The OIC, human rights, and religion

Rejection, reconciliation, or reconceptualization?

Authored by: Marie Juul Petersen

Routledge Handbook on Human Rights and the Middle East and North Africa

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138807679
eBook ISBN: 9781315750972
Adobe ISBN: 9781317613763


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The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s new human rights commission, the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC), was presented in 2011 as: “A paradigm shift within the OIC in the way universal human rights and freedoms flow together with Islamic values.” 2 A few years earlier, then Secretary General Ekmeleddin I˙hsanog˘lu had bluntly stated the need to refine the organization’s 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam “in keeping with the current global human rights discourse.” 3 This was, in the eyes of I˙hsanog˘lu and others in the organization, the task of the IPHRC. But what did this alleged paradigm shift entail? And, was it a paradigm shift in terms of norms or merely a shift in rhetoric? This chapter analyzes the shift in conceptions of human rights in the OIC, from the Cairo Declaration to the IPHRC, paying particular attention to the role of religion in this. This chapter argues that the establishment of the IPHRC could, at least initially, be seen as a fundamental shift from the Cairo Declaration’s Islamically defined alternatives to the rights enshrined in international human rights documents towards an insistence on the validity of these and, ultimately, their legal authority over Islamic law. Somehow blurring the picture, however, the emergence of the ‘traditional values’ agenda points towards a third, and arguably more popular, position within the OIC, relying on the language of universal human rights, but subordinating them to the authority of Islamic law (albeit coined as traditional values). This testifies to the fact that human rights are not best understood as fixed and static concepts, but are better conceived in terms of a politics of constant contestations, challenges, and reconceptualizations.

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