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OIC Wants ‘Binding Legal Instrument’ to Fight Islamophobia
By Patrick Goodenough International Editor
March 13, 2008

( – An international humanist organization has warned that
Islamic governments are trying to use the United Nations to shut down free
. The warning comes as a bloc of Islamic states is holding a summit
with “Islamophobia” high on the agenda.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Thursday began a meeting
in Senegal, with the shadow of Danish cartoons satirizing Mohammed and a
Dutch lawmaker’s film criticizing the Koran hanging heavily over the

The 57-member bloc is considering a report by a new body set up to monitor
instances of what many Muslims view as growing prejudice against them and
their religion, particularly in the years since 9/11.

Warning that Islamophobia poses a threat to global peace and security, the
58-page report by the “Islamophobia Observatory” examines the reasons for
the perceived trend — exemplified by stereotyping, hostility,
discriminatory treatment and the denigration of “the most sacred symbols of
Islam” — and suggests ways to combat it.

The recommended steps include a range of responses, including monitoring of
and responding to incidents, and a campaign to show Islam to be a “moderate,
peaceful and tolerant” religion.

But the report also says that legal measures are required.

“There is a need for a binding legal instrument to fight the menace of
Islamophobia in the context of freedom of religion and elimination of
religious intolerance, ” it says.

“The Islamophobes remain free to carry on their assaults due to absence of
legal measures necessary for misusing or abusing the right to freedom of

Islamic states must therefore keep “the pressure on the international
community at the multilateral forums and bilateral agendas,” the OIC report

Since the uproar over the Mohammed cartoons in 2006, the OIC has stepped up
its attempts in international forums to protect Islam against criticism.
Late last year it succeeded in getting the U.N. General Assembly to pass a
first-ever resolution on the “defamation of religions.” Islam was the only
religion mentioned by name in the text.

The OIC has 56 votes at the 192-member General Assembly, but it managed to
win sufficient support from non-Muslim nations, mostly in the developing
world, to see the resolution pass by 108 votes to 51, with 25 abstentions.

‘Sheer weight of numbers’

As the U.N. prepares later this year to mark the 60th anniversary of the
landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights, some observers worry about
the growing clout of the Islamic bloc, and its agenda.

In a statement delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on
Wednesday, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a
non-governmental organization with consultative status at the U.N., voiced
concerns about the OIC push.

“The implications of this [defamation of religions] resolution for freedom
to criticize religious laws and practices are obvious,” the IHEU said.

“Armed with U.N. approval for their actions, states may now legislate
against any show of disrespect for religion however they may choose to
define ‘disrespect. ‘”

“The Islamic states see human rights exclusively in Islamic terms, and by
sheer weight of numbers this view is becoming dominant within the U.N.
system,” the organization added. “The implications for the universality of
human rights are ominous.”

The IHEU and others are uneasy about an OIC plan, first raised at a 2005
summit in Mecca, to draft an Islamic Charter of Human Rights.

In a statement last December, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu
indicated that there were areas of concern to Muslims that weren’t
sufficiently covered by existing international instruments.

“The rising phenomena of Islamophobia and other forms of religious
intolerance, defamation, and demonization of religious references and
symbols, should be fully and firmly addressed to preserve peace, stability,
and common understanding in our world,” he said.

Against that background, the OIC was looking into setting up an independent
permanent body “to elaborate an OIC Charter on Human Rights,” Ihsanoglu

The charter would be in accordance with the provisions of the 1990 Cairo
Declaration on Human Rights in Islam – the last major OIC human rights
document – which says that all human rights and freedom must be subject to
Islamic law (shari’a).

“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,” it says.

While information is necessary for society, the declaration says, “it 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.”

‘Free speech limitations are meant to protect individuals, not religions’

The question of free speech and its effect on religious sentiment has been
on the Human Rights Council’s agenda this week.

On Wednesday, the council considered a report by a U.N. “special rapporteur”
on freedom of expression and opinion, Kenyan lawyer Ambeyi Ligabo.

Ligabo said he was concerned about attempts to expand the scope of
defamation laws beyond the protection of individuals, to include the
protection of “abstract values or institutions” such as religions.

Where international human rights documents placed limitations on freedom of
expression, he told the council, they were designed to protect individuals
— not religions — from criticism.

Ligabo also said he “strongly rejected” the view that the use of freedom of
expression has undermined people’s ability to enjoy other rights, such as
the freedom of religion.

His stance drew criticism from some Islamic states in the council.

Iranian representative Asadollah Eshragh Jahromi said Ligabo should address
the issue of freedom of expression and religion “in a more balanced and
comprehensive manner.”

“Insulting religions is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression
and cannot be justified or interpreted under such a pretext,” he said.

“When someone defames a religion or religious personalities or symbols, he
hurts the believers of that faith and impinges on his exercise of right to
religion and belief,” said the representative of Bangladesh, Mustafizur

The OIC and its allies effectively dominate the Human Rights Council, where
26 of the 47 seats are earmarked for African and Asian countries.


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