Monday, April 13, 2009
By Patrick Goodenough, International Editor
(CNSNews.com) – A bloc of the world’s Islamic states, which has been accused of undermining human rights at the United Nations, is planning to establish its own “independent human rights commission.”
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the 57-nation bloc of Muslim nations at the U.N., held a conference Sunday at its headquarters in Saudi Arabia to discuss the plan.
OIC Secretary-General Eklemeddin Ihsanoglu in a speech stressed that “human rights and man’s dignity are an integral part of Islam and core components of Islamic culture and heritage,” according to an OIC statement.
International interest in the issue of human rights had grown exponentially over the past two decades, said Ihsanoglu, a Turkish academic. The complexity of the issue called for the need to refine the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, he added, “in keeping with the current global human rights discourse.”
The 1990 declaration controversially states that all human rights and freedoms must be subject to Islamic law (shari’a), although senior Islamic leaders have over the years disputed the assertion that the Islamic document contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The OIC statement did not elaborate on how the bloc envisaged that the Cairo Declaration would be “refined.”
Among the OIC’s more active members are countries where shari’a is imposed to varying degrees. Critics say the tenets of Islamic law often result in discriminatory treatment of women, religious minorities, and converts from Islam to other faiths.
Arguing that Islam and Muslims are increasingly under attack, the OIC has over the past decade sponsored a string of controversial “defamation of religion” resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly and at the world body’s human rights agencies, the Commission on Human Rights and its successor Human Rights Council.
Opponents of the campaign say it amounts to an attempt to place Islam and some of the more controversial practices associated with it above criticism – to protect a religion, rather than its adherents, from “defamation.”
In his speech, Ihsanoglu said establishing an OIC human rights commission would pave the way for intellectual and political reform in OIC member states.
He said it would contribute to promoting “tolerance and fundamental freedoms, good governance, the rule of law, accountability, openness, dialogue with other religions and civilizations, the rejection of extremism and fanaticism, and the strengthening of the sense of pride in the Islamic identity.”
Only 14 of the OIC’s 57 members qualify as “electoral democracies,” according to criteria applied by Freedom House. None are Arab states.
And of the 57, only six – Benin, Guyana, Indonesia, Mali, Senegal and Suriname – are deemed “free” according to Freedom House assessment. The democracy watchdog scores all nations annually for political rights and civil liberties, classifying them as either “free,” “partly free” or “not free.”