise analysis of the decision of the Egyptian Supreme Court is quite interesting specially for a French lawyer as it appears that Egyptian public law and procedure was strongly inspired by the French one beginning with the name of the Court : State Council (Conseil d’Etat).

The complete text of the decision can be found here.

As the decision is quite long (10 pages) the analysis will be posted in three different posts, which is quite good as the most interesting will be the last one … ;-)

In short, the decision is an appeal of a lower court decision which obliged the Egyptian States to issue ID cards and birth certificates mentioning the religion of the bearer being baha’i. The Supreme Administrative Court reversed the judgment.

Two appeals were launched against the decision. The first one appears to be a private appeal, the second one governmental.

The structure of the decision is directly inspired of the structure and the writing style the French administrative Supreme Court gives its decisions. It begins with a synthesis of the previous proceedings, recalling the origin of the case, and the decision under scrutiny.

Arguments raised by the baha’is

From the history of the case, it seems to appear that the claimant changed their legal strategy during the course of the proceedings.

First, they argued that the fact for the administration to refuse to give them back their passports and ID cards after they requested for the names of their daughters to be added would violate the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Further, they apparently modified their claim to get the annulment of the negative decision about the refusal to issue them ID cards mentioning their religion as being « Baha’i » as well as the refusal to issue birth certificates for their daughters also mentioning the religion.

A negative decision, if inspired from the French system which really seems to be the case, exists when the administration fails to answer a request within a certain time frame (two months in France). If the administration does not grant the decision or the action asked for, this negative decision can be challenged before a court to verify whether the administration was under an obligation or not to take a decision or a specific action.

Obviously, the action asked for was to issue ID cards and birth certificates mentioning the religion as being baha’i. Not taking this action would violate the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was the claim.

Interestingly, and with a look on a later development, new arguments could now be drawn asking for the issuance of ID cards and birth certificates mentioning five dashes in places of any religion.

The decision under scrutiny

The previous court decision rescinded the negative decision stating that :
“existing authoritative reference books on Islamic jurisprudence indicate that Muslim lands have housed non-Muslims with their different beliefs; that they have lived in them like the others, without any of them being forced to change what they believe in; but that the open practice of religious rites was confined to only those recognized under Islamic rule. In the customs of the Muslims of Egypt this is limited to the peoples of the Book, that is Jews and Christians only.

The provisions of the shari’a [Islamic jurisprudence] require a disclosure that would allow to distinguish between the Muslim and non-Muslim in the exercise of social life, so as to establish the range of the rights and obligations reserved to Muslims that others cannot avail [themselves] of, for these [rights and obligations] are inconsistent with their beliefs.

Thus, the obligation prescribed by the Law of Civil Status no. 143 of 1994 concerning the issuance of an identity card to every Egyptian on which appears his name and religion and the same on birth certificates is a requirement of the Islamic shari’a.

It is not inconsistent with Islamic tenets to mention the religion on a person’s card even though it may be a religion whose rites are not recognized for open practice, such as Bahá’ism and the like.

On the contrary, these [religions] must be indicated so that the status of its bearer is known and so he cannot enjoy a legal status to which his belief does not entitle him in a Muslim society. It is not for the Civil Registry to refrain from issuing identity cards or birth certificates to the followers of Bahá’ísm, nor it is up to such Registry to leave out the mention of this religion on their identity cards.”
Quite interesting. If the result would have been factually positive, with respect to the effect (authorizing baha’is to have ID cards etc…) this would still not really have been what could be called a « positive » move with respect to the motivations.

As the Court states : The religion must be indicated so that the status of its bearer is known and so he cannot enjoy a legal status to which his belief does not entitle him in a Muslim society.

Quite a far way still towards true religious liberty. In another well known country for human rights defenders, baha’is are currently being registered, most probably not for noble purposes like giving them normal citizen rights for example.

To set the context again. Baha'is do not necessarily ask for the official recognition of the baha'i faith, they want to be treated as normal citizens and thus to get ID cards etc...not to be fired from their jobs, to get access to elementary public services etc...

No mention at all of the religion would be fine with the baha'is.

Anyway, this decision has been overturned…

(to be continued…)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Religious Plurality in Society : Some Thoughts Pertaining to Legal Policy

Abstract of the Young Legal Scholar Lecture given by Dr. Emanuel Towfigh

To continue the discussion on the topics that were adressed at the conference.
Following the very interesting discussions still going on, about loyalty to the Government and fighting for rights, this subject bears a lot of potential debates.

