Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) (previously known as the Organization of the Islamic Conference)
- Regional co-operation — Security assistance — Regional organizations
Published under the auspices of the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law under the direction of Rüdiger Wolfrum.
1 The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (‘OIC’) (formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference) is an international organization, but differs from other international organizations by basing its membership on a religious identity (International Organizations or Institutions, Membership). Its members are States predominantly from Asia and Africa. Its existence has been justified as a response to the need for solidarity between the Muslim populations of the Member States to achieve political and economic strength.
B. Background and Historical Development
2 When it comes to the origin of the OIC, it is common to refer to the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and the formal abolition of the office of the Caliphate by its successor, the secular State of Turkey, in 1924. This was met with dismay since the office was of symbolic importance for Muslims who considered it as a link to the successors of the Prophet Muhammad and synonymous with power and influence of the Muslim world.
3 Between 1926 and 1969 a number of conferences were held with the objective of uniting Muslims after the abolition of the office of Caliphate. These conferences were initiated by Muslim intellectual and political or religious leaders, but their non-governmental nature limited their influence.
4 The emergence of several newly independent countries and the Cold War (1947–91) between the two superpowers in the early 1960s presaged an alliance of developing countries as a new political bloc. This prompted the mobilization of Islamic countries under an Islamic pact. Proposals for a summit meeting (Summit Meetings) of all political leaders of the Muslim world were put forward in two Islamic conferences convened by non-governmental groups and organizations and held in Mecca and Mogadishu in 1962 and 1964 respectively.
5 After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the need for an organized Islamic alliance to give a unified Muslim response to Israeli policies became an added reason for taking firm steps towards the establishment of an Islamic inter-governmental organization (see also Arab-Israeli Conflict). It was, however, the burning of one of Islam’s most holy sites, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on 21 August 1969 that became the decisive factor for convening the first Islamic Summit Conference.
6 This conference took place in Rabat, Morocco, between 22 and 25 September 1969. It was attended by Heads of State and representatives of 24 Islamic countries. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) participated as an observer (International Organizations or Institutions, Observer Status). The summit discussed, inter alia, arson at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Israeli occupation of Arab territories, and the liberation of Palestine. One outcome was a resolution on close cooperation and mutual assistance between Islamic States in the economic, scientific, cultural, and spiritual fields (Regional Co-operation). To implement the cooperation, regular meetings at the foreign minister level were to be held. This was the first real step towards regular summit and foreign-minister–level conferences of Islamic States, which gradually became an international organization with affiliated institutions and subsidiary organs.
7 The first two Conferences of Foreign Ministers (‘CFMs’), held in 1970, decided to establish a permanent secretariat for the meetings to draft some basic objectives and principles. As a result, a draft Charter of the Islamic Conference was prepared. The third CFM, held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia between 29 February and 4 March 1972, adopted the Charter of the Islamic Conference, formally establishing the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Charter entered into force on 28 February 1973.
8 After over 30 years of existence with a history of internal problems, ineffectiveness, modest achievements, and an increase in the number of Member States from 31 to 57, the OIC felt a need for reform, modernization, and strengthening of its position in the post–September 11 era. A Ten-Year Programme of Action to Meet the Challenges Facing the Muslim Ummah (Community of the Believers, the whole Muslim world) in the 21st Century was adopted for that purpose by the Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit Conference in December 2005. The programme contained a thorough plan for the reform of the OIC, including the adoption of a new charter and a change to the name from the ‘Organization of the Islamic Conference’ to the ‘Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’. The name was changed in June 2011, and the 1972 Charter was replaced by a new charter, the Charter of 2008, adopted by the 11th Islamic Summit Conference (see below) in Dakar, Senegal, on 14 March 2008. The change of the name has not had any impact on the character, status, or legal nature of the OIC as an international organization. The Charter of 2008 is to be considered as a continuation and development of the 1972 Charter.
9 As a second phase of the Ten-Year Programme of Action, a new document entitled the ‘OIC-2025: Programme of Action’ was adopted by the Thirteenth Session of the Islamic Summit Conference in April 2016. This document is based on the OIC’s objectives and principles as enshrined in its Charter of 2008 and in its 2005 Programme of Action. The new document is divided into two sections. In the first section, 18 priority domains are described. This is followed by a detailed account of each domain’s strategic goals.
C. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation as an International Organization
10 The use of the terms ‘Islamic’ and ‘Conference’ in the original title of the OIC may suggest that it is a specific type of international organization (see also International Organizations or Institutions, General Aspects). Yet, the OIC, as a pan-Islamic institution of intergovernmental cooperation, resembles other post-World War II international organizations. Due to the composition of its Member States, the Charter of 1972 was inspired by the Charter (Pact) of the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Charter of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union [AU]). The Preamble to the Charter of 1972 underlined that common belief constitutes a strong factor for rapprochement and solidarity among Islamic peoples. Its emphasis was thus on the solidarity and unity best expressed in the Islamic concept of Ummah. The reference to unity and solidarity as a noble Islamic value is reiterated in the Preamble to the present Charter. Despite this emphasis on the unity of believers, which brings together the Member States of the OIC, the Organization has no ambition to trespass State borders or unite the Islamic nations. The commitment of its Member States to the United Nations Charter, which is reaffirmed in the Preamble to the Charter of 2008, confirms this fact. By virtue of a statement in the Preamble, as well as the provision in Art. 1 (3) Charter of 2008, it is indeed an international organization par excellence, composed of a number of sovereign States acting together towards defined objectives. The Islamic identity of the Member States has had no impact on the performance of the OIC as an intergovernmental actor under international law (see also Islamic Approach to International Law). The choice of the term ‘conference’ in the original title of the OIC reflects the way it developed out of a series of conferences at different levels and was finally institutionalized as an ordinary inter-governmental organization.
D. Objectives and Principles
11 Art. II Charter of 1972 contained a rather short list of objectives and principles. These reflected the political and legal developments of the world in the late 1960s and Member States’ aspirations to align themselves with the move against colonial injustice. The OIC’s objectives and principles in the Charter of 2008 have found expression in the Charter’s Chapter 1, which consists of two articles. These two articles will be discussed further below.
