July 27, 2009 No.

Egyptian Liberal Magdi Khalil: Muslim Representatives Are Subverting the International Human Rights System from Within

In a May 2, 2009 article posted on the liberal website, the director of the Middle East Freedom Forum, Coptic Egyptian-American journalist Magdi Khalil, [1] wrote about the activity of Muslim representatives in international human rights organizations. He argued that these representatives were trying to subvert the human rights system from within by using it to stifle criticism of Muslim countries and of Islam while promoting hostility towards Israel.

Following are excerpts from the article: [2]

"The Arab and Islamic States Exercise Their Influence within the U.N. Human Rights Councilto Affect Legislation... and Set Lower Standards for Human Rights, or Deny Those Rights"

"The current situation of the international system is unstable, which is possibly a sign of changes to come. The world order may shift away from unipolar American leadership towards multi-polarity, and the order established after World War II may cede its place to a new one that is in step with the post-globalization era. The uncertainty may also herald a global war giving rise to a new world order. Alternatively, it may herald a state of global chaos and the subsequent downfall of full state sovereignty, or a change in standards that will allow for entities other than national states to join in, such as mega companies, regional institutions, prominent civil society organizations and powerful factions like Hizbullah and Hamas that are effectively controlling states.

"In any case, the international system is going through a confusing transition - which may last several years or even decades - and throughout this period, the world's nations will continue to vary in their perceptions and their actions while playing their [various] roles in developing and shaping the new order.

"The actions of most Islamic states within various international organizations and conferences strongly suggest that they are attempting to take advantage of this international turmoil to subvert the human rights system. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies noted in its 2008 report about human rights conditions in the Arab states: 'The Arab and Islamic states are exercising their influence within the U.N. Human Rights Council to affect legislation and formulate new international criteria that set lower standards for human rights, or deny those rights.'

"The actions of Arab and Islamic representatives in international forums are designed to prohibit criticism against Islam and defend its reputation, to support the Palestinian cause and promote hostility towards Israel, and also to block any attempt to condemn the Arab and Muslim states, even when they are responsible for large massacres such as the genocide in Darfur."

"The Arab and Islamic States That Pushed for the Resolution [Against Defaming Religion] Are Mostly Interested in Intimidating and Blackmailing the West - While They Themselves Continue to Show No Respect for Religious Diversity"

"On March 27, 2009, after two years of hard campaigning, the Arab and Islamic states managed to pass a resolution against 'defamation of religion' in the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC). Twenty-three of the HRC member-states voted in favor of the resolution. It was championed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Palestine, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and supported by Russia, China, and a number of African states, while 11 members, mostly from the West, opposed the resolution, and 13 abstained.

"The resolution stipulates that respect for all religions and protection against defamation are fundamental to the freedom of speech, expression, thought, belief and religion. It also states that the HRC 'notes with deep concern the intensification of the overall campaign of defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, including the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001.' It emphasized that 'everyone has the right to hold opinions, without interference, and has the right to freedom of expression, the exercise of which carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations as are provided for by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals, and general welfare.'

"Glancing at these statements, it is possible to think that they originated with the Egyptian Ministry of Information or the Pakistani parliament, rather than with a council whose basic mission is to safeguard rights and freedoms - primarily the freedoms of thought and expression. Geneva-based human rights activist Professor Elham Manea appropriately described the resolution as scandalous, asking sarcastically whether the council had left any work for the Saudi Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

"The Western nations are privileged to have constitutions that are in harmony with the international charters of human rights, including the Universal Declaration, which hold the utmost respect for the freedom of expression. Hence they will not heed a resolution that negates the basic right of thought, expression and the freedom of conscience. As for the Arab and Islamic states that pushed for the resolution, they are mostly interested in intimidating and blackmailing the Western world, while they themselves continue to show no respect for religious diversity in their own states, as proved by the daily slurs against all religions - except Islam - in those states.

"Islamic and Arab nations are adept at using intimidation tactics to influence proceedings and manipulate decisions in the civilized world. One such incidence took place in an HRC session in June 2008. The council was discussing human rights reports dealing with such issues as the status of women in Muslim states, the provisions of the Islamic shari'a regarding women, the stoning of adulterers, and child marriages. During the discussion, the Egyptian delegate interrupted, saying: 'Shari'a law will not be subject of discussion, and Islam will not be crucified in this council.' His words had the desired effect, since the council president gave in and adjourned the meeting. Former U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner Louise Arbour commented on the incident by saying, 'It is very concerning that a council which should be the guardian of freedom of expression [observes] constraints or taboos, or subjects that have become taboo for discussion.'"

