The Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission heralds an expansion of dialogue about human rights abuses in member states. Could a Muslim human rights commission also revitalize the image of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation?
In June 2011, 57 foreign ministers met in Kazakhstan to establish the world’s first Muslim human rights commission: the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission. In January this year, the commission will hold its first session.
Behind the commission is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the second-largest intergovernmental organization in the world, surpassed only by the United Nations. The OIC consists of 57 self-declared Muslim states from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. As Saad Khan notes in Reasserting International Islam: A Focus on the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Other Islamic Institutions, the OIC covers 30 percent of the UN membership, 25 percent of the earth’s surface, and over 20 percent of the global population.
The OIC was founded in 1969 with the purpose of strengthening solidarity among Muslims. In its first decades, the organization focused especially on the Palestinian cause, the protection of Islamic holy sites, and the strengthening of economic cooperation between member states. In 2005, a plan for reform of the organization – the Ten Year Programme of Action – was introduced, resulting in major changes. Today the OIC is increasingly involved in areas such as humanitarian aid and development, environment, and women’s rights. The new human rights commission is an important part of this process; "Establishment of an independent human rights body by the OIC Member States is considered to be one of the major steps in the transformation process of the OIC," states a Feb. 2009 OIC newsletter.