12 Art. 1 Charter of 2008 enumerates 20 objectives, compared with seven in the Charter of 1972. The latter emphasized the promotion of Islamic solidarity among Member States as the OIC’s primary objective. Reference to ‘Islamic solidarity’ had its roots in the 19th century pan-Islamic movement against European colonialism. The adjective ‘Islamic’ before ‘solidarity’ is deleted in the Charter of 2008 and a neutral reference is made to solidarity and fraternity among the Member States. To achieve this objective, Art. 1 (2) Charter of 2008 requires the protection of Member States’ common interests and the coordination of their efforts in view of the challenges faced by the international community in general and the Islamic world in particular.
13 One important provision in the 1972 Charter, namely Art. II (A) (3), dealt with the issue of the elimination of racial segregation and discrimination (Racial and Religious Discrimination). This provision was clearly inspired by the human rights principle prohibiting racial discrimination in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Moreover, two years before the adoption of the Charter of 1972, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had confirmed the erga omnes status of the principle (Obligations erga omnes), in Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Co Ltd (Belgium v Spain) (Second Phase) ( ICJ Rep 3 para. 34) (Barcelona Traction Case). In addition, the objective of eradicating colonialism reflected the dominant debate in international organizations during the 1960s and early 1970s. Important here are the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to the Colonial Countries and Peoples (UNGA Res 1514 [XV] [14 December 1960] GAOR 15th Session Supp 16, 66) and the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (UNGA Res 2625 [XXV] [24 October 1970] GAOR 25th Session Supp 28, 121). There is no reference to the elimination of segregation and racial discrimination in the present Charter of 2008.
14 Another objective of the Organization, as enshrined in Art. 1 (3) Charter of 2008, is to respect the right of self-determination and non-interference in the domestic affairs of the Member States and to respect their sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity (Territorial Integrity and Political Independence).
15 Probably with due regard to several cases of violation of the Member States’ territorial integrity and their occupation by other States, particularly the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990, Art. 1 (4) Charter of 2008 contains a specific objective to support the restoration of complete sovereignty and territorial integrity of any Member State under occupation as a result of aggression.
16 There are two specific objectives with respect to the OIC’s external relations (International Organizations or Institutions, External Relations and Co-operation). They are enshrined in Art. 1 (5) and (6) Charter of 2008, which are a reformulation of similar provisions in Art. II (A) (4) and (7) Charter of 1972. They are to ensure active participation of the Member States in the global political, economic, and social decision-making processes and to promote inter-State relations based on justice, mutual respect, and good neighbourliness, to ensure global peace, security, and harmony. This provision resembles Art. 1 (1) UN Charter, which stipulates that one purpose of the UN is to ‘maintain international peace and security … in conformity with the principles of justice and international law’. The absence of reference to international law in the said objective of the OIC should not be interpreted as disregard for international law. Both the Preamble to the Charter of 2008 and the principles enunciated in Art. 2 (1), (6), and (5) underline the firm commitment of the OIC and its Member States to the UN Charter and to the principles of international law.
17 Two other objectives, enumerated in Art. 1 (7) and (8) Charter of 2008, relate primarily to the Palestinian issue. Given that the decision to establish the OIC was taken in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and arson at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 1969, it is understandable that the question of the rights of the Palestinian people and the status of Jerusalem are of the highest importance in the Charter of 2008. Art. II (A) (5) Charter of 1972 declared as a main objective of the OIC ‘to coordinate efforts for the safeguarding of the Holy Places and support of the struggle of the people of Palestine, to help them regain their rights and liberate their land’ (Holy Places).
18 The specific mention of Palestine in this provision was due to the dominant perception in the Arab countries when the Charter of 1972 was adopted that the case of Palestine was unique; not comparable with that of other mandated territories and oppressed Muslim peoples. Thus it was justifiable to single out Palestine in the Charter of 1972, elevating the Palestinian issue from a question for Arab countries to a concern for the whole Muslim world. Art. II (A) (6) Charter of 1972 extended the objective of supporting the Palestinian struggle to all Muslim people: ‘to strengthen the struggle of all Muslim peoples with a view to safeguarding their dignity, independence, and national rights’.
19 Art. 1 (7) Charter of 2008 requires the OIC to reaffirm its support for the rights of peoples as stipulated in the UN Charter and international law. This is obviously different from the wording of Art. II (A) (6) Charter of 1972, which limited itself to Muslim peoples, arguably including Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries, subject, of course, to the requirements of the principle of non-intervention (see also Minorities, International Protection; Intervention, Prohibition of). The provision in Art. 1 (7) Charter of 2008 has thus a broader scope and is more in harmony with modern international law and the principle of non-discrimination.
20 Art. 1 (8) Charter of 2008 is far more elaborate than its predecessor, ie Art. II (A) (5) Charter of 1972. It declares as an objective of the OIC to ‘support and empower the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination and establish their sovereign State with Al-Quds Al-Sharif [ie Jerusalem] as its capital, while safeguarding its historic and Islamic character as well as the Holy places therein’. The clear reference to Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian sovereign State has no equivalent in the Charter of 1972 and replaces a vague wording in that charter about the Palestinians’ rights to liberate their land.
21 Economic and scientific development is emphasized in several provisions. The idea of the establishment of an Islamic Common Market, inspired by similar projects in Europe (European [Economic] Community, now the European Union [‘EU’]) and in Latin America (MERCOSUR) is spelled out as an objective in Art. 1 (9) Charter of 2008.
22 Several objectives are clearly influenced by the developments in recent years that have resulted in a negative picture of Islam. To combat defamation of Islam, to defend the true image of Islam, to promote Islamic culture, to disseminate Islamic values, and to combat terrorism in all its forms are some examples of such objectives that are mentioned in Art. 1 (11), (12), (16), and (18) Charter of 2008.
23 Another issue that is often questioned is the compatibility of Islam with generally accepted human rights standards. Art. 1 (14) and (15) Charter of 2008 contains objectives on this matter. The promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms including the rights of women, children, the elderly, and people with special needs is underlined. At the same time, this objective is directly linked to the preservation of Islamic family values.
24 Art. 2 Charter of 2008 contains eight principles that are applicable as sources of inspiration for the Member States to achieve the OIC objectives. Some of the OIC principles are formulated as legal obligations upon Member States whereas others have the character of declarations. The principles resemble those in the charters of most international organizations. They consist of the most fundamental legal rules enshrined in the United Nations Charter, particularly Arts 1 and 2 UN Charter.
