By Rama Ramanathan
Those who love to hate Islam won’t like the outcome of last month’s United Nations Periodic Review (UNPR) because of the concern about human rights expressed by many nations which are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
I wrote the last sentence after studying a UN report which lists recommendations given to Malaysia by UN member nations about how we can improve our position in the global ranking of Human Rights. In case you’re unaware, we came out pretty badly.
I’ve chosen to write about recommendations from Muslim majority nations because the image of Malay-Muslims, has taken a beating in recent days due to the Malaysian Court of Appeal denying Christians (in October) the right to continue calling God Allah and also because some Malaysian groups have been misleading Malaysians about the outcome of the UNPR.
The Malaysian Government sent 36 delegates to the 2013 UNPR to represent our progress on commitments we have made over the years to the UN. The status of our conformance and the sincerity in uplifting our conformance with universal agreements on Human Rights will make a huge impact upon investment in our nation and in our global status. We cannot deny that as a nation we have, for many years, funded local and international efforts to move us closer to our goals.
The Malaysian government delegation took pains to ‘explain’ the Allah Judgment. It needed to be explained because the conclusions of the court – and Malaysia’s official Islamic authorities – were considered laughable not only by secular nations, but also by Muslim-majority nations worldwide. For Muslims around the world, Malaysia’s arguments sound as strange as the last century’s claims of racial superiority by white South Africans.
I won’t discuss the differences between the UN and the OIC. Suffice to say that in 1990, the OIC – which now has 57 members – produced the Cairo “Declaration on Human Rights in Islam” as the next level up from the UN Declaration on Human Rights. We will not be far of the mark if we think of the UNPR as a stepping stone to compliance with the Cairo declaration.
So, what did these Muslim-dominated countries have to say to Malaysia about Human Rights?
First, let’s note the names of the 35 OIC nations who gave us recommendations and the number of recommendations from each nation:
Afghanistan (2); Albania (3); Algeria (2); Azerbaijan (3); Bahrain (3); Bangladesh (2); Benin (2); Brunei Darussalam (2); Chad (1); Djibouti (2); Egypt (3); Indonesia (2); Islamic Republic of Iran (4); Kazakhstan (3); Kuwait (2); Kyrgystan (1); Lebanon (2); Maldives (3); Mauritania (2); Morocco (x1); Mozambique (2); Nigeria (1); Oman (1); Pakistan (2); Qatar (2); Saudi Arabia (2); Senegal (2); Sierra Leone (4); State of Palestine (2); Sudan (2); Tunisia (2); Turkey (4); Turkmenistan (2); Uzbekistan (3) and Yemen (1).
In summary, 35 OIC member nations provided Malaysia with 77 recommendations. This compares with an overall total of 104 UN member nations and 249 recommendations.
Therefore, in percentage terms, 34% of the nations which provided Malaysia with recommendations are members of the OIC; these nations contributed 31% of all recommendations.
Note: Although there are 232 paragraphs in the section of the report which is titled Recommendations/Conclusions, there are actually 249 recommendations. This is because some of the paragraphs contain multiple recommendations.
What did the member countries of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation tell Malaysia? In my analysis I created categories for the subjects they spoke about. Here’s the breakdown:
Children’s rights (3); education (4); education (4); treatment of foreigners (5); freedom of expression (1); gender discrimination (7); general (6); healthcare (10); income inequality and poverty (4); international agreements (20); persons with disabilities (1); police, courts and punishment (2); respect and tolerance (3); trafficking in persons (9).
I have presented the breakdown in alphabetical order to stress that everything in the list is important and interconnected, i.e. the fact that freedom of expression occurs once while international agreements occurs twenty times does not entitle us to conclude that the second is twenty times more important than the first.
Due to space constraints, I will restrict my discussion to 6 categories. I have selected them because of the clear way in which they reveal the human rights aspirations of Muslim-majority nations:
1. Gender discrimination (7). This category is mainly about women’s rights. The recommendations include assuring equal opportunities for men and women, safeguarding women’s rights and enforcing laws on violence against women. The OIC nations said nothing about Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transexuals and Gays (LGBT).
2. Treatment of foreigners (5). Not surprisingly the recommendations came from Bangladesh and Indonesia, 2 countries which supply Malaysia with the vast majority of our guest workers. (We are the Asian nation with the largest number of guest workers). Bangladesh urges us to monitor our recruitment agencies and urges us to give guest workers the protection of the law. Indonesia asks us to treat our guest workers more humanely.
3. Freedom of expression (x1). Indonesia – a region in which some islands are predominantly non-Muslim, e.g. Bali and Timor – tells us we need to be more tolerant of freedom of expression, including the right to peaceful assembly. Indonesia, like other nations, must have noticed how the Malaysian government responds to protesters (e.g. Bersih), dissenters (e.g. Namewee) and pranksters (e.g. Alvivi).
4. Trafficking in persons (9). The recommendations in this category were submitted Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mozambique, Senegal and the UAE. The world recognizes Malaysia as a major hub in the trafficking of persons. Perhaps the OIC nations are diplomatically telling Malaysian NGO’s to get off their efforts to imprison words and instead work to liberate exploited and needy women and children.
5. International agreements (20). The operative words in this category of recommendations are “sign, ratify, accede, join, implement, and legislate.” There are essentially two sub-topics:
6 recommendations I put in this category can be sub-titled “implement Suhakam’s proposals.” Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, S. Arabia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Yemen speak for all nations who see through the mere lip-service given to Suhakam whose annual reports aren’t even debated in Parliament. These nations are pleading for once moderate Malaysia to show how to move from rhetoric to compliance, first to the UN level, then to the Cairo level.
b. UN Conventions
Many OIC member nations know we will ask for their support for us to gain a seat on the UN Security Council in 2015. They are telling us now that they will find it hard to support us if we don’t at least develop, implement and monitor a plan with dates for signing and implementing 6 of the 9 core UN conventions which concern race, torture, refugees, foreign workers, Orang Asli, etc. They are also telling us we can’t expect to indefinitely defer visits of UN rapporteurs.
6. Healthcare (10). Healthcare is mentioned in 10 recommendations. This probably shows the effectiveness of the UN in raising awareness of healthcare opportunities worldwide as much as it shows Muslim concerns about uniform access to healthcare. It’s worth noting that only of the 10 recommendations mentions HIV/AIDS and that one recommendation (by Sierra Leone) warns that acceding to the TPPA may make medicines more expensive.
Overall, the OIC nations have demonstrated they took the UNPR process seriously and have shown deep concern about human rights. They recognize that we must have established covenants to appeal to when we protest injustice, whether in Gaza, Abu Ghraib or Afghanistan. They are rightly and especially embarrassed that Malaysia has set no date to sign the UN Convention on Torture.
More importantly for Malaysia, the recommendations offered by OIC member nations indicate (1) Malaysia’s reputation as a model for other Muslim-majority nations is in tatters; (2) Muslims worldwide have nowhere else to look for ‘tolerant Islam;’ (3) our reputation and leadership can be restored if we move from rhetoric to action, from delegations that talk to institutions that change. – write2rest.blogspot.com, November 16, 2013.
* The writer reads The Malaysian Insider.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.