One of the most insistent smouldering conflicts in Western societies is associated with the increasing degree of religious plurality. At the turn of the millenium the subject of religious plurality became something of a vogue, with a great deal of attention being devoted to it by academics working in a wide range of disciplines.

Particular interest was roused by the intensifying conflict between the "enlightened" or "Western" world, on the one hand, and the "Islamic" world, on the other, especially in the sphere of (global) politics. Latent antagonism flare up with grim regularity, serving as a painful reminder of the unresolved conflict and preventing our societies from attaining real peace and stability.

The complex of the themes relating to plurality in society, to the state and religion, will undoubtely concern us for some time to come and our ability to secure social stability in the long term will very much depend on a satisfactory solution for this problem being found.

Against this background the presentation considered from a Baha'i perspective the question of how religious plurality in society should be dealt with - even though the Baha'is themselves have neither a clergy no special items of obligatory clothing such as a kippa or headscarf, and although they, as "exotic" but well-integrated individuals, very seldom give cause for worrying about how to deal with religious plurality.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Examples of why activism is a loyal act and current calls to action

A few days ago, I came across an article about Pakistan and the changing role of women in that society through a proposed law called the Anti-Women Practices Bill which was introduced into Parliament last week in Pakistan. For those who were not aware about this country's traditions or why this is so important, let me explain.

Certain areas of the country, whether a tribe, or small community, or family group, due to tradition and ignorance find it appropriate to force a woman to marry, or force her not to marry and marry her to a religion (literally Koran marriages actually happen to help prevent women claiming inherited property). They can even force her to marry to settle a feud.

I am not sure about you, but if my entire life, future and old age would have to be spent with a guy I hardly knew due to a feud in my neighborhood; I would go ballistic...

In recent years, there has been a push both culturally and politically (by some, not all) to move ahead the clock on these traditions, and to create a legal right of equality that never existed before in this young country (partitioned from India since 1947).

With a country that has the 6th largest world population of about 166+ Million people in an area almost twice the size of California, the masses are clearly getting a dose of new policy. This is important especially since 48% (based on the CIA at least) are deemed literate which means over 50% are not. Until those folks are educated, many of the people in the country side and villages lives a life of tradition, recounting oral history and guided by their neighbor on what morality, values and traditions to follow.

This law would outlaw forced marriages against women, whether by force through tribal custom or otherwise. The penalty is three years--to seven years depending on the offense. If a husband for example raises charges of infidelity and loses, he could face charges of slander and the woman could seek a divorce action. If this law passes, and can stand the muster of the traditionalists, it may offer women a voice, a strong hand and acknowledgement that their choice actually means something.

The hope that I have is that although the law could initiate and codify these important essential human rights, the people who enforce it, the families that hear about it, the women that find empowerment still have to bring this law into reality and make a lasting mark on day to day life in Pakistan... for everyone. Then can a women stop being forced into marriage and a life long journey she never chose.

Now as a Bahá'í, I would have to say that as the case of Sweatt v Painter; or even the recent case of the Bahá'ís in Egypt demonstrates (see blog entry 26 Dec 2006), we should not take things lightly especially on topics of equality, oppression and segregation. As important as it is to preserve the rights of women, or earlier rights to education to all races, the rights of human beings should be protected. Moreover, even though the law itself may not actually dramatically change the culture (as it was the case in the US until the last few decades), causing an outcry (albeit civilized and through legal means) may be a necessary part of our duty to be loyal to our government.

I would argue that at times, Bahá'ís should engage in the processes available to them whether by court or tapping the resources available to them as a country person (from US: letters to Congressmen etc.) and question the basis for laws, rules or customs that are outdated, or harmful to our understanding of humanity as a whole. This is not civil disobedience, but instead a necessary duty as a loyal citizen of that country.

If there is not a current law, action or rule that may excite you as an individual to be brought to a call to action, we have a unique way to engage in a new type of activism, through grass roots initiative and engaging in individual initiative.

Looking at the current guidance of the Universal House of Justice, each Bahá'í is called upon to make a difference and to shift the paradigm in which we live:

"No where has the rise in individual initiative been more clearly demonstrated in the field of teachinng[...] Equipped with skills and methods, effective and accessible to all, and encouraged by the response their actions elicit (i.e. firesides, study circles, children classes), the believers are entering into closer association with people of many walks of life, engaging them in earnest conversation on themes of spiritual import."-Universal House of Justice letter 27 December 2005.