25 The first principle declares the Member States’ commitment to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. This emphasis is important, serving to denote that despite rather developed legal codes in Islam for several areas of international law such as international humanitarian law (Humanitarian Law, International), human rights, international environmental law, and settlement of international disputes, the OIC Member States as UN members consider themselves bound in the first place by principles of international law.
26 The second principle is the sovereign equality of Member States, the legal consequence of which is equality in rights and obligations (States, Sovereign Equality). The Charter of 2008 further emphasizes these obligations in the fourth principle, which provides for respect for ‘the national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of other Member States’. A corollary of sovereign equality is respect for ‘the right of self-determination, and non-interference in the domestic affairs of Member States’ laid down in Art. 2 (4) and (5) Charter of 2008 (Self-determination). The question of non-interference in matters that are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State is re-emphasized in the sixth principle.
27 There are three principles that are formulated as legal obligations. According to Art. 2 (3) Charter of 2008, ‘all Member States shall settle their disputes through peaceful means and refrain from use or threat of use of force in their relations’ (Use of Force, Prohibition of; Use of Force, Prohibition of Threat). Member States are further obliged under Art. 2 (7) Charter of 2008 to uphold and promote good governance, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. Finally, Art. 2 (8) Charter of 2008 requires Member States to ‘endeavour to protect and preserve the environment’. This is a weakened form of the standard wording used in the majority of international environmental law documents.
E. Membership, Structure, and Finance
28 Chapter II Charter of 2008 deals with the question of membership. The founding members were 31 States from Africa and Asia. Art. 3 (1) Charter of 2008 provides that the membership of the OIC consists of the present 57 members and other States which may accede to the Charter. According to Art. 3 (2) Charter of 2008, any ‘State, member of the United Nations, having Muslim majority and abiding by the Charter, which submits an application for membership may join the Organisation if approved by consensus only by the Council of Foreign Ministers’. Membership includes not only Asian and African States but also European and American countries—Albania, Guyana, and Suriname.
29 A difference between the Charter of 2008 and the Charter of 1972 is that the reference to the legally vague concept of ‘Muslim State’ as a requirement for membership has now been replaced by the much clearer wording: ‘any State … having [a] Muslim majority’. Eligibility for membership does not require reference in a country’s constitution to Islam as the official religion of the State seeking membership. The diversity of OIC membership shows that the OIC has so far been very accommodating as regards membership, embracing both countries with majority Muslim populations, eg, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and those with minority Muslim populations, eg, Uganda. The more usual practice has been to give observer status to countries with minority Muslim populations, such as Thailand, Central African Republic, and Russia. Islamic communities, eg, Moro National Liberation Front (the Philippines), and international organizations, eg, UN, the Arab League, and the African Union, also participate as observers.
30 Applications for membership shall be approved by consensus of the present and voting members of the CFM according to Art. 33 Charter of 2008. The requirement in the Charter of 1972 was approval by a two-thirds majority of all CFM members. This change can be explained by the long-standing difference of opinion with respect to the possibility of the membership of certain States. According to Art. 4 Charter of 2008, granting observer status to any State—which shall be a member of the United Nations—or international organization is subject to the same procedure as approval of membership.
31 Neither the Charter of 1972 nor that of 2008 has contained any provision on suspension of membership or expulsion. Despite this, Egypt’s membership was suspended following the conclusion of the 1979 Treaty of Peace between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the State of Israel ([signed 26 March 1979, entered into force 25 April 1979]  1136 UNTS 116). Egypt resumed its membership in 1984. Afghanistan’s membership was also suspended in 1981 following the Soviet invasion because of the pro-Soviet Afghan government. In 1997, the Taliban regime, which was recognized by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates and had their full support, attempted to be admitted as a member of the OIC, but failed.
32 The possibility of withdrawal is provided for in Art. 35 Charter of 2008. Accordingly any Member State may withdraw from the OIC by notifying the Secretary-General one year prior to its withdrawal. Such State shall be bound by its obligations until the end of the fiscal year during which it submitted its application for withdrawal.
33 The structure of the OIC in the Charter of 2008 is considerably enlarged compared to that under the Charter of 1972. According to Art. 5 Charter of 2008, the OIC consists of ten organs or categories of organs. Although there is no formal categorization, four of them can be considered as the principal organs. They are: the Islamic Summit, the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM), the General Secretariat, and the International Islamic Court of Justice. The other organs, which either already exist or are to be established, generally have a secondary status. They are: the Executive Committee, the Committee of Permanent Representatives, the Independent Permanent Commission on Human Rights, Subsidiary Organs, Specialized Institutions, and Affiliated Institutions.
(a) The Islamic Summit
34 Art. 6 Charter of 2008 defines the Islamic Summit, which consists of Kings and Heads of State and Government of Member States, as the ‘supreme authority’ of the OIC. The main function of the Summit is, according to Art. 7 Charter of 2008, to ‘deliberate, take policy decisions and provide guidance on all issues pertaining to the realization of the objectives as provided for in the Charter and consider other issues of concern to the Member States and the Ummah’. Art. 8 Charter of 2008 stipulates that the Islamic Summit shall convene every three years in one of the Member States. Extraordinary meetings of the Summit will be held, according to Art. 9 Charter of 2008, ‘whenever the interests of Ummah warrant it, to consider matters of vital importance to the Ummah and coordinate the policy of the Organisation accordingly’. Such meetings may be held on the recommendation of the CFM or on the initiative of one of the Member States or the Secretary-General, provided that such initiative obtains the support of a simple majority of the Member States. Extraordinary summits have been held since 1997 whenever specific political developments of particular relevance to the Islamic world such as the situation in Iraq or Palestine have required (see also Iraq, Invasion of ; Iraq, Occupation after 2003).
35 The Charter of 1972 was silent on the decision-making procedure of the Islamic Summit. Unanimous vote or consensus has been the basis, although a number of resolutions have been adopted by majority vote. Given the practice of Member States so far, it may be concluded that resolutions and decisions on substantive matters are considered binding on those States that have voted for them, whereas decisions on procedural matters are generally observed by all Member States.
36 The Charter of 2008 contains a general provision on decision-making by all the OIC organs. Art. 33 Charter of 2008 provides that a two-thirds majority of Member States shall constitute the quorum for all the meetings. According to the same article, decisions shall be taken by consensus. If consensus cannot be obtained, a two-thirds majority of members present and voting will be acceptable unless otherwise stipulated in the Charter of 2008.
