Turkey fails to water down Sharia law resolution at Council of Europe body


Turkish government efforts have failed to defeat a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution that expresses concern about Sharia law on the grounds that it contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights.

PACE on Tuesday expressed concern about the fact that “Sharia law, including provisions which are in clear contradiction with the European Convention on Human Rights, were applied either officially or unofficially in several member States.”

It is of great concern, the parliamentarians said, that “three member States, namely Albania, Azerbaijan and Turkey, have endorsed, explicitly or implicitly, the Cairo Declaration, as have Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco and Palestine, whose parliaments enjoy partner for democracy status with PACE.”

Despite amendments and speeches by Turkish lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, PACE approved the resolution with 69 votes for, 14 votes against and eight abstentions.

Turkish lawmaker Mustafa Yeneroğlu from the AKP expressed his opposition to the resolution, saying that “there is no need to withdraw from the Cairo Declaration or for the Assembly to call for further measures to limit its effects on the constitutions and obligations of contracting States, as it would be calling for measures that have already been taken.”

“Because of the report’s many material shortcomings, its bias and its tendentiousness, I cannot vote in favour of it. I am rather staggered to see how many Islam experts we have here. There seems to be total ignorance about Sharia Law in Europe,” he added.

On August 5, 1990, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (now the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, OIC) adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which acknowledged human rights but also sparked controversy on several issues including equality between man and woman. It also noted in Article 25 that all the rights and freedoms stipulated in the declaration were “subject to the Islamic Shari’ah,” which is considered “the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.” While the 1990 Cairo Declaration is not legally binding, it has symbolic value in terms of human rights policy in Islam.

In a policy shift, the Turkish delegation decided to withdraw this amendment, which stated Turkey’s reservations to the Cairo declaration.


In a surprise move Yeneroğlu, an Erdoğan loyalist and member of the Turkish Parliament, withdrew an amendment which stated that Turkey had made a reservation to the charter of the OIC during its accession saying that Turkey remained committed to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and individual universal human rights as well as those of a secular state as enshrined in its constitution, and that this reservation also applied to the Cairo Declaration and its content. Instead, new wording was included in the text clarifying the limitations “so far as they are compatible with its laws and its commitments under international conventions.”

In other words, Erdoğan’s people in the Turkish delegation — Yeneroğlu, Emine Nur Günay, Akif Çağatay Kiliç, Ali Şahin and Serap Yaşar – did not want to include an explicit commitment to Council of Europe values and perhaps were even ashamed of the fact that Turkey, under a different government at the time, had made a reservation to the OIC charter and by extension to the Cairo declaration.

The draft resolution included text saying that “the Assembly recalls that the European Court of Human Rights has already stated in Refah Partisi (The Welfare Party) and others v. Turkey that ‘the institution of Sharia law and a theocratic regime were incompatible with the requirements of a democratic society’.” Refah was the former party of Turkish President Erdoğan, and he has managed to transform the ruling AKP into a new generation Islamist party in Turkey. Peter Omtzigt from the Netherlands successfully proposed an amendment to add wording that PACE fully agrees with that particular statement. Turkish lawmakers Şahin and Günay voted against the amendment.


The Turkish delegation tried to delete several paragraphs and sentences from the resolution but failed when most voted against the amendments.


Another part of the resolution that the AKP deputies at PACE wanted removed was the call on Turkey, among others, to “make use of all available means to make declarations, so as to ensure that the 1990 Cairo Declaration has no effect on their domestic legal orders that may be inconsistent with their obligations as Parties to the European Convention on Human Rights, as applicable.” That amendment was overwhelmingly rejected by members as well.



PACE also asked member states to consider performing some formal act that clearly establishes the European rights convention as a superior source of obligatory binding norms as opposed to the Cairo declaration. Turkish lawmakers wanted that part cut from the text as well, but the amendment to make that deletion was rejected by a vote of 70 to 17.


Adnan Dibrani from the Sweden Social Democratic Party supported the Turkish delegation in this amendment, which asked PACE to delete the name “Turkey” from the text.


In another amendment, head of the Turkish delegation Akif Çağatay Kılıç, a former aide to Erdoğan and now a lawmaker in the Turkish Parliament, tried to change the text to remove “Turkey” from the text. He was joined by four lawmakers including Adnan Dibrani from the Sweden Social Democratic Party and submitted an amendment to delete the names of countries that signed the OIC Sharia declaration from the resolution.

The amendment was rejected.


Members of PACE who abstained or voted against the Sharia law resolution


PACE, which supports the principle of separation of church and state, emphasized that the Islamic declarations on human rights adopted since the 1980s, while being more religious than legal, failed to reconcile Islam with universal human rights. This includes the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which, while not legally binding, has symbolic value and political significance.

The resolution, adopted by the assembly on the basis of a report by Spanish lawmaker Antonio Gutiérrez, called on member states to protect human rights, regardless of religious or cultural practices or traditions, “on the principle that where human rights are concerned, there is no room for religious or cultural exceptions.”

In total, there were 29 amendments, many by members of the Turkish delegation from Erdoğan’s AKP, that were submitted to change the text and the wording of the resolution. However, most of them were defeated in the plenary by a majority of votes.

According to PACE, Albania, Azerbaijan and Turkey should consider distancing themselves from the Cairo declaration and make use of all available means to ensure that the latter has no effect on their domestic legal order.

Finally, the assembly called on countries that are members of the OIC, on Greece and on the United Kingdom, which entertained the idea of limited implementation of Sharia law at the local level, to report back to the assembly by June 2020 on actions taken as a follow-up to the resolution adopted.

The full text of the resolution and report is posted below:


Subscribe To Our Newsletter