Taking that to heart, the best medicine for human kind is a spiritual transformation of the heart; and with more of us on the grass roots level engaging in our core activities, our one on ones etc. the local activism we engage in will make life-transforming impact.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Loyalty to Government and fight for respect of rights

Read on the american baha'i website

The US Supreme Court ruled out the principle "separate but equal" in a famous Brown v. Board of Education case.

But this decision Sweatt v. Painter contributed to pave the way for this major evolution.

The story of Heman Marion Sweatt, an afro-american baha'i law student who got the authorization to enter a white only university illustrate a limit to the principle of loyalty to the government.

Baha'is are loyal to their government and respect legal rules, but they are entitled to fight for their rights in all legal manners.

This is in substance also the recommendation of the Universal House of Justice to Egyptian baha'is who are still denied the basic rights of citizenship (for a regular update).

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Towards an "Equal Standard of Human Rights" : Reforming Legal Safeguards of Human Rights in Light of the Baha'i Teachings

Just before publishing the next abstract trying to start make this blog living...a question :
is there anyone out there reading and thinking about commenting one day? ;-)
Abstract of the lecture given by Prof. Brian Lepard

To continue the discussion on the topics that were adressed at the conference

Baha'u'llah taught, nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, that by agreement of the leaders of the world, an "equal standard of human rights must be recognized and adopted."
In 1948, the UN Declaration of Human Rights purported to establish such a global standard, but on the basis of secular principles. The presentation explored and articulated a Baha'i perspective on necessary legal safeguards of human rights, examining the revolutionizing character of Baha'u'llah's teachings on human rights and how they can help reform and vitalize the emerging international law of human rights anchored in the Universal Declaration.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

How corporate misdeeds lead to strengthened principles of ethics, justice and transparency in corporations

Abstract of the lecture given by Nishat Ruiter

To continue the discussion on the topics that were adressed
at the 10th European Baha'i Conference on law

The lecture explored how various companies have undergone massive changes in their legal and compliance departments due to increase compliance, the rise of corporate crimes, and changing culture in corporate management. As a result, the role of the in house counsel has substantially evolved from a legal advisor to a business partner and on-demand counsellor for strategies, business growth and direction. As legal departments navigate through murky waters of compliance, ethics and profitability, principles of ethics, justice and transparency gain higher ground in the way corporations conduct business.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Religious Liberty under Siege in an Intolerant World : A Baha'i Perspective on the Role of Law in Protecting Freedom of Religion

Abstract of the lecture given by Prof. Brian Lepard
at the 10th European Baha'i Conference on law
Every day millions of human beings are deprived of the right to practice their religion freely; indeed, many are tortured or killed in an effort to extinguish their religious freedoms. It seems that around the world intolerance of religious freedom is relentlessly growing, despite the adoption of many laws, both national and international, purporting to safeguard this essential liberty.

The presentation examined the role of law in protecting religious freedom. It first examined the various historical and contemporary perspectives on the nature of religious freedom and on the kind of legal safeguards appropriated to ensure it. Then it outlined the Baha'i approach to this problem based on principles manifest in the Baha'i writings, an approach that can help to integrate these competing perspectives, but also transcends them. Finally, the paper suggested implications of a Baha'i point of view for the reform of domestic and international legal standards and procedures intended to uphold freedom of religion.

Friday, January 5, 2007

What is Human about Human Rights?

This topic will be adressed by Dr Wendi Momen on the 24th of January in London.

The event is organized by the Bahá'í Law and Human Rights Network.

Thanks to Rod who transmitted the information sent out by Payam.

Logistics :

Topic: What is Human about Human Rights?
Speaker: Dr Wendi Momen
Date: 24 January 2007
Time: 7:00pm for 7:30pm start
Location: 27 Hampstead Hill Gardens, London NW3 2PJ (nearest tube Belsize Park on Northern Line)

Details are the following :

Dr Momen holds a BSc in Economics and a Ph.D. in International Relations, both from the London School of Economics. She served as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom for over 20 years. She is a freelance editor working for a number of publishing companies, particularly George Ronald of Oxford.

Dr Momen has been a Justice of the Peace since 1982 and was chair of the Equal Opportunities Advisory Forum to Bedfordshire County Council from 1991 to 1998. She is a founder member of the European Bahá'í Business Forum. She is chairman of the One World Trust and a Trustee of the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Derby and a Non-Executive Director of Bedfordshire Heartlands PCT.

Dr Momen has been very active in the field of the rights of women and will be participating in the 51st session of the UN Commission of the Status of Women meeting in this year.

The talk will be followed by conversation, music and food.

