Opening remarks by His Excellency the Secretary General during the High Level meeting on intolerance
Posted by Human Rights in Islamic Countries on January 23, 2013
Let me begin by thanking you Madam for taking the commendable initiative to organize this high level meeting. I also acknowledge the presence of Ministers and other colleagues who responded to your kind invitation. In addition to making the most of the traditional British hospitality, we are all gathered here to address an issue of utmost contemporary significance. We must aim at developing a common understanding on the way forward. I will briefly share some ideas in this regard.
Combating discrimination and intolerance forms a most daunting challenge of our times. It constitutes a matter of vital concern at the OIC. The increasing trend of Islamophobia is indeed ominous in a globalized world. There has been an alarming increase in intolerance and discrimination against Muslims. The fifth report of OIC Islamophobia Observatory reveals an alarming upsurge. It has been a period punctuated by utterly reprehensible episodes including – burning of the holy Quran – the Utoya massacre in Norway – and most recently the release of the trailer of ‘innocence of Muslims’. In confirming our worst fears, increasing frequency of such events and their aftermath vindicated OIC’s warnings of serious repercussions. The long term implications go beyond these repercussions.
During the last five years, a succession of unfortunate steps taken even by some governments in the West – indicating institutionalization and constitutionalization of Islamophobia – are disturbing. Most disconcerting is the emerging pattern of its abuse as an instrument of local, regional and international politics – documented by our Observatory over the last five years. Religion has come to play an increasingly important role in the calculus of international relations. The situation is likely to exacerbate in the wake of the current economic recession. It must accordingly figure in our strategic calculations. Tensions must not be allowed to simmer but addressed through concerted action. They could jeopardize peaceful coexistence in an interdependent and interconnected world.
Gatherings like the one today are, therefore, increasingly important. In a world faced with the menace of terrorism, incitement to hatred, discrimination, and violence, cannot and must not be ignored. We would, otherwise, be faced with the unaffordable risk of the agenda hijacked and set by radicals and non-state actors. We need to act to wrest the initiative away from the street to the table of meaningful and result oriented multilateral discourse.
The consensual passage of HRC resolution 16/18 has been widely acknowledged as a positive development. The Resolution forms a triumph of multilateralism must also be seen as a poster child of OIC-US-EU cooperation. It demonstrated OIC’s ability to forge consensus on a most sensitive of issues in contemporary international relations. The resolution codified the eight points identified in my address to the 15th Session of the Human Rights Council. These points constitute areas of action at the national and the international levels. I am gratified that they could form the basis of consensus. It afforded the opportunity to focus on the real issues away from the politicization and polarization of a decade.
We did not stop at mere passage of a resolution. The Istanbul Process initiated with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to build further on the consensus building that went into resolution 16/18 must be carried forward. Our meeting today is a part of this Process. I appreciate that it has come to be recognized as the way forward by all stakeholders. Its merit lies in acceptance as the least common denominator. This approach carries a lot of potential in terms of evolving an international consensus to deal with the matter while addressing genuine concerns of all parties. The real test, however, lies in implementation. The consensus would, otherwise, be fragile. The approach signified by the resolution 16/18 is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. We need to build on it.
It must be appreciated that there is mounting public pressure on OIC Member States to take concrete action. A recently held panel of eminent lawyers and human rights practitioners – at the OIC – endorsed the 16/18 approach and the Istanbul Process as the avenues for engagement. It was agreed that there is no need to move towards an entirely new instrument. The provisions of existing instruments, including articles 19 and 20 of ICCPR, suffice in covering OIC’s concerns. It is the voids or gaps in interpretation, implementation and information that need to be plugged. There are differences that must be ironed out to develop a common understanding. I believe according equal weight to the concerns on both sides could form a good point of departure.
Within the framework of the Istanbul Process, we must continue to address interrelated issues. Grey areas need to be squarely addressed in search of durable and consensual solutions. The two Istanbul Process events in Washington and London have addressed important areas with regard to the eight points. The Process must be carried forward. I take this opportunity to inform that OIC will be hosting the next event in the Istanbul Process. We look forward to sustaining a candid and frank exchange of views on each of the eight areas of action. This engagement would help us build on the consensus signified by the Resolution 16/18.The text has evolved as reflected by the latest UNGA resolution 67/178.It must continue to evolve on a consensual basis.
Let me conclude by drawing attention to the need for an effective international mechanism that could act as an early warning system. I understand that the idea of an international observatory at the OHCHR in Geneva enjoyed support at the Winton Park event last month. OIC has its own Observatory with a mandate limited to monitoring Islamophobia. I understand that another mechanism to monitor hate crimes is in place at the OSCE. It also has a limited mandate. We need an Observatory at the international level with the broad mandate to monitor and document all instances of discrimination and intolerance on religious grounds. It must have a global coverage. It would monitor intolerance and discrimination against all religions and their respective followers. This would help us develop an empirical basis to understand the extent of the problem. That, in turn, would figure into evolving an effective and concerted international response to this matter of vital concern. OIC has been supportive of such an Observatory. In fact I indicated this support in the same statement at the Human Rights Council in September 2010 where the eight points were mentioned. I am reiterating this idea hoping that an agreement, in principle, can be reached at this meeting. It would form at least one concrete outcome of this important gathering.
I conclude my remarks and would be listening carefully to all the interventions.
I thank you Baroness.
I thank you all.