His Excellency Mohammad Ebrahim

22Op-MR-Mohammad k-PICTURE

“NAMCHRCD & IPHRC should harmonized their efforts and strategies for achieving what is clearly a common objective”


I would to start by thanking the NAM Centre for Human Rights and Cultural Diversity for organizing this seminar on “Analytical Review of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) – 1993”, in the context of which, I have been invited in my personal capacity as the Chairperson of the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC), to talk on the “IOC’s Commitments to Human Rights”.

Almost all member states of the OIC, also All members of the NAM considering that the main object of the NAMCHRCD is to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms with the infusion of the right to preserve cultural identity. It makes it to all more important that the two sister institution’s should harmonized their efforts and devise strategies for achieving what is clearly a common objective. In this regard I would like to express to commission appreciate to the director of NAM center for initiate in this move which means hopefully will lead to the sign of a formal memorandum of understanding between OIC-Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission and the NAM center, because of the commonality of our mandates.

Speaking at this venue, I believe I don’t have to introduce the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was founded in 1969 by 25 countries, including the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Today, OIC has  57 countries as Member-States, spread over four continents. It is the next largest intergovernmental body after the United Nations.  With a population of about 1.5 billion in 2012, OIC constitutes about 25% of the world’s population.  The Organization is the collective voice of the Muslim world and one of its primary objectives is to safeguard and protect the interest of Muslims in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world. However, in spite of the rapid expansion in membership, and the creation of institutions that cover various areas in scientific, economic, social, cultural and financial fields,etc the OIC had not been directly involved in human rights matters for more than three decades since its establishment.

In the circumstances, it wasn’t surprising that the international community formed the perception that the Organization wasn’t keen in the promotion and protection of human rights.  When in  March 2008, the OIC took a landmark decision of revising its Charter to include the “promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” as one of its main goals, the decision received was welcomed with both commendation and skepticism, in spite of the fact many of the OIC States had already established their own National Human Rights Institutions which were complying with the UN standards set out in the Paris Principles.  In addition, both the AU and ASEAN countries, many of which are Member-States of OIC had also created their own regional human rights commissions.  What was lacking was an institutional structure to harmonize and strategize the national human rights practices of the OIC Member-States and to enable them speak with one voice at the UN or other international fora.  The establishment of IPHRC provided the vista for achieving this objective.

At the inauguration of the Commission in Jakarta in 2012, five principles as follows were outlined, which would guide IPHRC in its work:

(i). The Commission will complement rather than replace other national andinternational human rights mechanisms; (ii). The Commission will follow an introspective approach, helping OIC Member-States improve their human rights practices; (iii). It will fulfill a guidance function, providing Member-States with services likehuman rights training for the police; (iv).      The Commission will take an incremental approach, building its credibility and mandate over time;

(v).  The Commission will prioritize the most pressing human rights problem.

Buoyed by these principles and the unflinching support of the two Secretaries-General since the inception of the Commission, it has been able to map out a clear strategy on how to work closely with the Member-States in the areas of human rights, especially in harmonizing their periodic reports to the various UN Treaty Bodies, as well as the UPR. To achieve this objective, the Commission has already started to collate the various human rights legislations and national human rights action plans of the Member-States.  To reiterate the guiding principle of its assignment, the Commission re-emphasized from the outset that It would uphold the internationally agreed human rights standards and instruments to which, the OIC Member-States are committed.  In this regard, the first contact the Commission made on its inception, was with the Office of UN High a Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, as well the Third Committee, which deals with human rights at the UN General Assembly.  The Commission has also created four Working Groups on: Palestine; Women and Children; Islamsphobia; and Right to Development.  The Commission has also issued several press releases on its website including on: the conflicts in Syria, Gaza and Central Africa; the political crisis in Egypt post-Morsi; Boko Haram’s abduction of the school girls in Nigeria; the violation of the rights of the Rohingya Muslims, etc. The Commission conducted a visit to the Central African Republic and submitted its report and recommendations on the communal and sectarian conflict in that country.  It has also submitted an Interim Report to the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on the “Negative Impact of Sanctions on the Enjoyment of Human Rights”.