"The Arab and Islamic [HRC Member-] States Strove to Protect the Sudanese Regime by Offering Lame and Misleading Explanations for the Situation in Darfur"

"Below are some further incidents, noted by the Cairo Institute, of subversive behaviour by delegates of Arab and Muslim [HRC member-] states in the Human Rights Council in 2008. In most of the cases, these states purported to defend Islam or protect Palestinian rights, but the facts indicate that their real goal was to undermine the international human rights legacy that the council aims to uphold.

"- Egypt, backed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), strongly opposed sending a team of experts to further investigate the Darfur situation.

"- The Arab and Islamic states strove to protect the Sudanese regime by offering lame and misleading explanations for the situation in Darfur.

"- They made similar efforts to protect the coup regime in Mauritania.

"- The majority of the Arab states voted against the creation of a mechanism for comprehensive and periodic reviews, which would allow non-governmental organizations and independent experts to comment on the human rights practices in the country under review.

"- The Arab and Islamic states used the Palestinian issue to distract the council from the deteriorated human rights situation in their own states. In 2008, three of the five special sessions to discuss critical issues were devoted to Palestine; furthermore, the Arab and Islamic states managed to dedicate a hearing session on the Palestinian cause at every council meeting.

"- The Arab and Islamic states were hostile to NGOs and did their best to marginalize their role inside and outside the council.

"In sum, the Arab and Islamic states pursued a negative agenda with regards to human rights, whether within the council or at various international forums. They hindered rather than helped, justified the violations instead of expressing regret, and attempted to export their regressive values instead of interacting positively with the values of the rest of the world.

"Unfortunately, the Islamic states rely on a 'bloc voting' system, which bears more resemblance to the modus operandi of outlawed gangs than to that of respectable nations. For instance, the first article of the OIC charter establishes the concept of 'unified voting,' whereby the Muslim states must present a unified front and vote together as a bloc. This principle is based on an interpretation of a saying in Arabic, 'Champion the cause of your Muslim brother whether he is oppressor or oppressed.' Given that the Arab and Islamic groups hold 26 out of 53 seats in the HRC... they have much influence and can steer the council in the desired direction."

"If Switzerland, Which Allows the Construction of Mosques and Free Practice of All Religions, is Labeled Racist and Anti-Islamic, We Will Be Hard Pressed to Find an Appropriate Label for the Attitude of Islamic States toward Other Religions"

"The fanatical and disparaging approach of the Arab and Islamic states cast its shadow not only on the Human Rights Council but on several other international organizations and forums as well. However, far more dangerous is their ability to stir up Muslim communities in Europe and incite them to hatred and violence.

"Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Al-Gheit played a well-known role in setting off the crisis of the Danish cartoons, and Syria used the incident to spur the rabble to attack foreign embassies in Syria and Lebanon as a warning message to the Western states. This hysterical behaviour recently reached new heights of absurdity when the Swiss Muslim League organized a demonstration in Geneva, on April 19, 2009, to protest Swiss racism! If Switzerland, which allows the construction of mosques and the free practice of all religions, is being labelled a racist country that discriminates against Islam, we will be hard pressed to find an appropriate label for the attitude of Islamic states toward other religions.

"The Arab and Islamic states use a strategy of obfuscation and blackmail to prevent the rest of the world from discussing problems rampant in Islamic states, such as violence against women; the absence of religious freedom; the distribution of religious texts that promote violence, hatred and the perception of non-Muslims as infidels; discrimination against non-Muslim minorities; the intimidation of intellectuals through threats of imprisonment, murder and confiscation of property; acts of violence against non-Muslims; the use of internationally-proscribed punishments dictated by shari'a; child marriages; rape of minors and harassment of non-Muslim women; the integration of religion and state in a way that reinforces a culture of oppression; human rights violations under religious pretexts; the justification of terrorist acts committed by Islamist movements; and the presentation of jihad as a sacred Islamic concept that should be above criticism. (Note that we have yet to see a single fatwa issued against bin Laden).

"To conclude, I would like to reiterate an observation of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies regarding the actions of the Arab and Islamic states in the Human Rights Council: 'The Arab states are grouped into political and regional blocs within the HRC. They are most active and influential, and they are also most determined to manipulate the council's resolutions in order to shield their own governments and the governments of their allies from criticism. The member states of the OIC group and the Arab group are the most vociferous within the African and Asian blocs, and have the advantage of occupying 26 out of a total of 53 seats.'

"When will the world wake up to the danger that awaits the international human rights legacy and the international human rights charters?"


[1] Magdi Khalil is executive director of the Middle East Freedom Forum, and executive editor of the Egyptian Coptic weekly Watani International. A syndicated columnist for several Arabic Language newspapers, he has also authored and co-authored 20 books and numerous articles on the topics of the Middle East, Arab-Western relations, Islamic extremism, and the situation of non-Muslim minorities in Islamic states. He is also a prominent political commentator on a number of Arab satellite channels.