The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “The inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”
Upholding of human rights has gained focal attention all over the world. It is generally agreed that absence of this important factor within the paradigm of governance affects individual security, collective security, and also national security.
In this context, there is also consensus that elements like sectarianism and absence of respect of socio-cultural rights among different communities have also had an effect on the sub-regional and regional matrix.
The prevailing situation of terrorism and violence in different parts of the world -- resulting out of fundamentalism, communalism, populism, and misinterpretation of religion -- has resulted in displacement of populations, both internally as well as across frontiers.
Such an equation has particularly emerged within the parameters of parts of Africa in general and North Africa in particular, and also in several sub-regions within the Middle East and parts of South and Southeast Asia. Armed violence has contributed to instability, loss of lives, and tension in the context of bilateral relations.
Recognition of these factors appears to have persuaded the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states to focus their collective attention towards the upholding of human rights. In this context, the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) has been charged to play a more pro-active role in not only promoting human rights but also ensuring respect and protection for different societies with separate value-structures.
The youth is our future
This has been done with the belief that this will strengthen the role of youth and also foster peace and development in all OIC member states.
Details of the efforts undertaken by the IPHRC in this regard was recently enumerated by its Vice Chairperson, Dr Rashid Al Balushi, during the 44th session of the OIC Conference of Foreign Ministers (CFM) held in Abidjan Republic of Cote d’Ivoire from July 10-11. His address touched on the theme of “Youth, Peace, and Development in a World of Solidarity.”
IPHRC has been charged to play a more pro-active role in promoting human rights
Dr Balushi also pointed out that despite resource constraints; IPHRC’s effort was being widely recognised by the international human rights community. In this context, he also informed the member states about IPHRC conducting two field visits to Palestine and Kashmir and also preparing detailed reports on the ongoing human rights situation in these sensitive areas.
The IPHRC has apparently also carried out research and prepared a detailed report on the subject of “Sexual orientation and Gender identity” and also tried to review the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam against existing universal human rights instruments.
Both these studies with concrete recommendations were later submitted to the 44th CFM for consideration and appropriate follow up. It would be fitting at this point to outline the manner in which the IPHRC evolved within the OIC. It is an expert body with advisory capacity that was established by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as one of the principal organs working independently in the area of human rights.
A new avenue of peace and order
The creation of IPHRC was enunciated in the New OIC Charter adopted by 11th Islamic Summit held in Dakar, Senegal, on March 13-14, 2008. The commission was formally launched with the adoption of its statute by the 38th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers held in Astana, Kazakhstan, on June 28-30, 2011.
The nascent commission has since emerged as a fully functional human rights mechanism pursuing its multidimensional objectives and mandates. From its first regular session, the commission adopted a set of five guiding principles for its work. These include the principles of complementarity, introspection, prioritsation, incremental approach, and credibility.
The IPHRC has also claimed that they are now offering programs of assistance to member states in a variety of areas such as advancing human rights, reviewing the corresponding domestic legislations, counseling with regard to obligations under international human rights instruments, awareness campaigns, and provision of technical assistance for capacity building, etc. One can only hope that these objectives do not suffer due to absence of political will or financial contributions.
Support is key
The OIC, in this significant journey, needs to fully support the IPHRC while it undertakes measures towards advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms in member states as well as the fundamental rights of Muslim minorities and communities in non-member states in conformity with the universally recognised human rights norms and standards and with the added value of Islamic principles of justice and equality.
This effort aimed at promoting and strengthening human rights in member states should also include interfaith and intercultural dialogue as a tool to promote peace and harmony among various civilisations and the promotion of the true image of Islam -- as a religion of peace and understanding.
This will need extending support to member states and their national institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights for all in an independent manner. It will also require reviewing the OIC’s own human rights instruments and recommending ways for their fine-tuning, as and where appropriate, including the option of recommending new mechanisms and covenants.
Subsequent promotion of cooperative working relations with relevant bodies of the United Nations will help to strengthen regional human rights mechanisms with the support and association of accredited civil society organisations.
A vast network
IPHRC, with its member states spread over four continents is designed to work as a cross-regional human rights mechanism that brings together and promotes the universal character of human rights. Over the last three years, the IPHRC appears to have deliberated on a number of important issues of contemporary concern such as rights of women and children, right to development, combating Islamophobia, extremism, and intolerance.
It would, however, be fitting for OIC member states to understand that the objectives for setting up the IPHRC can only be meaningfully achieved if they seriously abide by the stipulations set forth in international instruments and not just in lip-service.
Conformity with these aforementioned principles will then ensure good governance particularly with regard to the millions of expatriate workers -- both female and male -- who now work in the Middle East from least developed and developing countries.
It will be a challenge, but I shall try to make certain of this during my tenure as an elected member of the IPHRC for three years from February, 2018.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]