The event is open to anyone with an interest in law, human rights and related fields and provides a great opportunity for each of us to bring friends, colleagues and contacts.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Unfurling the Divine Banner Of Justice : The Search For World Order

Abstract of the Dr. Aziz Navidi Memorial Lecture
given by Mr. Kiser Barnes

After having seen the fotos, let's discuss the different topics we spoke of
at the 10th European Baha'i Conference on law:
feel free to comment to have this blog really starting !

The presentation examined some characteristics of the Baha'i approach to world order. It recognized that humanity's quest for the promised reconciliation of nations and global peace goes back to the promises in holy scriptures. From the Baha'i perspective, religion is indispensable for a new universal ordering of individual as well as international relations. Understanding of the Faith's position on the relationnal concepts of order and justice can invigorate the search. For the source, direction and purpose of Baha'u'llah's World Order foster recognition of the planet's common humanity, the purpose of justice, law, and such practical ideals of governance as world federalism and collective security, which support a rising order of stable relationships and structures between nations and peoples.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Letter by Universal House of Justice to Bahá'ís of Egypt

The letter issued on December 21, 2006 is an inspiring example of how the Universal House of Justice guides, inspires and reveals the way to navigate the injustices of the world today. Most specifically, with regard how the Egyptian Bahá'ís should deal with the recent ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court in Cairo that ruled against a lower court that permitted Baha'i to obtain identification cards (a common right to which all native born Egyptians are entitled).

It calls for the Bahá'ís to continue to "...stand firm, persevere in your effort to win affirmation of this right. " Further, it examines how the arguments presented by the Judge missed the essence of the argument presented. Although the Egyptian constitution recognizes three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the Bahá'ís are only asking that they are not forced to lie or deny their Faith on the national ID card, a basic civil right of its citizens.

"The ruling was unreasonable not only because it is contrary to prescriptions set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory, but more especially because the sacred scriptures of Islam extol tolerance as a precept of social stability."

Despite this setback, the Universal House of Justice inspires the community to reflect on how this action of the high court should be gleaned as a higher purpose and meaning. Quoting Bahá'u'lláh, they first describe the current state of justice in this time:

" 'Justice is, in this day, bewailing its plight, and Equity groaneth beneath the yoke of oppression. The thick clouds of tyranny have darkened the face of the earth, and enveloped its peoples.' "

Yet they continue to explain how this also precipitates a overall shift in the world:

"So grave a situation exists at a time of unprecedented change: opposite processes of chaos and of order interact in a spiral of turbulence that signals a transition in the spiritual and social agenda of the world as a whole. [...] Hence, you [Bahá'ís of Egypt] appreciate the global connotations of instances of oppression at home or abroad and accept the responsibility of striving, guided by the principles of the Faith and in collaboration with others whenever possible, to combat injustice, for the common good." (emphasis added)

When issues of injustice confront people as a whole, in part or in a family unit, it is essential to find a constructive way, a peaceful means and persevere towards a solution. In this case, the Bahá'í's are asked not to give up, nor to tear down the obstructions of justice, but instead to work, collaborate with other and to have faith that there lies a deeper sense of purpose in their overall plight. It is significant that in this day especially, when so many calls of injustice can be raised for the silent ones, the underprivelged and the oppressed.

May the friends in Egypt have strength, patience and courage to continue...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Review of the 10th European Baha'i Conference on Law

From the 14th to the 17th of December, 30 to 40 legal professionnals, students and other professionnals (psychologist, dentists...), baha'is or not, coming from various countries such as Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, UK, USA, Romania, Switzerland, The Netherlands, met in De Poort (The Netherlands) for the 10th European Baha'i Conference on Law.

Here are some snapshots of the whole week-end before starting discussing on this blog the conference topics and all other topics that may arise in our minds.

Thank you Kamran for the fotos. More fotos here...i'm gonna update the post later on.

To begin, a foto of the official launch of New Legal World Order in De Poort !

We will, later on, publish all the abstracts of the conferences one by one to start discussions about these conferences.

