Wider opposition to the framework of universal human rights

The no vote was underpinned by sustained hostility to the very idea of universal human rights. In fact the theme which underlay many of the hostile amendments was the opposition to the universality of human rights.

As Pakistan put it:

Amendments from L.73 to L.79are inspired by the decisions taken by the OIC as well as the Africa heads of States and the governments in the Kampala summit on the promotion of cooperation, dialogue and respect the diversity in the field of human rights.

The OIC decisions referred to by Pakistan are laid out in Resolution no.1/42-leg on Follow-Up and Coordination of Action in the Field of Human Rights

  1. Affirms that human rights are of a universal character and must be perceived within the framework of a dynamic non-static process for the evolvement of international standards with due consideration to national and regional specificities and to the diverse historic, cultural, and religious backgrounds.
  2. Stresses the need for the international community to tackle the issue of human rights objectively and from the perspective that these rights are indivisible and inclusive of all states on a non-selective and non-discriminatory basis.
  3. Calls for human rights to be perceived in a comprehensive manner and from all their religious, political, social, economic and cultural aspects, within a framework of international cooperation and solidarity.
  4. Reaffirms the right for states to uphold their religious, social and cultural specificities which represent legacies and intellectual underpinnings that in turn contribute to enriching common world concepts of human rights.
  5. Urges all not to use the universality of human rights as a pretext to interfere in the internal affairs of other states and to impinge on their sovereignty.
  6. Recalls the right for states to voice their reservations, when necessary, as to any international covenants, conventions or agreements which they join, inasmuch as such a right forms a sovereignty right.[1]

The points 1 to 6 of the resolution lay out a framework that goes way beyond the SOGI resolution. Clearly the objective of the OIC is to dilute the framework of universal human rights by stressing that rights are to be ‘perceived in a comprehensive manner’, by calling for rights to be understood from ‘their religious, political, social, economic and cultural aspects and by stressing that rights are to be understood within ‘the framework of international  cooperation and solidarity’. The ‘right of states’ to ‘uphold their religious, social and cultural specificities’ is affirmed. States are enjoined to not to use ‘universality of human rights as a pretext to interfere in the internal affairs of other states’.

The prefacing of ‘human rights’ by comprehensive and stressing for the contextualization of rights within religious and cultural frameworks is a clear attempt at diluting the protection of international human rights law. The other manoeuvre in the text is to pivot away from human rights as vesting in person to rights as vesting in states. The rights of states to affirm their religious and cultural specificities is set up as a norm which trumps individual human rights.

The question to be asked is whether what we are seeing is an attempt at supplanting the existing framework of international human rights law. The strategies to do so are varied. One aspect of the strategy is it misquotes, misapply and misinterpret existing human rights law. The hostile amendments are a classic case of misquoting the Vienna Declaration to achieve aims that are quite in conflict with the Vienna Declaration. The second aspect is to refocus the question away from the individual as rights holder to collective entities be it the family, the state or religion. The third aspect is to repeatedly attack the norm of universal human rights from the point of view of culture and religion. The final aspect is to reemphasize the importance of sovereignty and the fact that sovereignty must trump international human rights law.

[1]http://www.oic-oci.org/oicv3/page/?p_id=68&p_ref=37&lan=en