The Jakarta Post, 24 Feb 2012 | Yuyun Wahyuningrum and Muhammad Hafiz
Jakarta is witnessing the historical moment of hosting the first meeting of the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Feb. 20-24, 2012.
IPHRC was established during the 38th Ministerial Meeting of OIC in Astana, Kazakhstan in June last year with the adoption of resolution No. 2/38-LEG on “the Establishment of the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission”.
In this meeting, foreign ministers of 57 countries selected 18 experts representing three regions: Asia, Africa and the Middle East to sit as commissioners in the IPHRC for three years. Experts representing Asia are Siti Ruhaini Dzuhayatin (Indonesia), Raihana Abdullah (Malaysia), Abdul Wahab (Pakistan) and Asila Wardak (Afghanistan).
During their five-day meeting in Jakarta, IPHRC would discuss household issues such as the secretariat of IPHRC, Rules of Procedures (ROP), structure of the Commission and elaboration of the Commission’s scope of work to include civil and political rights, the PalestineIsrael conflict, right to development, women and children’s rights, interfaith dialogue and the situation of Muslim minorities in the world.
As a new system, the Commission should also start discussing its strategic position among the existing human rights systems. As a matter of importance, IPHRC should not duplicate or compete with the other mechanisms.
Rather, it should complement, add values and strengthen each other’s mandates and roles in the respect, protect and fulfillment of human rights. IPHRC also should ensure involvement of the vulnerable and marginal groups in its deliberations.
OIC has been silent in global human rights debates since the adoption of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) in 1991. The creation of the IPHRC was part of institutional reform in OIC and a landmark of paradigm shift in the Islamic world on human rights.
In 2005, the third Extraordinary Islamic Summit Conference adopted the Ten-year Program of Action (TYPA), which included the initiatives to institutionalize human rights in this Islamic political body.
In 2008, the new OIC included the creation of IPHRC in its new charter and adopted the Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women (OPAAW).
At the international level, OIC sponsors the formulation of the Resolution on Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief during the 16th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2011.
Now, OIC is at the half-way stage in implementing its institutional reform plan. To what extent OIC is loyal to the universal human rights principles remains a big question at the moment, and begs explanation and evidence. More importantly is to answer how this reform is relevant to its Ummah to meet challenges in the 21st century as TYPA envisions.
Spokesperson of OIC said that the establishment of the IPHRC should be part of the solution instead of the problem. IPHRC was created to act independently and function as an advisory committee of the OIC on human rights matters.
In fact, during the Civil Society’s Forum to the First Meeting of the IPHRC that was organized by a Coalition for IPHRC Advocacy on Feb. 9, 2012, in Jakarta, Indonesia’s civil society expressed concern that the Commission would be used to legitimate the reduction of the interpretation of universal human rights principles.
This concern may be valid as Article 15 of the Charter of OIC states that IPHRC “shall 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”.
At the same time, IPHRC can be a strategic venue to seek an alternative solution when it comes to crossregional issues such as protection of the rights of migrant workers.
OIC consists of members coming from three regional human rights systems, namely the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the Arab League.
Middle East countries have been the primary destination of Indonesian migrant workers. There are about 1.5-1.7 million Indonesian migrant workers in the Middle East countries (Antara, Nov. 28, 2011).
Perhaps, the model of multiregional cooperation on upholding the rights of migrant workers is the answer to the complexity of the issue.
Indonesia’s membership in IPHRC enforces the leadership projection as the world’s third-largest democracy and as a moderate Muslim-majority country.
From 2005 on, Indonesia has been trying to convince the world that it is country is a place where democracy and human rights, Islam and modernity can go hand in hand.
Can Indonesia challenge OIC’S tradition position of being conservative Islam?
First, it is worth noting that economically, Indonesia’s bargaining power is inadequate to influence the decisions of the OIC. Logistically, Indonesia has no physical representation in the OIC headquarters in Saudi Arabia to deal specifically with OIC multi-lateral cooperation.
Second, there has been a relative neglect of Indonesia’s Islamic credentials. Apart from the fact that Indonesia never declares itself an Islamic country; its Islam is not the way it is supposed to be.
Being moderate Islam, Indonesia has the superior authority to inform OIC in its reform process, which brings the motto of “moderation and modernization”.
Democratic transition in Indonesia has changed the country from being the target of scrutiny for alleged human rights abuses to a more responsible international player.
This should give added values to OIC in promoting human rights.
OIC and IPHRC need to work hard to gain credibility from its members, the international community and the Muslim population around the world.
Selecting the host of IPHRC is an important and political aspect to show OIC’S genuine intentions on human rights. It is expected that Jakarta will be chosen over Jeddah and Tehran in the next Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in May 2012 in Djibouti.
The writers work for the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), a network of 50 organizations working on human rights in Indonesia for international human rights advocacy, based in Jakarta.