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. There is also consensus that elements like sectarianism and absence of respect of socio-cultural rights among different communities have 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. This dynamics has led to efforts by people from different countries to try and overcome challenges associated with illegal migration. 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 South-east 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 tights. OIC's Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) has been charged to play a more proactive role in not only promoting human rights but also ensuring respect and protection for different societies with separate value-structures. 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, 2017. His address touched on the theme of the 44th ICFM - "Youth, Peace and Development in a World of Solidarity", and expressed hope that the outcome of the conference would be instrumental in steering the Ummah (the whole community of Muslims bound together by ties of religion) towards achieving these goals, by promoting education and creativity in all the OIC member states through strengthening the role of youth in all aspects. It was also noted that this would be consistent with the objectives and the role of IPHRC and be crucial for achieving OIC's desired objectives delineated in its Ten-Year Programme of Action and revised Charter.
Dr. Balushi pointed out that despite resource constraints, IPHRC's effort was being widely recognised by the international human rights community. In this context he mentioned that IPHRC conducted two field visits to Palestine and Kashmir and prepared 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 reviewed 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.
During this conference elections were held for nine new members of the IPHRC for a period of three years with effect from February 2018. Those elected through secret ballot as new members of the IPHRC included eminent jurists from Burkina Faso, Republic of Guinea, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Kingdom of Morocco, Sultanate of Oman, Saudi Arabia, Republic of Turkey, Republic of Uzbekistan and the writer of this column, Ambassador Muhammad Zamir, from Bangladesh.
IPHRC is an expert body with advisory capacity as one of the principal organs working independently in the area of human rights. The broad contours of an effective and independent human rights mechanism were envisaged in the OIC Ten-Year Programme of Action adopted by the 3rd Extraordinary Islamic Summit held in Makkah Al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia, on December 7-8, 2005. Subsequently, 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 (CFM) held in Astana, Kazakhstan, on June 28-30, 2011.
The Commission has since emerged as a fully functional human rights mechanism pursuing its multidimensional objectives and mandates. From its first regular session, it adopted a set of five guiding principles for its work. These include the principles of complementarity, introspection, prioritisation, incremental approach and credibility.
The Commission has elaborated its detailed Rules of Procedure and also identified concrete areas of priority, namely rights of women, rights of the child, human rights education and the right to development. It is now offering programmes of assistance to OIC 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.
The OIC 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 civilizations 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 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. IPHRC 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 has 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 has also prepared reports on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic, the negative impact of economic and financial sanctions on the full enjoyment of human rights of people within the OIC. It regularly interacts with other regional and international Human Rights mechanisms and tries to collaborate on issues of common concern for strengthening universal values of human rights at all levels. This effort, it needs to be underlined, is consistent with the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which 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".
The objectives for setting up the IPHRC can only be meaningfully achieved if it abides by the stipulations set forth in the international instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol.
The writer, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.
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