In pursuant to its principle of introspection, the Commission intends to look into the causes and possible solutions to some of the intra-OIC conflicts, some of which  have resulted into unfortunate violations of human rights, with women and children as the most vulnerable population.  However, it is not all a dismal story, as there have been phenomenal progress  in the promotion and protection of human rights in many OIC States in the past decade, especially in the transformation to democracy, electoral reform and judicial process, culminating into the enviable position where for the first time since the creation of OIC, there is  not a single military dictator or a lifetime president among its 57 Member-States.  In spite of this, there is still much room for improvement. Accordingly, the Commission has chosen, “Combatting Extremism and Intolerance in Islam” as the theme of its 6th Session holding in Jeddah from 1-6th December 2014.  Peace and moderation are an integral part of the basic Islamic injunctions, and it is hoped that through the theme of this the session the Commission would be making a valuable contribution toward finding a lasting solution to the crises engulfing several OIC-States. IPHRC’s POSITION ON ARTICLE 5 OF THE VDPA 1993.

Although since the beginning of this seminar many experts and scholars have expressed what is the general concern and even apprehension of developing countries over the unmitigated implementation of Article 5 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) 1993, I still think it is necessary to address the subject from the perspective  IPHRC.  For ease of reference, please permit me to quote the article in full: “All human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.  The    international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equalmanner on the same footing, and with the same emphasis.  While the significanceof national and regional peculiarities and various historical, cultural and religiousbackgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of theirpolitical, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

The notion of the universality of human rights is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), but it did  not become a controversial issue until more than a decade later, when the composition of the United Nation membership become more diverse in terms of religion, culture and even economic status.  It is true that many Western countries continue to argue that the universality of human rights is “beyond question”, but this notion has been challenged by even some of their institutions. For example,  as far back as 1947, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) published a “Statement on Human Rights” in which they asserted that values and standards “are relative to the culture from which they derive”.  The AAA now supports human rights but extends them to the “collective rights of cultural groups”. (See page 49 of Routledge Handbook of International Human Rights Law, Edited by Scott Sheeran and Sir Nigel Rodley, 2013).  Several Islamic scholars have also questioned the strict application of the universality of human rights based on Islamic principles. (See A. Mayer, Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics, 4th edition (Westview Press, 2007).  We can, therefore, see that the debate on the universality of human rights is not a new one, and probably not one that is likely to end today or tomorrow.  The complexity of the debate is compounded by the fact that neither NAM nor OIC Member-States  are on the same wavelength on this very complex debate.

Universality of human rights and its derivatives – indivisibility, interrelatedness, and interdependence – might be unassailable to many human rights experts, irrespective of their culture.  However, even among such experts there are those who tend to doubt whether human rights can ever be universal as long as we live in a world of huge inequalities.  For example, do the citizens of poor African or Asian countries have the opportunity to enjoy the same human rights, including the right to development, as their counterparts in the developed countries? In terms of the nexus between culture and religion on one hand, and the enjoyment of human rights on the other, although Article 5 of VDPA does recognize the importance of culture, religion, historical background in shaping identity and character, but still emphasizes that these factors should not be used as justification for the denial of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. In broad sense, most developing nations, the OIC  (and the Vatican based on the recently concluded Synod) inclusive, have major concern with this notion of universality of human rights when applied to specific practices that are noxiously in conflict with their religion, like Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity rights.

There is no doubt, a huge gap exists between OIC States, indeed the developing world and the Western countries who believe in the absolute universality of human rights on how far religious injunctions, culture or historical backgrounds should influence the enjoyment of human rights. Unfortunately, since 1993 when the World Conference on Human Rights adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) by consensus, the gap has widened considerably.  Considering the strength of feelings and sensitivities involved in matters which to OIC border on faith, dialogue based on mutual respect and understanding seems to be the most likely answer to bridging the gap in this seemingly clash of values between the OIC and other developing countries on one hand, and the West on the other.