The world's foremost foe of the freedom of speech, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, recently invoked the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam -- a fact that should reassure no one who wants to see the freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and equality of rights of all people before the law protected. "It’s Time to Revise The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam," by Turan Kayaoğlu for Brookings, April 23 (thanks to David):
To the surprise of many, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has shown a new commitment to advancing human rights by establishing an Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission within the organization. In the Commission’s first meeting in Jakarta, Secretary General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu asked the 18-member Commission in his opening address to “review and update OIC instruments, including the Cairo Declaration [of Human Rights in Islam]…” If the Commission intends to indeed advance human rights, then the Cairo Declaration is the first among these instruments in need of serious revision. In 1990, the OIC approved a document that is now referred to as the Cairo Declaration in an attempt reconcile the concept of human rights and Islam. The Declaration protects many of the universal human rights: it forbids discrimination; supports the preservation of human life, supports the protection of one’s honor, family, and property; and affirms the human right to education, medical and social care, and a clean environment.
From an international human rights perspective, the controversial nature of the Cairo Declaration lies in its claim of adherence to Shari’ah. Its preamble affirms that“fundamental rights and universal freedoms are an integral part of [Islam]” and these rights and freedoms are “binding divine commandments” revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the Quran. The central role of Shari’ah can be clearly seen in the Declaration’s articles. Article 22 states that “Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to principles of Shari’ah.” Article 12, affirms that “every man shall have the right, within the framework of Shari’ah, to free movement” (nothing is said about every woman). Articles 24 and 25 further makes Shari’ah supreme by asserting that Shari’ah is the Declaration’s “only source of reference.”
Such shorthand and cursory use of Shari’ah gives rise to four important shortcomings. The first is that it renders the document too restrictive. Shari’ah represents an extensive moral and legal code, and limiting rights such as free speech to a Shari’ah compatible framework of values would essentially render free-speech meaningless. Furthermore, the document is rendered ambiguous., as it does not specify what constitutes Shari’ah. Given the diversity of opinions on the subject across time and between and within madhabs (schools of Islamic law), it is impossible to know what rights are protected.
Interestingly, the declaration empowers states, not individuals. In the modern world, Shari’ah has increasingly become integrated in states’ domestic legal systems. In the absence of any international authority to decide on Shari’ah, the Cairo Declaration effectively diminishes the universality of human rights by relegating them to the discretion of governments.
Finally, the declaration conflicts with international human rights. The document provides only a subordinated status to religious minorities and also prohibits conversion from Islam. It also presents glaring evidence of discrimination against women, as it provides the right to freedom of movement or marriage only to men.
These shortcomings render the Declaration useless at best and at worst harmful for human rights.