Tag Archive | "Muslim"

ISIL fighters marching in Raqqa, Syria.

Uncertainty of U.S. Government Intervention over ISIS

One of the predominant issues in recent world news has been the current actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the tensions that the U.S. and Syria now face in response to those actions.  The issue is not new, especially since the ISIS group has prospered since U.S. troops left the Syria and Iraq region in 2011, but the conflict has been escalating this year to a breaking point.  This article will explain the origins of ISIS, detail the current state of affairs in Syria and Iraq, and explain the current political struggle the U.S. has in addressing this threat, including the legal implications of taking action against the group in Syria.

As background, the Islamic State in Iraq was created by Abu Ayybu al-Masri in 2006, and was originally a part of al-Queda.  The current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, took over control after Abu Ayyub al-Masri was killed in 2010.  The group then absorbed another militant group in Syria in 2014 and changed their name to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in April 2013.  In February 2014, al-Queda renounced all association with ISIS in due to months of infighting, and because ISIS was considered too violent. In March, ISIS started its military campaign by first taking over the Syrian city of Raqqa, and now currently controls territory in both Iraq and Syria.  ISIS continues to terrorize parts of northern and western Iraq as well as parts of Syria.

ISIL fighters marching in Raqqa, Syria.

This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 14, 2014, shows fighters from the al Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Image Source: ABC News, AP.

One of the unique tensions with ISIS is that many of their fundamental principles go beyond those held by other Muslims.  ISIS believes that all of the Muslims in the world should live under one Islamic state which shall ruled by sharia rule.  The goal for ISIS is to create its own Islamic State in the region between west and northern Iraq and eastern Syria. Their ruthless tactics have not only created tensions with Western States and Syria’s President Assad, but have also created tensions with other al-Queda jihadists groups like the Jabhat al-Nusra group who is now clashing with ISIS, and starting to fight against ISIS to slow down their progress.

Despite efforts by Jabhat al-Nursa to slow progress, ISIS has continued to expand into Iraq and Syria.  They have recently taken Mosul, Iraq’s second most populated city, as well as an oil field in Syria.  Although the ISIS’ movement across the land is of significant concern to President al-Assad, the concern that impacts the U.S. is the mass casualties and humanitarian violations that ISIS commits every time it conquers another region.  Some of the crimes included killing captured Syrian soldiers, killing Kurds in Iraq, and recently the beheading of American journalist, James Foley, which occurred in Syria.  UNICEF estimated that the ISIS in now responsible for the displacement of up to 25,000 Yazidis and the death of 40 children.  As a result of the tensions in Iraq, the U.S. has lunched airstrikes into Iraq to slow ISIS’s progress, but have yet to launch airstrikes into Syria because of the potential political and legal repercussions.

One of issues with the U.S. potentially deciding to launch airstrikes in Syria is the potential legal ramifications.  One of the issues is that Syria may not be able to fight the ISIS on their own, because their counter-attack is based only a mutual dislike of the ISIS by certain groups, like Jabhat al-Nursa.   At this point, the U.S. does not have a stated policy on how they will proceed, but some now believe that the U.S. may choose to use force for Syria.  One of the questions for an U.S. action may be whether there is a justification for use of force under international law.   Part of the justification may be that the U.S. is using the threat to come to the aid of Iraq.  Another justification would be to either use a Security Council Resolution or receive consent from Assad to use force.              Depending on the political ramifications, the U.S. may decide to use either justification.

At this point there situation appears to be at a standstill.  President Obama appears to be weighing the potential of expanding the airstrikes into Syria.  Part of the issue would be if the U.S. decides to strike that action could be considered an act of aggression against Syria.  On the other hand, if Obama decides to work with President Assad it may be considered an act of support of Assad, something which could be difficult considering the allegations the Assad has been turning a blind eye to al-Queda fighters using Syria as a base camp for training.  Regardless of what President Obama decides, this is an issue that will continue to be prevalent in world news until resolved.  The key will be resolving the issue in manner that both protects the citizens at risk and ensures that tensions between the U.S. between Syria do not rise more than that in a manner that is legally justifiable.

Katelin Wheeler is a 4L at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law, and Business Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.


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Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim’s Case Shines Light on the Darkness of Apostasy Laws

The tragedy of Meriam Ibrahim, the 27-year old Sudanese Christian who was convicted of apostasy on May 15, should be familiar by now. On Tuesday, June 9, an appeals court in Khartoum began reconsidering her sentence. The appellate court overturned her conviction on June 23 and released Meriam from prison. Less than 24 hours after her release, Sudanese officials re-arrested Meriam, her husband, and her two children and accused her of travel document forgery and providing false information. After two days of detention at the airport, the family was re-released and is now staying at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum on the condition that she stay in Sudan.