(b) Council of Foreign Ministers
37 While the Islamic Summit is the highest political organ, the Assembly of the OIC, the CFM, performs both political and executive functions at high level. According to Art. 10 Charter of 2008, the CFM shall meet once a year. It can have extraordinary sessions on the initiative of any Member State or of the Secretary-General provided that the initiative is approved by a simple majority of the Member States. The main tasks of the CFM are to adopt decisions and resolutions in the implementation of the objectives and the general policy of the OIC, to review the progress of the implementation of the decisions adopted at the previous summits and the CFMs, to approve the budget of the General Secretariat and subsidiary organs, to recommend the establishment of any new organ, to elect the Secretary-General, to appoint Assistant Secretary-Generals, and to consider any other issue that it deems fit. Moreover, the CFM may recommend convening of ministerial meetings in other areas, such as health, tourism, culture etc, to deal with the specific issues of concern to the Ummah. The legal effect of CFM decisions is not clearly spelled out in the Charter, but should, by virtue of Art. 33 Charter of 2008, be the same as in the case of the decisions of the Islamic Summit Conferences.
(c) General Secretariat
38 Chapter XI Charter of 2008 deals with the General Secretariat of the OIC. According to Art. 16 Charter of 2008, the Secretariat is headed by a Secretary-General, who is elected by the CFM for five years, renewable once only. The duties and functions of the Secretary-General, the General Secretariat, and its staff are, in principle, the same as those of secretariats in similar international organizations. However, unlike the secretariats of some other international organizations, the OIC Secretariat lacks real power or influence of its own and is basically administrative in its functions. From the very beginning, the Secretariat was envisaged as a liaison between governments, a forum to facilitate Member States’ consultations in a series of conferences, rather than a body tasked with rule-making and implementation. This coordinating role with little power for independent action has not changed considerably over time.
39 Art. 18 Charter of 2008 provides that the Secretary-General shall submit nominations for Assistant Secretaries-General to the CFM for appointment for a period of five years. One Assistant Secretary-General shall be in charge of Al-Quds Al-Sharif and Palestine issues. Moreover, the Secretary-General may appoint special representatives for the implementation of the decisions of the Islamic Summits or the CFMs. Such appointments shall be approved by the CFM.
40 Art. 16 Charter of 2008 sets out that the Secretary-General shall be elected in accordance with the principles of equitable geographical distribution, rotation, and equal opportunity for all Member States with due consideration to competence, integrity, and experience. However, the appointment of the Secretary-General has almost always been a controversial issue. The personal characteristics of the Secretary-General as well as his country’s standing on main international issues have always played a role in his election.
41 Art. 21 Charter of 2008 stipulates that the ‘Headquarters of the General Secretariat shall be in the city of Jeddah until the liberation of the city of Al-Quds [Jerusalem] so that it will become the permanent Headquarters of the Organisation’. It is clear from this provision that in the OIC’s opinion, Jerusalem is under occupation. The OIC has observer status at the United Nations. It has Islamic Observer Missions in New York and Geneva, and a regional office in Kabul.
(d) International Islamic Court of Justice
42 Art. 27 Charter of 2008 contains a provision on peaceful settlement of disputes. Accordingly, any dispute that is detrimental to the interests of the Islamic Ummah or may endanger the maintenance of international peace and security shall be settled by good offices, negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, or other peaceful means. The OIC has a considerable record as regards resolution of conflicts despite the fact that peaceful settlement of disputes was not included in its mandate in the Charter of 1972. The OIC has been involved in conflict resolutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, Jammu and Kashmir, the Philippines, Thailand, and Sudan, among other locations.
43 The most concrete step with respect to the settlement of disputes was the decision by the Third Islamic Summit Conference in 1981 to establish an international Islamic court. The Draft Statute of the International Islamic Court of Justice (‘IICJ’) was amended several times and finally adopted by the Fifth Islamic Summit Conference in 1987. The Statute has not been yet ratified by the required two-thirds majority of the Member States, and the IICJ is thus not yet activated. One reason for the reluctance of the Member States to ratify the Statute and operationalize the IICJ is assumed to be the wish not to challenge the authority of the International Court of Justice.
44 Art. 14 Charter of 2008 briefly refers to the IICJ and stipulates that the Court shall, upon the entry into force of its statute, be the principal judicial organ of the OIC. The IICJ is to be composed of seven judges elected for four years renewable only for a second term. To qualify as a judge, one has to be a Muslim, a national of a Member State, and not younger than 40. He shall have a high moral character, be an authority on Shari’a, and be experienced in international law. He must be qualified for the highest judicial post in his own country. Although the IICJ Statute is silent about the sex of the judges, it may be expected that only men will be appointed following prevalent practice in the courts of the majority of Islamic countries. The judges shall be appointed by the CFM to serve at the seat of the IICJ, the city of Kuwait. The IICJ’s official languages shall be Arabic, English, and French.
45 The IICJ has jurisdiction to entertain contentious cases and to give advisory opinions. It exercises its jurisdiction in all issues referred to it by Member States, including issues whose referral to the IICJ is provided for in any treaties or conventions in force. It is open not only to OIC members but to non-members which accept the IICJ’s jurisdiction and recognize its judgments as final. The jurisdiction is optional, and consent must be given through declaration. Advisory jurisdiction of the IICJ is open only to the organs of the OIC, subject to the approval of the CFM. The IICJ can indicate provisional measures pending its final judgment in a case. Decisions are by majority vote of its members, and judgments are final. Should a party fail to comply with the judgment, the matter shall be referred to the CFM.
46 The primary source of law for the IICJ is the Islamic Shari’a, which is characterized in Art. 27 IICJ Statute as ‘the fundamental law of the International Islamic Court of Justice’. The IICJ can, according to Art. 27 IICJ Statute, also refer to international law. Although the wording of this provision does not expressly rank the sources, it should be understood that international law should be resorted to only when Shari’a gives no thorough answer to the disputed question.
47 Finally, mention should be made of the Peace, Security and Mediation Unit that the Secretariat established in 2013 in order to strengthen its role in mediation and quiet diplomacy. It is supposed to support the intensification of the use of good offices of the Secretary-General and his Special Representatives, and enhance cooperation with other regional and international organizations. The Unit is expected to function principally through monitoring current and potential crisis situations and undertake timely diplomatic response.
