On December 10 — Human Rights Day — a high level seminar and debate was organized at the Palais des Nations by The Geneva Lecture Series, under the sponsorship of Prince Albert II of Monaco, with Nobel Prize Winners Shirin Ebadi (Iran) and Wole Soyinka (Nigeria). An audience of over 1200 persons (Assembly Hall) heard both of them criticise all forms of “cultural relativism”. Human rights defender Ebadi spoke strongly against any form of Islamic Declaration of Human Rights and was extremely condemnatory of many Iranian practices, and the meeting of Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Two days later, the Iranian government closed down the office of her women’s human rights defenders.
The concluding words by Prince Albert on the primacy of the UDHR were outstanding. (Reuters, AFP and ATS covered this event and also the second event two days later.)
On December 12, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, a commemorative session of the Human Rights Council took place in Room XX (with its grandiose 1,500 m2 grotto-like ceiling, inaugurated on 18 November 2008 at a cost of over thirty million dollars — see here) in the presence of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Some statements were of high quality, particularly that of Ms. Rama Yade, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union.
Passages below — from the keynote address of the OIC Secretary General and statements by his adviser and Pakistan’s delegate — speak volumes.
OIC Inter-institutional Forum on Universal Shared Values: Challenges & New Paradigms
On December 19, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the OIC sponsored a conference, reception, music and an exhibition — “Various Aspects of Islamic Civilisation” — at the UN in Geneva. The conference, under the patronage H.E. Mr. Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal and Chairman of the 11th OIC Summit, was entitled “OIC Inter-institutional Forum on Universal Shared Values: Challenges & New Paradigms”.
Prof. Elmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, delivered the keynote address after the four high level speakers. His full speech was posted today on the OIC website.
— Mr. Sergei Ordzhonikidze: Director General of the United Nations in Geneva
— Mr. Martin I. Uhomoibhi: Ambassador of Nigeria, President of the Human Rights Council
— Ms. Tahmina Janjua: OIC Group Coordinator on Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues
Hopefully, the forceful text by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay will appear on the official OHCHR website.
Some noteworthy passages from the text of the OIC Secretary-General are reproduced below This is followed by our AWE written questions handed to Prof. Ihsanoglu after the opening session, when I spoke with him as he was leaving the room.
Other Islam-related passages are given from the texts of two other speeches made in English. A press conference for the OIC Secretary-General was announced for 11:30, but for reasons unknown he failed to appear. Only Reuters did a “˜story”, having managed to obtain the texts pronounced.
The OIC Secretary-General’s speech is a follow-up to the short statement posted on the OIC website on December 2: “Islam, the religion of peace, tolerance and compassion”, well analysed by Roy Brown, former president of the IHEU in his recent article:
Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the OIC:
(“¦) Islam, fourteen centuries ago, established an exemplary code for human rights. The major objective of this code is to confer on all human beings dignity and honour, and to eliminate injustice, oppression and exploitation. Human rights in Islam are firmly rooted in the equality among all mankind, transcending all considerations of place, colour language and social status. These rights are part and parcel of the teaching of Islam that no ruler, government, assembly or authority can alter, curtail or violate in any way. Moreover theses rights go long way in line with the contemporary concepts of human rights. (“¦)
The OIC sees the Universal Declaration as a global metaphor connecting all humanity. It is a living document. Its full import needs to be invoked to face contemporary challenges, like the rising tide of incitement to religious hatred and discrimination and intolerance targeting Muslims. Attempts to equate Islam with terrorism should also be stopped. Stereotyping and demonization of Muslims should be combated.
The inherent negativity and stereotypical images disseminated are increasingly becoming [a] source of grave concern to us and to all peace-loving circles in the world as these practices tend to incite hatred, discrimination and intolerance.
By linking the crimes committed by a small fringe of misguided individuals with Islam and its teachings, these circles grant these criminals a premise, anchor and justification that they don’t own or deserve, and encourage them to persevere in their objectionable deeds. In so doing, they do not help in combating terrorism. *
Here I need to clarify the position of the OIC vis-Ã -vis the notion of the “defamation of religions” which seems to create misunderstandings and misinterpretation in some circles. As far as Islam is concerned, our aim is not to protect religion against critics based on objective and rational interrogation. It is a fundamental principal in Islam for the believer to always question himself/herself, not only on the way he/she is practicing the Islamic teachings, but also to adapt to any practical circumstances and specific environments. What we are concerned about is the tendency of a new episode of extremist behaviour against the adherents of a particular religion who are currently subjects of defamation, incitement to hatred, violence and racial discrimination.
