(CNSNews.com) – The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has set up a new human rights body, which will “review and update” a 22-year-old OIC document stating that all human rights and freedoms must be subjected to Islamic law (shari’a).
The Islamic bloc has long faced criticism over the poor human rights records of many of its members. Of the 56 sovereign states making up the OIC, only five are rated “free” by Freedom House, a Washington- based organization that evaluates countries each year based on political rights and civil liberties. (The five are Benin, Guyana, Indonesia, Mali and Suriname.)
A conference of OIC foreign ministers last June decided to establish the “Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission,” which held its first meeting in Jakarta earlier this year.
Meeting twice a year, the IPHRC comprises 18 human rights experts, one each from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates and “Palestine.”
OIC spokesman Rizwan Sheikh described the body as “the human rights conscience of the OIC” and said its members – who will act in their personal capacities and not as representatives of their countries – will give advisory opinions to member states on a range of rights issues.
Addressing the inaugural session, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said that because of “Islamophobia,” concerns about human rights in Islamic countries have been “blown out of proportion.”
“Islam is being wrongly associated with human rights violations,” he said. “There is a motivated campaign at portraying Islam as inherently incompatible with international human rights norms and standards. I am of a firm belief that the case is exactly the opposite. Islam is not incompatible with human rights standards.”
Ihsanoglu said one of the tasks awaiting the IPHRC was “to review and update OIC instruments, including the Cairo Declaration.”
Signed by OIC members in 1990, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam asserts the superiority of Islam and stipulates that all human rights and freedoms are subject to shari’a.
On the subject of freedom of speech, it says “everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the shari’a.”
“[Information] may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of prophets, undermine moral and ethical values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society or weaken its faith,” the declaration says.
One provision declares Islam to be “the religion of unspoiled nature,” and prohibits the exploitation of a man’s “poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism.”
The document concludes by stressing that shari’a “is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.”
Shari’a informs the constitutions and legal systems of a number of the OIC’s most active members, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Critics say some provisions lead to the discriminatory treatment of women, religious minorities, and converts from Islam to other faiths.
Over the years the OIC has invoked the Cairo Declaration in its campaign at the United Nations and elsewhere against what it calls the “defamation” of Islam.