(e) Subsidiary Organs
48 Art. III Charter of 1972 referred to the subsidiary organs of the organization without specifically naming any such organ. Under the Charter of 1972 the OIC has established a number of subsidiary organs, which function in close cooperation with the General Secretariat. The Charter of 2008 has several provisions relating to various committees as well as subsidiary organs and specialized or affiliated institutions.
49 Art. 23 Charter of 2008 contains a general provision on subsidiary organs according to which such organs are established either by the Islamic Summit or the CFM. The budgets of subsidiary organs shall be approved by the CFM. The subsidiary organs of the OIC include the Statistical, Economic, Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (Ankara), the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (Istanbul), the Islamic University of Technology (Dhaka), the Islamic Centre for Development of Trade (Casablanca), the International Islamic Fiqh Academy (Jeddah), and the Islamic Solidarity Fund and its Waqf (Jedda).
(f) Specialized and Affiliated Institutions
50 Two general provisions in the Charter of 2008, namely Arts 24 and 25, relate to specialized and affiliated institutions. Although specialized institutions are established by the Islamic Summit or the CFM, their budgets are independent and their memberships are optional. The same applies to affiliated institutions that are recognized as such by the CFM. They also have independent budgets and the membership is optional. The OIC’s specialized institutions are the Islamic Development Bank (Jeddah), the Islamic Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Rabat), the Islamic States Broadcasting Union (Jeddah), International Islamic News Agency (Jeddah), Islamic Committee of the International Crescent (Benghazi), and the Science, Technology and Innovation Organization (Islamabad). Affiliated institutions include the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Karachi), the Organization of the Islamic Shipowners’ Association (Jeddah), and the Organization of the Islamic Capitals and Cities (Mecca).
(g) Other Organs
51 In addition to the named general provisions on subsidiary organs and institutions, the Charter of 2008 contains a number of provisions on specific entities that are either already in place or shall be established. Art. 11 Charter of 2008 refers to four standing committees that are established and chaired by Kings and Heads of State and Government. The task of these committees is to advance issues of critical importance to the OIC and its Member States. They are: a) the Al Quds Committee, established in 1975, chaired by the King of Morocco; b) the Standing Committee for Information and Cultural Affairs, established in 1981, chaired by the President of Senegal; c) the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation, established in 1981, chaired by the President of Turkey; and d) the Standing Committee for Scientific and Technological Cooperation, established in 1981, chaired by the President of Pakistan.
52 To do away with the problem of the lack of an enforcement mechanism, an Executive Committee was established by the Third Extraordinary Summit held in Mecca, 7–8 December 2008. The purpose of this committee is to enhance the OIC’s ability to act more effectively and more quickly on matters of international concern to the Member States. Art. 12 Charter of 2008 regulates the composition of the Executive Committee. The Committee consists of the chairmen of the current, preceding, and succeeding Islamic Summits and CFMs, the host country of the Headquarters of the General Secretariat—Saudi Arabia—and the Secretary-General as an ex officio member. In addition, the Committee of Permanent Representatives, which is referred to in Art. 13 Charter of 2008, is to regularly follow up all matters of international significance for Member States and assist the Executive Committee to act quickly. The CFM shall define the prerogatives and modes of operation of this committee. The OIC Charter of 2008 does not define any explicit power for the Executive Committee. That may be a reason why it has not been able to fulfil its intended role properly, and its output so far has been limited to issuing statements that reflect the formal position of the OIC.
53 Finally, mention should be made of a new commission that has been established according to Art. 15 Charter of 2008, namely the Independent Permanent Commission on Human Rights. The mandate and functions of this commission will be further commented on in the following sections.
54 The Charter of 1972 contained one provision, Art. VII, on the finances of the General Secretariat of the OIC. The question of the budget and finance of the General Secretariat and subsidiary organs is now addressed in Arts 29, 30, and 31 Charter of 2008. According to Art. 29 Charter of 2008, Member States shall cover the budget of the General Secretariat and subsidiary organs ‘proportionate to their national incomes’. The Islamic Summit or the CFM may establish special funds and endowments ‘on [a] voluntary basis as contributed, by Member States, individuals and Organisations’. Art. 30 Charter of 2008 states that financial affairs shall be administered ‘according to the Financial Rules of Procedure approved by the Council of Foreign Ministers’.
55 The CFM sets up, according to Art. 31 Charter of 2008, a Permanent Finance Committee consisting of ‘the accredited representatives of the participating Member States’. The Committee’s function is to prepare the programme and budget, which shall be approved by the CFM. The same article provides for the establishment of the Financial Control Organ that is comprised of auditing experts from the Member States and is responsible for the auditing of the General Secretariat and its subsidiary organs.
F. The OIC Approach to Special Legal Issues
56 As an international organization with specific interest in issues relating to the world’s Muslim population, the OIC has been faced with many important international issues directly involving or relevant to Islamic countries. The positions that the OIC has taken in these situations have varied considerably and have highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the OIC.
1. The Palestinian Question
57 The establishment of the OIC was largely inspired by the desire of some Arab States to build a unified political front in support of the rights of the Palestinian people. This was evident in Art. II Charter of 1972, where the struggle of the Palestinian people to regain their rights and to liberate their land is specifically mentioned. This question, which in the early years of the OIC was considered, at least by some Arab Member States, as the OIC’s raison d’être, has remained a core issue. The Charter of 2008, both in its Preamble and in Art. 1 (8), repeats in a more comprehensive manner the determination of the Member States to continue to support the struggle of the Palestinian people.
58 The involvement of the OIC in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute has found expression in numerous statements, resolutions, and press releases. The OIC’s formal position is based on the UN resolutions relating to Palestine. It thus accepts the two-State solution and demands that Israel withdraw completely to the borders as of 4 June 1967. It considers Jerusalem (Al-Quds Al- Sharif) as the capital of an independent Palestinian State and supports the return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with UNGA Resolution 194 (III) ([11 December 1948] GAOR 3rd Session Part I Resolutions 21). A corollary of this position is that although the OIC has supported seeking a two-State solution, some of its radical Member States are generally against any reconciliatory attitude towards Israel.