This is not the only matter of national or local concern but it should be seen as a globalized phenomenon which needs to be addressed globally in an effective manner.
At the same time, the OIC is firmly committed to respect for freedom of expression which is a fundamental human right. The OIC is not looking for limitation or restrictions of this freedom beyond those that already have been set by Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. [See here.)
We believe that there is no freedom without responsibilities and accountabilities. To our regret, freedom of expression has been abused and exploited by some for obvious political, financial and other gains. What is needed is practical, local and international mechanisms to address acts of incitement to religious or racial hatred which constitute a dangerous threat for the preservation of peace and harmony among communities. (“¦)
The OIC is going through a phase of introspection and soul searching on human rights. As the first major step in this field, the OIC adopted in the year 2000, the  Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI). This Declaration was not conceived as an alternative to the Universal Declaration even though it additionally addresses religious and cultural specificity of the Muslim countries. The OIC has moved beyond the Cairo Declaration. In December 2005, OIC leaders at their Third Extraordinary Summit Conference in Makkah, Saudi Arabia unanimously declared that contemporary reform and development must be anchored in the principles of good governance, protection of human rights, social justice, transparency & accountability. The Summit outlined a Ten-Year Programme of Action with a road map for enhancement of human rights, for striving for enlargement of political participation and promotion of equality, civil liberties and social justice in the OIC member states. The new OIC Charter adopted during the last OIC Summit in Dakar, Senegal, in March 2008, called for the establishment of an independent permanent Commission to promote “the civil, political, social and economic rights enshrined in the organization’s covenants, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, and in legally agreed instruments.” (“¦)
* See “OIC Contribution to Global Efforts on Combating International Terrorism,” by Mojtaba Amiri Vahid (Deputy Observer Mission of the OIC to the United Nations Office in Geneva), in Journal (Issued by the Organization of the Islamic Conference), NÂ° 4, July–September 2007, p. 24: “The Convention also provides a definition of “˜terrorist crimes”. The OIC definition of terrorism, as may have been noted, entails an extensive scope of applications. At the same time, it safeguards the legitimate rights of the peoples who struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, while underlining in this regard the imperative of the observance of the principles of international law.”
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OIC Inter-institutional Forum on Universal Shared Values: Challenges & New Paradigms
Question to Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General, Organization of the Islamic Conference. (AWE page handed by me personally to Prof. Ihsanoglu after the meeting.)
From David G. Littman:
A year ago Human Rights Day (December 10) you stated that “the OIC General Secretariat is considering the establishment of an independent permanent body to promote Human Rights in Member States in accordance with the provision of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam and to elaborate an OIC Charter on Human Rights.”
Four days later (December 14, 2007), Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan — speaking for the OIC at the close of the 6th session of the Human Rights Council — claimed that the 1990 Cairo Declaration was “not an alternative competing worldview on human rights.” but he failed to mention that the shari”a law is “the only source of reference” for that Declaration (art. 24 & 25)
1) Do you feel that the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam — and a future Islamic Charter based on shari”a law, proclaimed on 7 December 2005 at the 3rd OIC Mecca Summit — is compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants? Are the OIC Member States bound erge omnes (fully) by what they have signed and ratified? If so, would you affirm that there is full equality in the shari”a law between Muslim men and Muslim women, and between Muslims and non-Muslims?
2) Would you kindly comment on the recent statement by four senior experts of the OSCE [website, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] from Africa, Europe, Latin America and the UN, in which they declared that: “International organisations, including the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council, should desist from the further adoption of statements supporting the idea of “˜defamation of religion”.” (Reuters, 16:30, 17 December). Yesterday, another such resolution was passed by the UN General Assembly.
3) For a decade, OIC Member States have sponsored a resolution: “Defamation of Religions.” Since 2003, the AWE and other NGOs have called for the insertion of a clause that would condemn all those who kill — or call to kill — in the name of God or Allah, or of religion — of any religion? Can you explain why this simple request has not been considered by the OIC sponsors — and would you recommend it today?
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The Secretary-General’s personal response was a bit ambiguous on question 1. On question 3 he was very positive and agreed that a “˜condemnation” should be inserted. There was no time to request a response to question 2, as he was then ushered out — I knew he had a press conference at 11:30, but inexplicably he failed to appear there.
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Ms. Tehmina Janjua, Acting Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN:
(“¦) The holding of this forum today as part of the commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration is a reiteration of the commitment of the OIC to the rights contained in the UDHR.
