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Last updated 17 January 2013
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations. Although the idea of forming an international Islamic organization had been around for centuries, the first real efforts to form such an organization only occurred after the official abolition of the Ottoman Empire in 1924. A series of conferences were held that year that included one in Cairo where Muslim scholars called for an Islamic conference to consider what entity would succeed the Caliphate. In proceeding years, several more conferences were held and initiatives undertaken, including the Islamic Bloc in Pakistan of 1952, the Mecca Conference of 1954, the King Faisal Initiative of 1965, the First Moroccan Conference of 1968, and the first Global Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur in 1969. During that period, many intellectuals continued to support the idea of forming an international organization comprised of Muslim countries. Among them was Egyptian thinker Abdul Razzaq El Sanhouri, who addressed this goal in his book Fiqh of Succession, or Fiqh Al Khalifa.
However, it was the Al-Aqsa Mosque fire incident of August 21, 1969 that was the event that led directly to the Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the League of Arab States in August 25 - 26, 1969 in Cairo. The Arab League Council stressed the importance of holding an Islamic summit. The Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Morocco immediately took advantage of this Conference to hold a preparatory conference in Rabat from September 12-25, 1969. One of the results of this Conference was the establishment of a permanent secretariat. In March 1970, a Conference was held in Jeddah for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Muslim countries to study the initial proposals that evolved into a plan to establish an Islamic organization. In 1972, another conference for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Islamic countries was held in Jeddah, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Charter was adopted.
In June 2011, the name of the OIC was changed from the Organization of the Islamic Conference to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
|Headquarters||Jeddah, Saudi Arabia|
|Established||September 25, 1969|
|Founding Document||Charter of the Organization of the Islamic Conference|
|Governing Bodies||Islamic Summit, Council of Foreign Ministers, General Secretariat|
|Key Human Rights Agreements||Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam
Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam [English] [عربي]
|Key Judicial Bodies||none|
|Cameroon||Libya||Syrian Arab Republic*|
|Gambia||Niger||United Arab Emirates|
*Syria was suspended from the OIC on August 15, 2012 for the government's violent suppression of the revolt in the country.
|Freedom of Association||Legal Protection||Neither the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam nor the Charter of the Organization of the Islamic Conference specifically mention freedom of association.|
|Civil Society Participation||Some religious institutions are invited to attend and sometimes participate in the sessions of the conference.|
|Human Rights Defenders||Current Status||The establishment of an Independent Human Rights Commission was announced in 2009.|
Freedom of Association and Civil Society
|Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam||1990|
|The Charter of the OIC||2004|
The Charter of the OIC established the Organization’s objectives. Most importantly, the objectives are:
- To enhance and consolidate the bonds of fraternity and solidarity among the Member States;
- To safeguard and protect the common interests and support the legitimate causes of the Member States and coordinate and unify the efforts of the Member States in view of the challenges faced by the Islamic world in particular and the international community in general;
- To respect the right of self-determination and non-interference in the domestic affairs and to respect sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of each Member State;
- To ensure active participation of the Member States in the global political, economic and social decision-making processes to secure their common interests;
- To reaffirm its support for the rights of peoples as stipulated in the UN Charter and international law;
- To strengthen intra-Islamic economic and trade cooperation; in order to achieve economic integration leading to the establishment of an Islamic Common Market;
- To exert efforts to achieve sustainable and comprehensive human development and economic well-being in Member States;
- To protect and defend the true image of Islam, to combat defamation of Islam and encourage dialogue among civilizations and religions;
- To enhance and develop science and technology and encourage research and cooperation among Member States in these fields;
The Charter also established several important principles:
- All Member States commit themselves to the purpose and principles of the United Nations Charter;
- Member States are sovereign, independent and equal in rights and obligations;
- All Member States shall settle their disputes through peaceful means and refrain from use or threat of use of force in their relations;
- All Member States undertake to respect national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of other Member States and shall refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of others;
- Member States shall uphold and promote, at the national and international levels, good governance, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law;
The most important challenge facing OIC historically is its ability to establish a consensus among its members. The OIC’s existence is based on the idea that there is a commonality between its members that is stronger than any difference, Islam, the essential component of the culture of Member States. However, there are several other important differences between Member States. For example, language, culture, political history, and geographical location are key issues that divide the group. Depending on a Member State’s location, regional issues like Kashmir, Palestine, or joining the European Union (EU) have greater importance. Even history divides Member States. Some members were former colonial empires, and others former colonies. As a result, the OIC membership is often divided on many issues, especially for the last ten years where sectarianism has emerged within the Islamic religion, especially among Sunni and Shi'a. The once unifying factor of religion has become another division within the OIC. Thus, the OIC's credibility remains threatened given that most Member States are members of other regional organizations thought to be more of a priority than the OIC. In addition, the OIC's record of accomplishments is not very extensive.