59 Despite the great significance of the Palestinian issue for the OIC, its success in bringing about a material change of the situation has been little. The most notable and tangible achievement has been the OIC’s testimony which, together with statements by other influential organizations and entities such as the Arab League, resulted in the widely publicized ICJ ruling against Israel in 2004 (Israeli Wall Advisory Opinion [Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory]  ICJ Rep 136).
60 Several non-Arab members of the OIC, particularly Asian Member States, have raised questions concerning the OIC’s policy on the Palestinian issue. Although they have unequivocally accepted that the question of Palestine is the single most important Muslim grievance, they have also argued that so much focus on one question is unwarranted and has had detrimental effects on the efficacy of the OIC in promoting Islamic States’ interests in all other issues of importance for the Muslim world. This concern has affected the drafting of the objectives and principles of the Charter of 2008.
2. International Terrorism
61 The OIC has taken a firm position when it comes to terrorism. It has repeatedly condemned terrorism as an act totally prohibited by Islam. Condemnations of any terrorist act in the Muslim world have been regularly issued. The OIC distinguishes between terrorism and peoples’ struggle for self-determination. This distinction is deemed necessary to justify the OIC’s position on Palestinian people’s struggle for their rights. As a result of this policy, the OIC has systematically refused to condemn any Palestinian acts of violence against civilian populations, which has been described as creating an ambivalent position.
62 A concrete step in the fight against terrorism is the 1999 Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism (‘Terrorism Convention’). Art. 1 Terrorism Convention defines terrorism and terrorist crimes in broad terms. The definition is rather vague and goes beyond the generally accepted understandings of terrorism defined in other international documents. At the same time, Art. 2 Terrorism Convention contains an important exemption and underlines that:
63 This exemption has been criticized on the ground that terrorism makes no exception irrespective of the causes.
64 The OIC has been working on updating the Terrorism Convention. The purpose is to include new provisions on the fight against ‘cyber terrorism’ (Cyber Warfare), terrorist financing, and trans-boundary terrorist networks.
65 The position of the OIC after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 was straightforward. The Final Communiqué of the Ninth Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers of 10 October 2001:
66 In April 2002, the Tenth Extraordinary Session of the CFM adopted the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on International Terrorism. It reiterated the OIC’s unequivocal condemnation of acts of international terrorism. It rejected, at the same time, ‘any attempt to associate Islamic States or Palestinian and Lebanese resistance with terrorism’ (see also Resistance, Right to, International Protection; Resistance Movements). The question of terrorism has been on the agenda of many meetings of the OIC in recent years, and has now found expression in Art. 1 Charter of 2008 in more general terms, and in harmony with similar provisions in other international instruments.
3. Armed Conflicts
67 The OIC has had a rather passive position with respect to the situations of armed conflicts involving one or more Muslim nations. The first important test was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. In the First Extraordinary Session of the CFM, which was held on 27 January 1980, several Soviet-friendly Member States either did not participate or spoke in support of the invasion. Iran and Iraq, both members of the OIC, fought a devastating war between 1980 and 1988. The OIC failed to prevent or to end the war.
68 The OIC has been actively involved in the situation of Muslim populations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Kosovo. As regards the former, OIC support has been both in the form of promoting the demands of the Bosnian Muslims within the UN system and assisting it financially and otherwise. In the UN deliberations on Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s, the position of several OIC Member States was that the UN Security Council should protect Bosnian Muslims by permitting use of force against Serbs under Chapter VII UN Charter. In the absence of such authorization, the arms embargo against the Muslims should be lifted so that they could defend themselves.
69 In regard to the bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999, the OIC limited itself to reaffirming ‘its full solidarity with the people of Kosovo to help them overcome the tragedy they faced as a result of the policies of oppression and ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbian forces….’ (Ethnic Cleansing; Serbia). Thus runs the Final Communiqué of the Twenty-Sixth Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (Session of Peace and Partnership for Development) of 1 July 1999, which held its annual meeting two weeks after the termination of NATO operations. In this way, the OIC refrained from commenting on the legality of the military operations, an issue widely debated in the doctrine of international law.
70 Perhaps more significant was the reaction of the OIC to the US invasion of Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. The military attack on this Muslim country was based on new-claimed legal grounds, namely self-defence against international terrorism. The response of the Islamic countries and their organization, the OIC, to this claim was decisive for the assessment of State practice in this regard. The Ninth Extraordinary Session of the CFM, convened on 10 October 2001, chose not to comment on the issue of the legality of the military operations. Instead, it focused on condemning international terrorism.
71 The OIC position with respect to the US-led war against Iraq was somewhat different. Two weeks prior to the start of the war, the OIC declared its total rejection of any strike on Iraq and any threat to the security of any Islamic State. It called on Muslim countries to refrain from taking part in any military action targeting the security and territorial integrity of Iraq or any Muslim nation. However, the CFM and the Islamic Summit Meeting in May 2003 made no comment on the issue of the legality of the invasion of Iraq. The Islamic Summit Meeting limited itself to emphasizing the central role that the UN should play in post-war Iraq, and reaffirming the need for all to respect Iraq’s sovereignty, political independence, national unity, and territorial integrity.
72 As regards the 2006 Israeli military operations against Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Executive Committee of the OIC consisting of 17 countries’ Heads of State and Government or representatives held a special meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on 3 August 2006, while the war was still going on. The meeting adopted a declaration—the Putrajaya Declaration on the Situation in Lebanon—strongly condemning Israel for ‘the relentless Israeli aggression against Lebanon’. The Declaration singled out several examples of violations by Israel of human rights and international humanitarian law. There was no mention of Hezbollah in the Declaration, but ‘the importance of the consent of all concerned parties in Lebanon on any future settlement’ was underlined.
73 This issue was also addressed by the CFM meeting in Islamabad in May 2007. The Islamabad Declaration emphasized the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of Lebanon while the Final Communiqué of the Thirty-fourth Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, of the same meeting, ‘demanded the UN Security Council to act toward preventing the repeated Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty’ on land, in the air, and at sea, and to force Israel to pay damages for all losses sustained by the Lebanese territories ‘as a result of its continuous aggression against Lebanon’.
74 In response to the Israeli military operations in Gaza during December 2008 and January 2009, an extraordinary meeting of the OIC Executive Committee was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in early January 2009. The Final Communiqué of the Expanded Extraordinary Meeting of the Executive Committee at the Level of Foreign Ministers on the Ongoing Israeli Assault on Gaza underlined the raison d’être of the OIC, ie, the cause of Palestine and support to the Palestinian people to regain their national rights. It considered the Israeli attack as ‘a flagrant violation of international law and of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War’ (Geneva Conventions I–IV ).