For the OIC, this is but natural as human rights are a part of our religion, belief system and heritage. To quote Dr. Riffat Hussain who has written extensively on Islam and human rights: to many Muslims the Qur’an is the Magna Carta of human rights and a large part of its concern is to free human beings from the bondage of traditionalism, authoritarianism (religious, political, economic, or any other), tribalism, racism, sexism, slavery or anything else that prohibits or inhibits human beings from actualizing the Qur’anic vision of human destiny embodied in the classic proclamation: “Toward Allah is thy limit.”
The conceptual basis of human rights in Islam is the differentiation made between Haqooq Al Abad and Hakook Allah. Hakook Allah or the rights of God are between Allah and the human being. Hakook Al Abad or human rights if infringed have immense implications. If violated in any way, forgiveness is not granted unless the victim is compensated. Hence, the victim oriented approach or the right to remedy that we hear of today were recognized by Islam many centuries ago. Violating human rights in an Islamic state amounts to violating divine law. (“¦)
A continuing challenge in the realization of human rights, which is a great affront to humanity is the non-realization of the right of self-determination of the people of Palestine and Jammu and Kashmir that continues to the policies of occupation. We need to work resolutely to bring an end to the suffering of these people. Archbishop Tutu has referred to the situation of the Palestinian people as an abomination. How can such a situation be allowed to continue 60 years after the adoption of the UDHR.
A lot still needs to be done before the rights and freedoms set forth in this collective will of mankind are realized for the common good of mankind. Its message should also be used to combat contemporary challenges such as racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and defamation of religions.
In 1998, the OIC took the initiative to table a resolution on the defamation of religions in the Human Rights Commission. This initiative reflected the concern of OIC countries with the aggressive anti-Muslim discourse in the media and discriminatory practices against Muslim communities. These concerns have taken a sharper form in the post 9/11 period. The OIC”s efforts to focus attention on the plight of Muslims are being resisted despite the undeniable fact that Islam is increasingly vilified and Muslim people are facing discriminatory practices and unacceptable treatment. The highly dubious “clash of civilizations” thesis has given a certain political and policy validation to what is at heart a xenophobic and racist attitude.
The simple minded equation of Islam and the entire Muslim community with terrorism
is reprehensible ethically, but is also intellectually a poor move since it leads to ignoring the political basis of terrorism. It does not permit effective strategies for countering those who resort to terrorism, especially to de-legitimize the political content of their insidious programme. (“¦)
In accordance with core Islamic values of peace, respect and tolerance, the OIC
continues to promote a culture of peace through dialogue, understanding and respect
for the values of multiculturalism. We should continue to be inspired by the UDHR
and ensure that human rights remain central to the formulation of policies in all areas.
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1st Session: Human Rights and Cultural Diversity — Challenges and Perspectives
Ambassador Saad Eddin Taib, advisor to OIC Secretary General [spelling left intact]:
(“¦) It is very much comforting that the Islamic Religion is distinguished from other previous religions and traditions by having an elaborate and clear code for Human Rights. Islam has linked these rights with a legal divine framework, thus bestowing on them a binding and inviolable character, as a part of Islamic teaching.
Islam was a message of change. It brought about historic changes in the domain of religion, economy, culture, moral and values. This message has changed the course of history.
The sources of Islamic Sharia are replete with texts which recall the equality of all human beings regardless of race, colour, gender, belief or economic or social position. In Islam, justice is the absolute standard and the basis of government. It calls for tolerance, compassion, mercy, and the respect of the dignity of human beings.
It is on this premise that the OIC has endeavoured to promoting inter-cultural understanding between all people and civilizations, on the ground that the Muslim Ummah itself is a multi-cultural one grouping a diversity of peoples with multiple origins, races and languages. The OIC has always worked to consolidate, respect and support human rights. It adopted many resolutions, throughout the years, intent on the full respect of human rights in their Islamic conception as well as on the grounds of the universal and global Human Rights. These rights occupy a center stage in Islamic teaching. (“¦)
Unfortunately the rift between material world and spiritual values grows deeper by the day, and many in the advanced countries find themselves in spiritual void as western civilization seems to have left behind its religion, beliefs and sacred text. The political sphere in the west has almost ceased to be linked to the religious sphere, and consequently the morality or spirituality in the west has experienced a sharp decline.
The contrary is taking place in the Muslim world, where religion is witnessing a rapid revival on many fronts varying between moderate tendencies and extremist ones. This revival covers most of the countries and lands of Islam, and is creeping to engulf some Muslim minorities in the west.
The new presence of Muslims in some western courtyard has started to disturb many circles in Europe, and the phenomenon of Islamophobia has become an overwhelming wave of aversion and hatred targeting Muslims. It seems that Europe has started to forget about its core values of embracing diversity, tolerance, and recognition of the other values that were developed during the enlightenment era. The situation had a turn for the worse in the last few years when a section of western officials started to join the media in using derogatory expressions against Islam, and when Muslims living in the west became victims of discriminating bigotry, harassment and mental and physical abuse.
