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Iraq draft constitution fails to protect religious, human rights, USCIRF says

WASHINGTON (BP)–Drafts of Iraq’s permanent constitution are a retreat from the religious and human rights protections in its transitional charter, the United States Commission on International Freedom has noted.

The draft constitution, which Iraqi legislators are scheduled to complete Aug. 15, fails to mention freedom of religion and does not guarantee freedom of conscience, the nonpartisan panel said. In its current form, the charter also restricts women’s rights and Iraq’s human rights responsibilities to those issues that do not conflict with Islamic law, according to the USCIRF.

“If these drafts become law, Iraq’s new democracy risks being crippled from the outset,” USCIRF Chairman Michael Cromartie said July 26 in a letter to Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq. “Fundamental rights of the individual to debate and dissent from state-imposed religious orthodoxies would be curtailed, and the threat of discrimination would hang over all Iraqis, including members of religious minorities, non-religious individuals and women.

“The principle that Islam can coexist with guarantees protecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion must form the centerpiece of U.S. engagement on Iraq’s permanent constitution,” Cromartie said. “Constitutional protection of equality and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief is not ‘un-Islamic.’”

The United States should quickly discuss these issues with the Iraqis, Cromartie wrote. The U.S. government, he said, should urge Iraq to abide by the human rights obligations it has agreed to in international treaties, encourage the constitutional drafting committee to talk to experts on human rights and call on the Iraqi government to seek insight from ethnic and religious minorities, such as the Christian Chaldo-Assyrians.

The drafting committee for Iraq’s constitution acknowledged July 27 that Islam would play a major role in the new charter. While the interim constitution portrays Islam as a major origin of Iraqi law, drafters of the permanent constitution are considering labeling Islam as the sole principal source of legislation, according to The Washington Post.

The committee agrees no law will contradict Islam, members said, The Post reported. A panelist also told reporters an as yet unformed constitutional court will determine if laws conflict with the religion, according to The Post.

Iraqi citizens are to vote on the constitution in October.

The USCIRF, which is a nonpartisan panel appointed by the president and members of Congress, researches the status of religious liberty in other countries and provides reports and recommendations to the White House and legislators.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, rejoined the USCIRF July 26. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist appointed Land to the panel. Land had served from 2001 to 2004 as an appointee of President Bush.

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