75 The Final Communiqué, in language stronger than that used in the case of the 2006 Israeli war against Hezbollah, declared Israel responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and asked the UN Security Council to compel Israel to accept an immediate ceasefire. It also mentioned the possibility of convening a special session of the UN General Assembly for the adoption of a uniting-for-peace resolution if the UN Security Council were not to succeed in adopting a ceasefire resolution. The document notably re-emphasized OIC support for the Palestinian National Authority and its legal institutions without making any reference to Hamas.
76 The armed conflicts in Syria and Yemen are two other more recent instances in which some Member States of the OIC have been directly involved and the OIC has taken a position. The unrest in Syria began in 2011 as a result of the Arab Spring and developed in 2012 into a civil war between the Syrian Government on the one hand and various forces opposing the Government on the other. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and some other Arab members of the OIC have expressly supported the idea of a peaceful transition of political power in Syria. On the other hand, Iran has actively supported the existing political order with President Assad as the leader of the country. This divergence is reflected in almost all Syria-related documents adopted by the OIC since 2012. These documents generally reflect the position of Turkey and the powerful Arab members of the OIC such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
77 The first formal reaction of the OIC to the Syrian crisis was announced in the Final Report of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Executive Committee that was held on 24 June 2012. In that report, the Executive Committee recommended to the coming CFM suspending the membership of Syria. The Executive Committee further called upon the UN Security Council to consider the situation in Syria under Chapter VII UN Charter. Since 2012, the CFM and the Islamic Summit have regularly addressed the Syrian crisis in their resolutions and other documents and emphasized the responsibility of the Syrian Government, the support for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, and the need for the UN Security Council to take measures. Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and Algeria have appended reservations to some or most of these resolutions.
78 The civil war in Yemen between two factions that claim to be the legitimate government of the country has been an important political issue for the OIC. The Houthi militia and loyalists of the former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, allegedly supported by Iran, are at war with the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who has the support of Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab and African countries. Thus, several OIC Member States are involved in this conflict. The reaction of the OIC has been in full harmony with the position of Saudi Arabia and its allies, who have intervened militarily in Yemen against the Houthis.
79 In sum, the OIC’s role in the two recent armed conflicts, namely in Syria and Yemen, has been modest and limited more or less to issuing political statements. This may be explained partly by the fact that some influential Member States have sided with opposing parties to the named conflicts and partly by the structural deficiencies that limit the OIC’s ability to have and demonstrate volonté distincte and try to settle conflicts in time.
4. Protection of Human Rights
80 In the Preamble to the Charter of 2008, the OIC Member States emphasize their commitment to fundamental human rights. The origin of the OIC’s specific work on human rights is, however, a decision made by the 10th CFM in 1979 to establish a commission for drafting a document on Islamic human rights. The document was adopted by the 19th CFM in August 1990 as the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.
81 The Declaration is a mixture of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. There are some differences between this Declaration and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (UNGA Res 217 A (III) [10 December 1948] GAOR 3rd Session Part I Resolutions 71) and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The most important difference is that all the rights and freedoms enumerated in the Cairo Declaration are subject to Islamic Shari’a (Art. 24) and the latter is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of the content of the Declaration (Art. 25). Moreover, the Cairo Declaration is silent about certain rights and freedoms that are well-established in international human rights instruments to which many Muslim States are parties. One prime example is the freedom of assembly and association, which are absent from the Cairo Declaration. The other is freedom of religion, particularly freedom to change one’s religion. Apostasy is criminalized in a number of Muslim countries.
82 Because of the differences, the Cairo Declaration is considered by the critics as a counter model to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and an alternative human rights regime. Others have considered it as an attempt to reconcile human rights and Islam. The position of the OIC is that international human rights standards contained in international law documents are compatible with Islamic law. The CFM in 2015 mandated the Independent Permanent Commission on Human Rights (see below) to review the Cairo Declaration and suggest improvements where necessary.
83 In addition to the Cairo Declaration, which is not legally binding, the OIC has sponsored the Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam. This legally binding instrument was adopted by the 32nd Session of the CFM in June 2005. The purpose is to complement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with due regard to the needs and conditions of the OIC Member States. However, the Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam has been criticized for its deficiencies.
84 Generally, the OIC, unlike the African Union or the Organization of American States (OAS), has not looked into human rights abuses by its own Member States. However, the situation of minority Muslims living under non-Muslim rule is a permanent subject in virtually all OIC meetings. The rights of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and violations thereof are normally mentioned in this context (Israel, Occupied Territories). In 1978, the Ninth Session of the CFM established a specific entity—the Minorities Department—in order to help Muslim minorities. It should be noted that the situation of non-Muslim minorities in the Muslim majority communities is not addressed in the Charter, but it has gained some attention in recent years.
85 Art. 15 Charter of 2008 provides for the establishment of an Independent Permanent Commission on Human Rights. The function of the Commission is to ‘promote’ civil, political, social, and economic rights in conformity with Islamic values. The Commission was formally launched with the adoption of its Statute by the 38th Session of the CFM in June 2011.
86 The exact nature of the mandate of the Commission is not plain. It seems, prima facie, that there are substantial differences between this commission and similar ones in Africa and America. According to Art. 12 Statute of the Commission, its main task is to carry out consultative tasks for the Council and submit recommendations to it. It is obviously conceived not as a monitoring body but rather as a consultative body of the CFM. There is no mention of the possibility of receiving inter-State complaints or petitions from citizens, initiating investigations, submitting reports of its findings to the Member States, etc. As such, the Commission cannot be expected to have much influence on the improvement of the human rights situation in the Member States.
87 The OIC has taken a position on some cases that are generally considered as matters of freedom of expression. The first relates to a death edict issued against the British author, Salman Rushdie, by Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989. Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses was considered as an attack on Islam and the Prophet. The Final Communiqué of the Eighteenth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers of 16 March 1989 declared the book blasphemous and its author an apostate. It underscored that blasphemy could not be justified on the basis of freedom of thought or expression.
88 The publication in a Danish newspaper of editorial cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad in September 2005 was followed by calls for the death of the Danish cartoonist. The Secretary-General of the OIC denounced these calls, but at the same time rejected the justification that it was an issue of freedom of expression. The CFM took a similar stand.