This negative stereotyping of Islam and Muslim has taken a wider scope, because Islamophobia has become an indiscriminate prejudice that tarnishes everything, everywhere it touches. Moreover, Islamophobia does not respect the individual and tend to generalize its venomous falsehood to hurt all Muslims. This generalization tantamounts to collective punishment against all Muslims, the world’s over, who started to feel the brunt of this dehumanization of mass-destruction, which may result in incalculable consequences. It goes without saying that all the aforesaid abuses are a blatant affront to human rights and should be outlawed. Despite all the mental and physical abuses, many circles in the west still cast doubt on the relationship between the concept of human rights and the notion of the defamation of religion. They argue that the defamation of religion is flawed from the human right’s view point.
This assertion might have some degree of acceptance if the notion of defamation is limited to the realm of religion per se as an abstract idea, which can legally suffer criticism or attack or even mockery. What is happening today is an orchestrated assault of hate speech and an incitement for discrimination, which results in human suffering and human rights denied.
The reality of today”s practices of Islamophobia, represent a subtle trickery to hurt and abuse. The cunning, sly and deceitful methods used in this campaign of defamation of Islam demonstrate a dishonest intellectual slight of hand which marks the true objective and purpose of Islamophobia. The trickery tool which is being exploited to cover up and conceal the real aim of Islamophobia is the right of freedom of expression, considered sacrosanct, albeit it is a right linked with responsibility.
Brushing aside this responsibility, through the connivance of the officials, and through flouting the laws, the assault on Islam, or the defamation of Islam takes the shape of hate mongering, negative stereotyping, mean campaign of discriminations which engulf Islam and its Muslim adherents. In so doing the freedom of expression enjoyed by hate mongers in the west, inflicts a deep psychological damage to Muslims, who are depicted as an outcast, dehumanized, and reduced to people coming from a “lesser” world, and therefore, cannot be assimilated to the values of the “greater world”.
These untenable prejudices and hatred seek to destroy Islamic cultures, and civilization. (“¦)
Ambassador Taib then goes on at considerable length to defend the OIC”s position on “defamation of religion or culture”, by referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, citing articles 7, 12, 18, 22, 29, 30. He then concludes his main point:
All these quotations from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, clearly stress the relevance between Human Rights and the negative consequences of the defamation of religions.
The will of the international community to, collectively, lay down unified standards for human rights, intended to build a common future for all, whereby the respect of the identity and honour of the human being will be the ultimate goal of any human endeavour.
When we talk about human rights, we don’t talks about them as something abstract, but rather about these rights impact on human beings in their daily lives.
We have already seen the deep negative impact on Muslims, resulting from the vicious campaign of denigrating their religion and culture.
It is on this basis that the OIC has raised the issue of defamation at the level of the former Commission of Human Rights here in Geneva, as well as the level of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Both the Commission and the General Assembly endorsed our motion and adopted it in a resolution passed by a comfortable majority over three successive years. Now the linkage between Human Rights and the defamation of religion has been confirmed by a democratic decision of the international community. This decision reflects the international legitimacy on this issue and is not limited to the views of the OIC. We emphasize this reality to answer those who accuse the OIC of trying to alter the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or to stifle the right of the freedom of expression. Far away from that, our aim has always been directed to address the suffering of the victim of Islamophobia, defend and safeguard cultural diversity and tolerance, while trying to stem the prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and unethical behaviour targeting Muslims.
In saying the above we hasten to confirm the western Human Rights Traditions which are rooted in the European enlightenment, have until recently advanced the dignity of human beings and the values of human civilization, as the right of freedom speech, association, strengthening the position of ordinary citizens, and his participation in public decision making and forced the authorities to be more accountable to the public.
We hope that a day will come in the near future, when we will be able to settle our diverse view points on defamation of religion, and remove this obstacle, and usher the world into a new era of concord and harmony to the benefit of all humanity.
At the end of this 1st session (1:00pm), I was able to hand to all the delegates on the podium, including the president, the same page handed to the OIC Secretary General, but modified with the addition of the name of his advisor, Ambassador Saad Eddin Taib.
The chairman also allowed me to place this text on the back table in large quantities.
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Footnote: In our view and that of several NGO colleagues, the statement by Ambassador Taib — described in the official program as “Advisor to the OIC Secretary General from General Secretariat” — is an utter travesty of the truth, is pure vitriol and will be subject to a detailed refutation point by point in the near future.