Iraq: Appointment of Female Judge Blocked

The swearing-in of Najaf’s first female judge has been indefinitely delayed after backlash from Islamic clerics and Iraqi lawyers. At least three senior clerics issues fatwas (religious orders) saying that only men can be judges according to Islamic law, according to the New York Times. A group of protesters who gathered at what was to be Hussein’s swearing-in ceremony also were calling for the ouster of Wisconsin lawyer Rachel Roe, who was serving as an advisor to the court system in Najaf, the Times reports.

Hussein had previously endured such controversy when she became the first female lawyer in Najaf 13 years ago. Arguing her case against the protestors to Lt. Col. Christopher Conlin, senior commanding US officer in Najaf, Hussein said, “There were demonstrations against the first elementary schools for women, too, but everything needs a beginning,” the Times reports. Conlin told United Press International that they would try again in a few weeks after he’s had a chance to talk with the city council and the clerics.

There are already five female judges in Baghdad, with a sixth recently appointed to Baghdad’s federal criminal court. Roe takes it as a good sign that the protestors were saying “judge” in Arabic with the female ending rather than the male, which she had never heard before, according to UPI. “The idea is now in their heads,” she told UPI. Hussein told the Times that she doesn’t think that “government institutions should be controlled by religious organizations. I was under the impression that Iraq was going to have a secular government. I might have been wrong.”

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New York Times 7/31/03; UPI 7/30/03

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