Meriam was convicted of apostasy after she married Daniel Wani, a Sudanese Christian man with U.S. citizenship. Even though Meriam’s mother raised her as an Orthodox Christian, her estranged father is Muslim, and, by extension, so is Meriam under Sudanese law. Her self-identification as a Christian led to the apostasy charge.


Though Khartoum’s seesawing between arrest and release warrants outrage by itself, Meriam suffered even more severe persecution for her faith. Meriam was eight months pregnant when she was imprisoned and was forced to give birth to her child while shackled in a Sudanese jail. As she recounted in an interview to CNN: “I gave birth chained. Not cuffs but chains on my legs. I couldn’t open my legs so the women had to lift me off the table.” Prior to her acquittal, Meriam faced a punishment of 100 lashes and death by hanging. Sudanese officials also threatened to take custody of both of Meriam’s children.

Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim was re-arrested on forgery charges the day after she was released from imprisonment for apostasy.


Under Article 126 of the Sudanese Criminal Law of 1991apostasy is defined as the renouncing of Islam, either by refusing to follow Islam or converting to another religion. Apostates, including Meriam, are given a chance to repent, but if they refuse, as Meriam did, they are punished with death. Apostasy laws obviously violate the basic human right to religious liberty. Under Article 18 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of religion “includes freedom to change [one’s] religion or belief” and the U.N. Human Rights Committee interpreted the religious freedom guarantees in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to entail “the right to replace one’s current religion or belief with another.”


Historically, apostasy was tied to the rebellion against the Islamic state, not merely falling away from the faith. Gradually, however, various Islamic scholars contorted this original understanding and began defining apostasy as renouncing Islam and added the death penalty for unbelief.


Today, tragically, there are many people convicted of apostasy around the world whose plight does not receive the attention it deserves and needs.


A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 20 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific have laws penalizing apostasy. These laws are often so overly inclusive as to be almost limitless. Governments use apostasy bans as a tool to persecute people for unorthodox religious beliefs and for converting from Islam and to repress Muslim political reformers who challenge the legitimacy of their regimes.


In their survey of apostasy and blasphemy laws, human rights scholars Paul Marshall and Nina Shea show just how far reaching these laws can be. For example, in Iran it is a criminal offense to “fight against God” and to “create anxiety in the minds of the public.” Pakistan prohibits any statement that “directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed.” And in Egypt, a person who converts from Islam may be officially prosecuted under a statute prohibiting degrading Islam. Apostasy laws often co-exist with constitutions that protect freedom of religion. Article 38 of Sudan’s own constitution provides that “no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he or she does not believe in, nor practice services to which he or she does not voluntarily consent.”


Private individuals and groups often mete out punishments that are even more severe than those that are officially sanctioned. Two weeks ago, for example, the New York Times reported that a father from Pakistan fled to Afghanistan to escape his family who threatened to kill him and his three-year-old son for converting to Christianity.


Official and extra-judicial apostasy laws clearly violate the fundamental right to choose, and change, one’s religion, and Meriam’s conviction highlights the intolerance, severity, and cruelty of such laws. Despite all of the public support for Meriam, the U.S. State Department only publicly denounced her imprisonment on June 12. Secretary of State John Kerry correctly urged “the Sudanese judiciary and government to respect [Meriam’s] fundamental right to freedom of religion” and “to repeal its laws that are inconsistent with its 2005 Interim Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” Prior to this statement, however, the State Department had only stated that it was “deeply disturbed” by the sentence and apparently would not recognize the couple’s children as U.S. citizens without DNA testing even though Daniel holds U.S. citizenship. There are also reports that the State Department “discouraged congressional leaders from speaking out publicly on behalf of” Meriam and her family.


Rather than retreat from such blatant affronts to the fundamentally and eternally important right of religious freedom, the United States, and American citizens, churches, synagogues, and mosques, should work feverishly and publicly to renounce apostasy laws and to obtain the release of those imprisoned for their faith. The United States should not withhold good from those who deserve it, especially when it has the power to declare and to show that those convicted of apostasy will not suffer alone.


Bryan Neihart recently graduated from the University of Denver with a J.D. and a master’s degree in international human rights.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law