Organization of Islamic Cooperation
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the second largest inter-governmental organization in the world after the United Nations. It was founded by a charter in 1969, following decades of deliberation by Muslim scholars and statesmen around the idea of forming a global Islamic organization. Today the OIC comprises 57 member states whose populations amount to near two-billion people combined.
The OIC partners with international mechanisms (including every specialized UN agency), governments, and civil society organizations (CSOs) to address issues of concern to its member states and Muslims worldwide. In 2005, the OIC adopted a ten-year plan to address issues including terrorism, Islamophobia, poor governance, and economic inequality. The OIC has also become active in humanitarian assistance, and in 2008 established the Islamic Cooperation Humanitarian Affairs Department (ICHAD) to coordinate the activities of humanitarian organizations. In response to a devastating famine in Somalia in 2011, for instance, the OIC organized efforts by more than 40 Islamic aid organizations and other CSOs to provide relief supplies throughout the country.
In 2018, OIC countries met in Istanbul, Turkey to establish a network between their Red Crescent and Red Cross national societies in a bid to respond to humanitarian problems and reduce human suffering in the most efficient way across member states. Since 2021, the OIC has also assisted the Afghan people in their humanitarian crisis by providing them technical and financial support. As can be seen, notwithstanding intense divisions among majority Muslim countries, the OIC has had an impact through activities and assistance related to long-term development projects as well as health, education, and agriculture initiatives.
|Headquarters||Jeddah, Saudi Arabia|
|Established||September 25, 1969|
|Founding Document||Charter of the Organization of the Islamic Conference|
|Head||Secretary-General (Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen)|
|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] [Arabic]
|Key Judicial Bodies||none|
|Cameroon||Libya||Syrian Arab Republic*|
|Gambia||Niger||United Arab Emirates|
*Syria was suspended from the OIC on August 15, 2012 in response to 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.|
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;
Historically, the greatest challenge facing the OIC is its ability to establish a consensus among its members. The OIC’s existence is based on the idea that there is a commonality among its members that is stronger than any difference: Islam. However, there are numerous other important differences among member states, from language and culture, to political history and geographical location. Depending on a member state’s location, for instance, regional issues like Kashmir, Palestine, or joining the European Union have greater importance. Even history divides member states: Some members look back to former colonial empires, while others are former colonies. OIC membership has been particularly divided in the past ten years with regard to the Sunni and Shi’a split among Muslims. Accordingly, the OIC’s credibility and potency remain limited, as most member states are members of other regional organizations thought to be more of a priority than the OIC. In addition, the OIC does not have an extensive record of accomplishments.
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 for 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. The Charter does, however, provide for the Independent Permanent Commission on Human Rights. The Commission is 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 does not, however, recognize the freedom of association.
The concept of human rights within the OIC is somewhat limited because it was established with the aim of protecting Muslims from colonization 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 greater 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 generally limited to working with some religious institutions like Al Azhar in Egypt, or the Association of Muslim Scholars, which are invited to attend and sometimes participate in the sessions of the Conference. The OIC also cooperates with the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), with which it has a project to promote religious dialogue and tolerance. Although these organizations are considered part of civil society in its broadest definition, many are directly linked to OIC member state governments, either through the appointment of their presidents or through funding. Hence, these organizations do not represent independent civil society. As for activities with CSOs, the OIC’s website does not mention any joint activities with CSOs.
In 2009, OIC 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 civil society’s 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 that the OIC would develop a new strategy to engage CSOs in order to allow for their effective contribution to discussions about issues facing Islamic nations. Until now, no concrete steps have been taken to develop such a strategy, however.
Since 2018, there appears to be movement from OIC members to establish a network between their Red Crescent and Red Cross national societies to respond to humanitarian problems and reduce human suffering in the most efficient way across the member states. Therefore, the OIC seems more intent in working on humanitarian aid and involving CSOs in those efforts than in developing consensus and creating policies among its diverse members about pressing geopolitical or human rights concerns. The OIC provided assistance to Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon in the sum of $6.3 billion in 2020 and provided food assistance to millions of Afghans before the Taliban’s takeover of the country in August 2021.
Response to COVID-19 Pandemic
In April 2020, the OIC held an extraordinary meeting to discuss measures in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The OIC secretary-general called upon member countries “to join forces, enhance their solidarity and cooperation, and to intensify coordination between them in combating COVID-19.”
The Islamic Solidarity Fund (ISF), a subsidiary of the OIC, launched an initiative to support the least developed member states in their response to COVID-19. On May 17, 2020, as part of this initiative, the ISF provided a number of financial grants to certain members. The ISF emphasized that it will, in coordination with the OIC General Secretariat, continue the financial assistance grant scheme to address the humanitarian, health, economic, social, and other consequences of the pandemic.
On May 16, 2020, in his speech during the opening session of the First Virtual Meeting of the Union of News Agencies (UNA) of the OIC member states, the Secretary General of the OIC noted that conventional and modern media are essential and necessary tools for the fight against the pandemic. Speaking at the virtual session, entitled “The Role of News Agencies in Supporting Efforts to Combat the Coronavirus,” the Secretary General emphasized that news agencies in OIC member countries can help stop the spread of the pandemic by disseminating reliable information, raising awareness, and debunking fake news.
