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‘It all starts with respecting human rights’

Taghreed Hikmat, a judge on the Constitutional Court of Jordan who served as Jordan’s first female judge, at her home in Amman. (Zoe Sottile/JNews)
Taghreed Hikmat, a judge on the Constitutional Court of Jordan who served as Jordan’s first female judge, at her home in Amman. (Zoe Sottile/JNews)
AMMAN — Taghreed Hikmat, an internationally recognized lawyer and occasional politician, has led a career full of “firsts”, but showed no sign of slowing down in a recent interview with Jordan Newsاضافة اعلان

From the start, Hikmat faced challenges in her pursuit of a legal career. “After secondary school, I got a scholarship to the American University of Beirut,” the lawyer, who is originally from Zarqa, said. “But unfortunately, my father passed away. And all my family interfered and did not let me go to the scholarship.” After finishing her baccalaureate degree, she taught art and English, but wanted to return to her studies. She enrolled in the law school at Damascus University. 

In 1998, after 15 years of practicing as a lawyer, Hikmat was appointed as a judge at the Court of Appeal, becoming the first female judge in Jordan. Then, in 2003, Hikmat was one of 18 judges selected by the United Nations General Assembly to serve at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda after the genocide in this African nation, making her the first Arab and first Muslim judge to serve on such an international tribunal. 

All the while she worked on the Rwanda tribunal, Hikmat also battled her own obstacles. She survived cancer twice, traveling between Arusha, Tanzania, and Amman to receive her chemotherapy treatments. While she could have taken a six-month leave from her role as a judge, she knew that this would mean a new judge would be appointed to the case she worked on for four years against military leaders in Rwanda, who authorized the slaughter of a million Tutsi people over the course of 100 days. Instead, she maintained her position — all while keeping her illness a secret from her colleagues.

After that, she said, she decided she had “to do something different, challenge myself.” She presided over the entire tribunal in 2009 and 2010. “It was a struggle,” she added.

But despite her professional accomplishments, Hikmat said that “motherhood above all else is my inspiration”, emphasizing that she cooks every day. A mother of five, Hikmat also praised the importance of receiving support from her husband throughout her career. “He married a teacher. Then a lawyer, then a judge, then an international judge, then a senator,” standing by her the whole way, she said.

While she worked in Rwanda, her husband, a retired brigadier general in the military, picked up a new hobby: art collection. The artwork he acquired throughout Africa decorates their home in Amman.

Today, Hikmat works on “international issues” as a judge on Jordan’s Constitutional Court. She said that she found her eight years in the Senate “not so interesting” compared to her role as a judge. Her work has taken her to Japan, India, Thailand, and the United States, where she taught at Harvard University and Seton Hall University, among other countries, but she said that she would “like to stay” in Jordan in the future. 

Her international work has also brought her into contact with beloved legal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away in 2020 after serving as a justice on the United States Supreme Court for 28 years. Hikmat met Ginsburg at a ceremony in Washington DC, after the American judge emailed her asking to see her.

Hikmat spoke to the importance of religious cooperation, recalling a ceremony at which she was asked to speak in London during a wave of Islamophobia in the West triggered by attacks conducted by Daesh and other armed groups. “We as Muslims, we believe that all the (monotheistic) religions came from God,” she said. “It is said that Judaism is the law, Christianity is the love and the peace, and Islam is the justice. We don’t want religious wars. We have to stop the hate speech. Because verbal violence leads to physical violence. And we should all believe all over the world that peace is the only solution for all the problems.”

She went on: “Because there is no healing without peace. No peace without justice. No justice without respect of human rights.”

Hikmat explained that she had previously worked with Lebanon, Morocco, Bahrain, and Kuwait on finding a solution to the occupation in Palestine. She claimed that “politics” prevents viable solutions from coming out of the international community. “If politics interferes, justice will go,” she said.

Hikmat also emphasized the importance of her work combating violence against women, traveling to the United Kingdom early in her career to learn about how they handled violence. But she found it difficult to compare the two countries directly, as “the definition of the family in the UK is different from the definition of the family in Jordan.” She pointed out that violence against women is a challenge faced throughout the world, not just the Middle East, making cooperation all the more important.

She worked “in building capacity for judges, prosecutors, policemen, religious men, to teach them how to deal with cases of violence,” she said. “This is very important.”

Over the 45 years since she started her first job, Hikmat said that the country has evolved for the better. “Everything changed,” she said.

“Changed to a good thing, really,” especially for women. She added that the country now allows for more opportunities than in the past.
 
But, she admits, the country still faces challenges. “The problem in Jordan, even though we are very proud of ourselves, is that we don’t have any natural resources,” she said. “But we believe that the human being is the most important asset. So always we must protect the human being.” 

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