Organization of Islamic Cooperation
In April 2020, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held an extraordinary meeting to discuss measures in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, the OIC secretary-general, said, “Our member countries are called upon to join forces, enhance their solidarity and cooperation, and to intensify coordination between them in combating COVID-19.”
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.
More recently, 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. Notwithstanding the 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|
|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 are 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’s does not have a very 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. (However the Cairo Declaration also does not address 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 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 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, that 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, however, 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 an 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 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 that the OIC would develop a new strategy to engage CSOs in its various activities 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’s trajectory is more toward working on humanitarian aid and involving CSOs in those efforts than developing consensus and creating policies among its diverse members about pressing geopolitical or human rights concerns.
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 email@example.com.
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