Freedom of Association and Partnership with Civil Society
The main charter of the OIC includes an article stipulating the importance of promoting Member States’ support of good governance, democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law both nationally and internationally. However, the Charter does not mention freedom of association specifically. In fact, this term cannot be found in any of the documents available on the OIC website.
Moreover, none of the OIC’s founding documents address partnership with independent CSOs and is limited to the idea of establishing similar organizations. However, the Charter created the Independent Permanent Commission on Human Rights, a standing body for human rights established to promote the civil, political, social and economic rights enshrined in the organization’s covenants and declarations and in universally agreed human rights instruments, in conformity with Islamic values.
In addition, the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam in Cairo on August 5, 1990. The Cairo Declaration also does not address freedom of association.
The concept of human rights within the OIC is limited because it was established with the aim of protecting Muslims from colonization forces or other external forces. It does not address human rights obligations of Member States directly. However, Article 2 item 7 in Chapter I of the new OIC Charter, adopted in Dakar Summit in 2008, urges member states to “uphold and promote good governance, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law” at the national and international levels. Moreover, Chapter VIII of the “Ten-Year Program of Action”, adopted by the Extra-ordinary Summit in Mecca in 2005, calls for concentration of efforts to increase political participation, achieve equity, concretize civil freedoms and social justice and promote transparency and accountability in the OIC member States.
The OIC’s partnership with civil society is limited to working with some religious institutions like Al Azhar in Egypt or the Association of Muslim Scholars; that are invited to attend and sometimes participate in the sessions of the conference. Although these organizations are considered part of civil society in its broadest definition, many are directly linked to Member State governments either through the appointment of their presidents or through funding. Hence, these organizations do not represent an independent civil society. As for activities with CSOs, the OIC’s website does not mention any joint activities with nongovernmental civil society organizations.
In 2009, however, Secretary General, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, in his meeting with the representatives of the board of directors of the Arab Turkish Organization for Science, Culture and Arts, stressed the importance of nongovernmental civil society organizations’ role in achieving comprehensive development in the Islamic world. Ihsanoglu recognized that CSOs are still weak and their activities are limited in Islamic countries. He stated, however, that the OIC would develop a new strategy to engage CSOs in its various meetings and events to allow for their effective contribution to discussions about various issues in Islamic nations.
Until now, no concrete steps have been taken to implement the concepts espoused in these statements.
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For first time in OIC history, humanitarian NGOs granted consultative status (November 2012)
The foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states agreed to grant humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) consultative status in the OIC. At the 39th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM), held in Djibouti, 15-17 November 2012, the Rules for Granting OIC Consultative Status to Humanitarian NGOs headquartered in an OIC member state was approved.
Arab League, OIC proposals out of step with progress on freedom of expression (September 2012)
Human Rights First said that Arab League and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) calls for the international criminalization of blasphemy mark a step backwards in progress toward tolerance. Such measures were also woven into remarks delivered Wednesday by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who made his debut before the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly. Human Rights First helped to defeat such measure at the United Nations last year and now says that efforts to reignite this debate are out of step with the basic human right of freedom of expression and U.S. foreign policy. They are also out of step with the positions that OIC States accepted to adopt last year at the United Nations.
Syria suspended from the OIC (August 2012)
The OIC has suspended Syria, citing President Bashar al-Assad's suppression of the revolt in the country, but there was little support for direct military involvement in Syria at a summit of Muslim leaders in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu described the decision to suspend Syrian membership as "a message to the international community ... that the Islamic community stands with a politically peaceful solution and does not want any more bloodshed."
U.S. Special Envoy to the OIC meets government, political, civil society, and religious leaders in Cairo (August 2012)
Rashad Hussain, President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), visited Egypt August 4-8 to meet with government, political, civil society, and religious leaders and discuss a wide range of issues. As Special Envoy, Rashad Hussain serves as the U.S. representative to the OIC and seeks to deepen and expand partnerships between the United States and Muslim communities around the world.
First International Conference on "Refugees in the Muslim World" in Turkmenistan (May 2012)
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in coordination with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Government of Turkmenistan are organizing an International Ministerial Conference on “Refugees in the Muslim World” on May 11-12, 2012 in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, preceded by an OIC Senior Officials meeting on 9 and 10 May 2012. It will be the first OIC conference exclusively focusing on the refugee situation in the Muslim world and other related issues. A large number of OIC Member States, non-member states, NGOs and international organizations are expected to participate.
NGOs ask OIC’s new human rights body to engage civil society (February 2012)
Several non-governmental human rights organizations said that the newly established Islamic Cooperation Organization's Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission should actively involve civil society in their activities.
Indonesia wants to be Host of OIC Human Rights Commission (February 2012)
Indonesia is planning on running to become a host for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Human Right Commission. The commission, established a year ago, has been absent due to fierce competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both countries insisted on becoming the base for the Human Rights Commission which recently held its first meeting in Jakarta this week.
The foregoing information was collected by the Arab Forum for Alternatives in Cairo, Egypt.