Jakarta played host on Monday to the inaugural meeting of the human rights commission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an event that the commission said carried “profound historical significance.”
Indonesia’s deputy foreign minister, Wardana, said the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission of the OIC was expected to bridge the growing divide between the Muslim world and the West on the issue of human rights.
“Our hope is that this commission will be the engine that drives the reform process to transform the OIC into an organization that can effectively address the challenges facing the Muslim world,” he said.
“We also hope it can address the misunderstandings in both the Muslim world and the West about the compatibility between Islam, human rights and democracy.”
The IPHRC, agreed upon at a summit of OIC foreign ministers last June, has 18 commissioners, six each from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Four of them are women, including the Indonesian representative, Siti Ruhaini Dzuhayatin, and those from Malaysia, Afghanistan and Sudan.
The commission will serve in an advisory role and promote human rights in the OIC member states, which have a combined population of 1.3 billion Muslims.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the group’s secretary general, said the establishment of the rights commission was testament to the “moderation and modernization” of the OIC in the face of global challenges.
“This is a moment of profound historical significance,” he said.
Ihsanoglu said misconceptions about Muslim communities failing to respect human rights were feeding a rising Islamophobia worldwide and leading to greater discrimination against Muslims.
“While no country in the world can claim a perfect human rights record, there always is room for improvement, including in the OIC member states,” Ihsanoglu said.
“There is a motivated campaign at portraying Islam as inherently incompatible with international human rights norms and standards. I am of a firm belief that the case is exactly the opposite. Islam is not incompatible with human rights standards.”
He added that the human rights framework offered the “most plausible avenue of structured engagement” to address these misconceptions.
“An engagement geared toward removing misconceptions and promoting interfaith harmony. An engagement that could underwrite global peace,” he said.
Julian Wilson, the EU ambassador to Indonesia, welcomed the development.
“The important element in all this is that no one is above anyone else when it comes to human rights issues,” he said. “We also face similar challenges that we need to address. This is a way to maintain the course of democracy and human rights.”
Siti told reporters that Indonesia was being considered as a possible choice to host the permanent secretariat of the IPHRC. She said Iran and Saudi Arabia had put themselves forward, but because they championed different Islamic schools of thought (Shia and Sunni Islam) a neutral state like Indonesia would be more appropriate.
“We’re ready to host the secretariat on the assumption that Indonesia can bridge the differences between these two branches, but of course the final decision will be made at the next ministerial summit,” she said.