Enjoy, and thank you all!
  • Thursday Evening
Opening by Shirin Milani-Ansinger

  • Friday
Dr. Aziz Navidi Memorial Lecture, Unfurling the divine banner of justice : The Search for world order, by Kiser Barnes

Religious liberty under siege by Professor Brian Lepard

How corporate misdeeds lead to strengthened principles of ethics, justice and transparency in corporations by Nishat Ruiter

Introduction to Workshops by Professor Dr. Bert Kersten

Not introducing here, but couldn't find an other foto :-)

EBCOL 2006 Paper Award

"Talent Show"

  • Saturday
Young legal scholar lecture, Religious plurality in society : some thoughts pertaining to legal policy by Dr. Emanuel Towfigh

Towards an Equal standard of human rights : Reforming legal safeguards of human rights in light of the baha'i teachings by Professor Brian Lepard

The new world order by Dr. Tajan Tober

Panel discussion (Professor Brian Lepard, Dr. Tajan Tober, Nishat Ruiter)

  • Sunday
The situation of the baha'is in Iran by Diane Ala'i

Injustices against Baha'u'llah and the evolution of international criminal justice by Kiser Barnes
  • Group picture of the conference

  • Our dear organizers with Mr. Barnes
  • Participants

Friday, December 22, 2006

Baha'is in Egypt : France 24 (french CNN) airs

Just learned that tonight, after the news report at 6:30 pm (Paris Time - 3 hours from now), France 24 (the new french international newschannel) will air a report on the situation in Egypt followed by an interview by Brenda Abrar (spokesperson for the french baha'i community).

Both the report and the interview will be aired in french AND english (depending on the channels).

France 24 aired in over 90 countries, just click here to get information whether or not you can get it.

The officiel french baha'i site reports the media consequences of the matter.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A new human rights covenant concentrating on religious freedom?

Professor Brian Lepard spoke of it in De Poort, here's the news from the Baha'i World News Service about the commemoration in Prague of the 25th anniversary of the 1981 UN Declaration on Religious Tolerance.
Excerpt of the BWNS article
Some 350 participants representing more than 60 governments, UN agencies, and various international non-governmental organizations -- including the Baha'i International Community -- gathered on 25 November 2006 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
On the same day we also learn, that the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing "serious concern" over the human rights situation in Iran, including the escalation of violations against Iranian Baha'is.
Excerpt of BWNS article
Put forward by Canada and co-sponsored by 43 countries, the resolution calls on Iran to "eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination based on religious, ethnic or linguistic grounds, and other human rights violations against persons belonging to minorities, including Arabs, Azeris, Baha'is, Baluchis, Kurds, Christians, Jews, Sufis, and Sunni Muslims."

The resolution takes particular note of the worsening situation facing Iran's 300,000-member Baha'i community, noting "reports of plans by the state to identify and monitor Baha'is," "an increase in cases of arbitrary arrest and detention," and "the denial of freedom of religion or of publicly carrying out communal affairs."
An occasion to continue the discussion started in De Poort on the opportunity to have a new human right covenant concentrating on religious freedom to reinforce the 1981 statement and give those principles binding force.

Dignity, a limit to liberty?

Read interesting quotes, whilst waiting for the fotos of the 10th European Baha'i Conference in Law!

Quite amazing that, if one looks precisely, our national legal systems and the baha'i legal system have some common features.

Consider the pettiness of men’s minds. They ask for that which injureth them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them. (Kitab-i-Aqdas, v. 122).

Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness (Kitab-i-Aqdas, v. 123).

We approve of liberty in certain circumstances, and refuse to sanction it in others (Kitab-i-Aqdas, v. 124).

Liberty has to be limited because of the use man can make of it. In french law at least, it's exactly the same under some circumstances.

For instance, in the case know in France as "le lancer de nain" or in Germany as "Zwergweitwurf" (could maybe be translated as "the flying dwarf") kind of an very intelligent game in wich little persons agreed (to make their living) to be thrown through the air as far as possible by clients paying for it, the french Supreme Administrative Court hold on the 27th of october 1995 in a case Commune de Morsang-sur-Orge, that such a game violated the human dignity of the "flying dwarf" even if he consented.

Could be an interesting area of research to try to find clues about which would be the standard under baha'i law !

Baha'u'llah tells us :
Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men (Kitab-i-Aqdas, v. 99).

Say: True liberty consisteth in man’s submission unto My commandments, little as ye know it (Kitab-i-Aqdas, v. 125).
A problem posed by the human dignity in Europe is to define when it begins. For example in a very recent ruling Vincent v. France on the 24th of October 2006, the European Court for Human Rights ruled that France had violated the human dignity of a prisoner (Mr. Vincent) by not providing for him the possibility to leave his zell alone because his weelchair could not get through the doors.

In this case, other ways could have been found to find a violation by France of it's obligations towards the prisonner.

Isn't there a risk of creating kind of relativeness of human dignity, when it should stay an absolute value on which our systems are based?

For french readers, there's an analysis of the ECHR ruling on this blog.