89 A similar reaction was shown by the OIC to the publication of drawings by a Swedish artist in 2007 depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog, to the production and broadcasting of a Dutch documentary film entitled ‘Fitna’ in 2008, and to the distribution of an anti-Islamic short film called ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ in 2012. The aim of the named films, as was understood in the Islamic countries, was to demonstrate that Islam propagates violence, terrorism, and anti-Semitism. The OIC has reacted to these and similar events in the broader context of Islamophobia and the degradation of Islam. The CFM adopted a resolution during its 34th meeting in 2007 under the title of ‘Combating Islamophobia and Eliminating Hatred and Prejudice against Islam’ (Res No 34/34-POL [15–17 May 2007] Doc OIC/34-ICFM/2007/POL/R.34). The item has been on the agenda of the CFM since then. Moreover, the CFM also decided to add defamation of religions to its regular agenda as from 2010. These items were completed by a third regular resolution under the title of ‘Condemnation of Desecration of the Holy Quran’ as from 2011 (Res No 36/38-POL [28–30 June 2011] Doc OIC/CFM-38/2011/POL/FINAL).
90 The OIC played an instrumental role in getting the UN Human Rights Council (United Nations Commission on Human Rights/United Nations Human Rights Council) to condemn the film Fitna through Resolution 7/19: Combating Defamation of Religions in March 2008. More specifically, the Council’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance together with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression issued a joint statement on 29 March 2008 declaring ‘While on the one hand, freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that must be respected, it does not extend to including incitement to racial or religious hatred which is itself clearly a violation of human rights.’ (UN Press Release ‘Human Rights Experts Condemn Distorted Vision of Muslims in the Film ‘Fitna’ and Call for Dialogue and Vigilance’; UNHR Council ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Doudou Diène, on the Manifestations of Defamation of Religions and in particular on the Serious Implications of Islamophobia on the Enjoyment of All Rights’ para. 28). The position of the Human Rights Council on this matter, which was endorsed by the UN General Assembly, has found expression in UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, dated 12 April 2011. Among other statements, the Resolution ‘[c]ondemns any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, whether it involves the use of print, audio-visual or electronic media or any other means’.
91 Finally, mention should be made of the decision of the CFM in 2008 to designate 5 August every year as the ‘Islamic Human Rights and Human Dignity Day’.
92 The OIC has a difficult task when it comes to the protection of human rights in the Member States. A part of this difficulty is due to the assumed discrepancy between Islamic requirements and some of the universal human rights norms. The other part of the difficulty depends on the Member States’ lack of political will to entrust the OIC with more powers, particularly the power of enforcement of human rights obligations and effective monitoring of each State’s performance.
93 Unlike its more or less disappointing record with respect to the protection of human rights at the national level, the OIC has been rather successful in its efforts at the international level. It has played a relatively effective role in the UN human rights forums, particularly in the Human Rights Council. This is particularly the case as regards placing the human rights situation of Palestine on the regular agenda of the Human Rights Council. This has, however, been criticized by some as a reason for diverting the Council’s attention from the systematic violations of human rights in other regions, including OIC Member States. Furthermore, the OIC has also been successful in engaging the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly on the question of defamation of religions and religious hate speech.
94 The record of the OIC as a rather large international organization is not impressive. It has not yet become the effective Muslim bloc in world politics that its founders once hoped. It has hardly succeeded in fulfilling its primary objective of promoting international peace and security founded on justice. Its contribution to the solution of the Palestinian problem, which is its most central task, is, to say the least, modest. It has had a weak position in resolving conflicts where Muslim interests have been involved. This has been the case both when Member States have been engaged in armed conflicts such as the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), the Iraq-Kuwait War (1990–91), and the armed conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and when Muslim minorities have been crushed, eg, in the Russian war against Chechnya during the 1990s, China’s crackdown on Uyghurs in July 2009, and other cases of tension in Asia and Africa such as the situation of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. As regards the Uyghurs and the Rohingya, the OIC’s standpoint is justified by three principles: a) not encouraging any separatist claims or aspirations; b) undertaking contacts and making the OIC’s views known through the legitimate government of the country concerned; and c) respecting the political sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States to which the minorities in question belong.
95 A number of reasons have been given for the poor functioning and the weakness of the OIC. One basic reason is that it is fragmented because the frequently conflicting interests of various Islamic States often make Islamic transnational unity difficult to achieve. Another reason is the lack of financial and political autonomy. The OIC was initiated by Arab States and has been under the financial and political influence of some of its conservative Arab members. It has been considered more as a complement to the Arab League than as an international organization of all Muslim States. A further reason is the political disparity between the OIC and its members as regards goals and preferences as well as the lack of mechanisms of policy enforcement to bind Member States together. The reactions of the OIC to several important political developments in recent years such as the Arab Spring, the Libyan crisis in 2011, the Syrian War, the war in Yemen, the turmoil in Bahrain, and the conflict between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt on the one side and Qatar on the other show that the OIC regularly fails to generate a common strategy among its members. Ideological diversity offers a further reason for not being able to do more than formulate political statements.
96 Perhaps the most important reason for the passivity of the OIC, particularly in the dynamic post-Soviet period of international relations, has been its outdated structure and aged ideological foundation based on combating traditional colonialism, and thus reflecting the realities of the 1960s.
97 Modernization of the OIC and the strengthening of its position have topped the OIC agenda. The above-mentioned ‘Ten-Year Programme of Action to Meet the Challenges Facing the Muslim Ummah in the 21st Century’ adopted by the Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit Conference in December 2005 specifically addressed the question of reform of the OIC. The adoption of the new Charter of 2008 was an important step towards achieving this objective. Reformulating and elaborating the functions of the General Secretariat and introducing the possibility of majority votes instead of consensus for several important matters, eg, admission of new members and observers, are examples of meaningful amendments. Such amendments certainly enhance the role of the OIC as an international organization in better fulfilling some of its objectives.
98 However, despite these praiseworthy efforts, the great diversity in the political ambitions, goals, and preferences of the Member States whose only common link is their assumed Islamic identity may prove to be an obstacle in turning the OIC into a truly efficient international actor, particularly when it comes to managing major political issues. The role and function of the OIC in tackling all major political developments since the Arab Spring in 2011 supports this conclusion.
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