Jamil Dakwar

  • May 25, 2011

    State lawmakers pushing measures to prohibit courts from citing religious or international laws in controversies before them are fueling anti-Muslim fervor and revealing great disdain for the U.S. Constitution, write Daniel Mach and Jamil Dakwar in an article for Religion News Service (RNS).

    Mach, director of the ACLU’s program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, note that Oklahoma is not the only state that is trying to constrain courts’ ability to do their jobs. It may be one of the worst, however. The state’s constitutional amendment barring judges from citing Islamic, or Shariah, law and international law in their opinions has been temporarily block by a federal court, the two note.

    Mach and Dakwar write:

    The Oklahoma law, and others like it, contains prohibitions on “international law” and foreign law,” nonsensically conflating Shariah with foreign law. Other states, preferring not to wear their bigotry on their sleeves, don’t mention Shariah law per se, instead referring only to bans on “international law.” There intent, however, is unmistakable.

    In addition to the ugly implication that anything Islamic is inherently un-American, these efforts are rooted in baseless idea that U.S. Muslims wish to impose Islamic law on American courts. Proponents of these misguided measures, which have been introduced in a 25 states so far, clearly seek to ride the recent wave of anti-Muslim bias in this country.

    The two point out, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that “the domestic law of the United States recognizes law of nations.” They continue, “Legislation that forbids courts from considering international or foreign law raise serious questions about the separation of powers and the independence of courts and judges.”

    They conclude in their article, “If supporters of these measures genuinely wish to protect the Constitution, they would do well to trust the framers’ respect for international law and religious freedom – and not trade away our most precious values for political advantage.”

    Also see a recent report from the ACLU called, "Noting to Fear: Debunking the Mythical 'Sharia Threat' to Our Judicial System."

    Earlier this year, Northeastern University School of Law Professor Martha F. Davis and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Assistant Professor Johanna Kalb examined the impact of such state efforts in an ACS Issue Brief. In a guest post for ACSblog, Davis observed, “Since citations of Shariah law and international law are hardy rampant in state courts – indeed, no Oklahoma court has ever relied on Shariah law – legislators pursuing these measures are either deliberately wasting valuable legislative time or they have some other purpose.”

    The ACS Issue Brief, “Oklahoma State Question 755 and an Analysis of Anti-International Law Initiatives,” is available here.

  • May 5, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program (HRP), and Cristina Finch, managing director of Government Relations for Amnesty International USA

    Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

    In a recent speech to the American Society of International Law (ASIL) the legal advisor to the State Department, Harold Koh, stressed the "most important difference" between the Obama and the Bush administrations is their "approach and attitude toward international law." Koh said this difference is illustrated by an emerging "Obama-Clinton Doctrine," based on a commitment to four main principles: "principled engagement; diplomacy as a critical element of smart power; strategic multilateralism; and the notion that living our values makes us stronger and safer, by following rules of domestic and international law; and following universal standards, not double standards."

    The commitments to "principled engagement" and "living our values" are especially vital to advancing human rights. For years, U.S. leadership on the world stage has suffered because the U.S. seems to hold a double standard on human rights. Historically, notions of U.S. exceptionalism and selectively ignoring injustices and human rights violations at home and abroad have bred mistrust of U.S. leadership based on our incomplete commitment to universal human rights. The Obama administration, however, has committed to leading by example. According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, this means "holding everyone to the same standard, including ourselves."

    In many areas, the administration's actions have matched its rhetoric. Joining the United Nations Human Rights Council and signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have both sent the right message that President Obama is prepared to engage with the international community on new and more principled terms than previous administrations. The appointment of many officials who are self-defined human rights champions with careers both inside and outside the government promoting civil and human rights evinces a commitment to "a vision of common humanity, universal rights and rule of law." Moreover, the willingness of this administration to work with members of civil society to align our human rights rhetoric with our human rights practices demonstrates a commitment to lead by example based on both "principled engagement" and "living our values."

  • December 9, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Jamil Dakwar, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Human Rights Program & Steering Committee Member of the Campaign for a New Domestic Human Rights Agenda  

    Seven months ago, the United States issued a list of human rights commitments and pledges in support of U.S. candidacy for membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council. The decision to join the Human Rights Council was the right thing to do. It was as an important step in breaking with the Bush administration's unilateral and disastrous policies on human rights. While we welcomed this move, we noted that the Obama administration had "missed an opportunity to detail exactly how it will reaffirm its commitment to ending human rights violations at home beyond vague rhetoric." We warned the Obama administration to "move beyond ambiguous commitments which are similar to the ones heard from the Bush administration over the past eight years."

    There is no question that this administration is currently facing multiple and daunting challenges, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the safe closing of Guant√°namo, the economic crisis and rising unemployment, health care, energy reform and much more. However, nearly a year after Obama's inauguration, the administration has yet to announce any major domestic human rights initiative, outline a detailed plan to honor and expand our existing human rights commitments and translate them into domestic policy, or incorporate them into the daily working of the U.S. government.