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An open letter to OIC by Afghan Civil Society Coordination Centre (December 2021)
We all Afghans appreciate your efforts and other assistance for the Afghan people, in terms of aid and development that have been undertaken for the last four decades. It is utterly shameful to be so openly dismissive of the traditions of the Prophet of Islam. It is even worse when such deplorable claims are made at the gatherings of some 80 delegations and representatives of 56 countries at the Extraordinary Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation held in Islamabad, Pakistan on 19 December 2021…. Our main request from the Excellency of OIC is to understand and be aware of the Afghans point of views regarding the former and current British colony and imperial proxy, Pakistan and its ISI. As you know, Pakistan has invaded our country by the hand of a particular movement Taliban, who has been killing the Afghan Muslims for the last 2 decades.
OIC chief urges improved food security in wake of pandemic (September 2021)
Secretary-General of the OIC, Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, has urged for more efficient short, medium and long-term strategies to further build the food production capacities of OIC member states. Al-Othaimeen made the appeal in an address to the Fourth Meeting of the General Assembly of the Islamic Organization for Food Security, held virtually under the chairmanship of Kazakhstan on Sept. 8-9.
Afghanistan women’s rights are ‘red line’, UN rights chief tells States (August 2021)
Representing the OIC at an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council, a little over a week after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, Pakistan Ambassador Khalil Hashmi reiterated the OIC’s commitment “to supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process to reach an inclusive political settlement. The OIC underscores the imperative of active engagement by the international community along political, humanitarian, human rights and development tracks.”
Democracy is sliding away in Myanmar, warns top rights investigator (March 2020)
In addition to Human Rights Council resolutions condemning abuses in Myanmar and calling for victims’ justice, consternation about the alleged massacre of ethnic Rohingya has also led to recent rulings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This last initiative, brought by The Gambia on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has also received support from the Netherlands, Canada and the Maldives.
OIC to commemorate 50th anniversary on Monday (November 2019)
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will commemorate its 50th anniversary in Jeddah under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia.
Istanbul hosts OIC extraordinary summit on Jerusalem issue (December 2017)
The OIC held an extraordinary summit on the issue of Jerusalem in Istanbul, Turkey. The theme of the event was “Unified Action in Solidarity with Al-Quds.”
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation to hold forum in London to counter Islamophobia (July 2017)
The OIC held a two-day forum in London for media experts and civil society representatives to discuss different mechanisms to combat Islamophobia.
Counter-terrorism Measures Need to Be in Line with Humanitarian Law (May 2017)
At the 11th Session of the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission, the OIC stressed the importance of member states ensuring that their counter-terrorism strategies be in line with international humanitarian law, as well as the need to respect human rights in the fight against terrorism.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation office in Gaza closes after ‘political pressure’ by PA (May 2017)
The OIC Gaza office was forced to close after the Palestinian Authority reportedly exerted “political pressure” on the office to close and transfer its jurisdiction to the office in Ramallah.
Women need to be effective partners in progress (November 2016)
On November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the OIC said that the day presents an opportunity to review commitments by the international community to eliminate all types of violence against women, in order to ensure their progress and enable their roles in furthering the development of society. The OIC stated that it has long taken a clear stand on issues related to combatting violence against women in accordance with the principles of Islam and international treaties that are in line with the objectives and principles of the OIC.
Meeting between Secretary general and Sheikh Hasina Discusses Networking of NGOs (August 2016)
OIC Secretary general Madani met with Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina at her official residence. Their discussion touched upon other issues of mutual interests, including women empowerment, microfinance, promotion of intra OIC trade and economic activities, situations of Rohingya Muslims and networking with NGOs and civil society organisations in member states.
OIC Organizes Roundtable Discussion on the Role of Civil Society in Electoral Processes (July 2015)
In collaboration with the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UNEAD), the OIC General Secretariat organized a Roundtable Discussion on the Role of Civil Society and Domestic Observer Groups in Enhancing the Integrity of Electoral Processes. Election experts from the League of Arab States (LAS), National Democratic institute (NDI), Organization of American States (OAS) and civil society organizations involved in the electoral process from Indonesia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Tunisia, Colombia and the Philippines participated in the workshopand shared their respective experiences on the role of civil society in electoral process.
OIC issues statement on ways to fight terror and extremism (February 2015)
The Executive Committee of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) reiterated its unabated determination to stand steadfast against extremism and terrorism in all their forms. A final communique following OIC’s extraordinary meeting to discuss the accelerating spread of the pandemic said OIC categorically rejects any attempt to link terrorism with any country, ethnic group or religion or culture or nationality. The statement also condemned the brutal crimes committed by ISIS against the Iraqi people.
OIC criticized for failing to stop bloodshed in Egypt (September 2013)
Syria suspended from the OIC (August 2012)
U.S. Special Envoy to the OIC meets government, political, civil society, and religious leaders in Cairo (August 2012)
NGOs ask OIC’s new human rights body to engage civil society (February 2012)
Indonesia wants to be Host of OIC Human Rights Commission (February 2012)
Countries With Worst Religious Freedom Grades Are Mostly Islamic (August 2011)
Secretary General expresses deep concern over the worrying developments in Yemen (May 2011)