The newly formed Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had already adopted rules of procedure and targeted substantial issues for review, including the rights of minorities, marginalized communities and women and children, officials from the body told reporters at Headquarters today.
The new Commission, the first ever-independent cross-regional human rights mechanism, would act as an advisory body to the organization’s Council of Foreign Ministers, said Rizwan Saeed Sheikh, Director of Cultural Affairs at the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation General Secretariat.
“The creation of this Commission is not an exercise in isolation,” he said, adding: “It is part of an integrated framework at the OIC where not only the human rights as a whole, but the rights of women and children are being accorded priority.”
Pointing out that the 57-member organization had recently adopted a plan of action that would soon see the establishment in Cairo of a centre on women’s rights, he said the Commission was created in 2008 by a mandate in the OIC’s Charter to, among other things, prepare the Organization for the twenty-first century. The Commission was made up of 18 members — six each from the African, Asian and Arab regions — nominated by their respective Governments and elected by the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, he said, emphasizing the body’s independent nature.
Also at the Press conference was Commission Chair Siti Ruhaini Dzuhayatin, who said that among the body’s members were advocates, lawyers, academics and others with experience working in New York and Geneva in the area of human rights. Indeed, she herself was a sociology professor at the State Islamic University of Yogyakarta in Indonesia.
“This expertise will allow the Commission to work very effectively with OIC Member States in assessing and helping them strengthen efforts to promote and protect human rights in their respective countries,” she said, noting that the Commission was also expected to work with those Members States in the area of legislation, as well as with civil society and regional organizations. In 2012, it had held two formal meetings and met informally in working groups, she added.
Tasks at hand included conducting a dialogue on civilizations, particularly removing misconceptions of the compatibility and incompatibility of Islam and international human rights principles, she said. Substantive work would begin by the end of December, with working groups focusing on priority areas, including on issues hindering women’s rights, such as poverty, domestic violence and the rise in conservatism and fundamentalism in certain countries. Part of the work would be to collect human rights legislation from Member States and find best practices that could be applied elsewhere.
Commission members did not receive a salary and would work from an approved budget to cover expenses, Mr. Sheikh pointed out, answering a reporter’s question.
Answering another question on the Rohingya people facing sectarian violence in Bangladesh and Myanmar, he said the Commission had been mandated to advise the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers on the issue and would be conducting a fact-finding mission to Myanmar. The Commission had not yet examined yesterday’s European Human Rights Court decision finding the United States in violation of extraordinary rendition of a German citizen, Mr. Sheikh said, answering another question.
In response to similar questions on cultural sensitivities, abortion rights and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, he said the Commission would draw its agenda from the Council of Foreign Ministers, as was the case in Myanmar, and other sources, such as those tools available to other human rights bodies.
Answering a question on women’s rights, Ms. Dzuhayatin explained that various interpretations of Islam were discussed in the context of how a cultural perspective influenced the way people practiced Islam with, for instance, the issue of child marriage. In that area, many Member States were now working on adjusting their legislation to reflect child rights, she said, noting that now the moderate view would agree that it was better to abide by child rights and raise the age of marriage to 18.
Study and research on best practices would address the challenge the Commission faced in terms of different cultural backgrounds, she said, answering another question. Countries would learn from each other, she added.
One reporter wondered, since the OIC had a “very commendable record” on protecting the most innocent and helpless - unborn children – and fighting for that issue at the United Nations, would the Organization be in a position to inform its members when some United Nations agencies, such as the Human Rights Council and the World Health Organization (WHO), went beyond their mandates and proposed abortion.
In response, Mr. Sheikh said the issue had not been brought to the Human Rights Council and perhaps the Commission would conduct an objective analysis of the issue and pronounce itself on it. As such, the topic had not been discussed. Ms. Dzuhayatin pointed out that the issue would be addressed under the Commission’s reproductive rights discussions.