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Islam and Human Rights ( 15 Feb 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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OIC Rights Commission and the Challenges Ahead

By Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu

16 February 2012

With the approach of the first official session of the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) in Jakarta, Indonesia on Feb. 20, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is embarking on a path replete with challenges, not the least of which is promoting and protecting human rights in the Muslim world.

It seemed only appropriate that a year marked by popular uprising in different parts of the Muslim world against injustice, corruption and abuse of power should conclude with the landmark establishment of a human rights commission duly equipped with a progressive vision and mandate.

The announcement of establishing the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission at the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM) in Astana, Kazakhstan in June 2011 is a milestone achievement that is part of a process for restructuring the OIC, which began in 2005 at the Extraordinary Summit in Makkah.

The historical significance of establishing the commission is derived not only from the timing but also from the foresight and commitment of the member states reflected in the decision. The statute of the commission entered into force within the considerably short time of three years after it was accorded the statutory status by the new OIC charter adopted in Senegal in 2008.

The establishment of the Commission is the start of a new journey for reform in the Muslim world, and it will most likely be a long and strenuous journey.

One of the main factors that would contribute to the success of the IPHRC is proving its credibility in the shortest time. This shall be a real and serious test for joint Islamic action in one of its most sensitive and significant aspects. This shall also reflect the seriousness of the IPHRC and its abidance by the principles of the OIC Ten-Year Program of Action (TYPOA) adopted in the Makkah Summit in 2005 and the spirit of the new OIC Charter.

The commission is launching its activities in a highly charged period of rising Islamophobia. In some sections of Western mind and media there are deep-seated misperceptions — due, in large measure, to either ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation — regarding incompatibility between Islam and human rights. We have to acknowledge that human rights violations occur in the Muslim world as in other parts of the world. It would, however, be a mistake to associate or confuse such violations with Islam. Islam was the first religion in the world that called for full equality among people regardless of their race, language, ethnic origin, social status, etc. It emphasized and enforced the concept of “rights” long before it acquired currency in modern existence.

It is in this backdrop that the 18-member commission — four of whom are women — is faced with an onerous task. However, the commission gains its confidence from the realization for the need to serve the Ummah and all humanity toward peace, harmony and coexistence. Therefore, one of its primary roles is to complement the efforts and contributions of other international organizations in this area and interact positively with them.

The commission will also turn a critical eye inward, of introspection, as a unique instrument for self-reform that helps the Ummah rectify any defects. It is meant to adopt a corrective rather than a value-judgmental approach, build capacities and provide solutions for the OIC member states in the area of human rights in a gradual and sustainable manner. Naturally, the nascent IPHRC is not expected to perform its duties in an optimal manner immediately after its establishment or do everything at the same time; so the need for prioritization is essential. It would take an incremental and progressive approach.

I sincerely hope that the commission will have the support, cooperation and encouragement it needs and deserves from the member states as well as the international community to perform its functions for the benefit of the member states and the world at large.

Finally, the establishment of the IPHRC is stemmed from a vision that takes into account the inevitability of progress. It thus counters those outdated concepts that confine the OIC to a limited frame of action ignoring the broader potentialities that should be invested in to achieve the aspirations of the billion and a half Muslims worldwide. 

Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Source: Arab News