Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam
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The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) is a declaration of the member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference adopted in Cairo, Egypt, in 1990, which provides an overview on the Islamic perspective on human rights, and affirms Islamic sharia as its sole source. CDHRI declares its purpose to be "general guidance for Member States [of the OIC] in the field of human rights".
This declaration is widely acknowledged as an Islamic response to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted in 1948. It guarantees many of the same rights as the UDHR (cf. liberal Islam), while at the same time reaffirming the inequalities inherent in Islamic law and tradition in terms of religion, gender, sexuality, political rights, and other aspects of contemporary society at odds with Islamic law and traditions.
Some Muslim countries had criticized the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights for its failure to take into account the cultural and religious context of non-Western countries. In 1981, Said Rajaie-Khorassani—the post-revolutionary Iranian representative to the UN—articulated the position of his country regarding the UDHR, by saying that it was a relativistic "secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition", which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing Islamic law.
The CDHRI was adopted in 1990 by members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. It has been signed by 45 states so far. In 1992, the CDHRI was presented to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, where it was strongly condemned by the International Commission of Jurists.
The Declaration starts by saying "All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity" (note that the phrase is equal "human dignity" not equal "human rights") and forbids "discrimination on the basis of race, colour, language, belief, sex, religion, political affiliation, social status or other considerations". It goes on to proclaim the sanctity of life, and declares the "preservation of human life" as "a duty prescribed by the Shariah". The CDHRI also guarantees non-belligerents—such as old men, women and children, the wounded and sick, and prisoners of war—the right to food, shelter, and access to safety and medical treatment in times of war.
The CDHRI gives men and women the "right to marriage" regardless of their race, colour, or nationality, but not religion. In addition, women are given "equal human dignity", "own rights to enjoy", "duties to perform", "own civil entity", "financial independence", and the "right to retain her name and lineage", but not equal rights in general. The Declaration makes the husband responsible for the social and financial protection of the family. The Declaration gives both parents the rights over their children, and makes it incumbent upon both of them to protect the child, both before and after birth. The Declaration also entitles every family the "right to privacy". It also forbids the demolition, confiscation, and eviction of any family from their residence. Furthermore, should the family get separated in times of war, it is the responsibility of the state to "arrange visits or reunions of families".
Article 10 of the Declaration states: "Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of compulsion on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism."
The Declaration protects each individual from arbitrary arrest, torture, maltreatment, or indignity. Furthermore, no individual is to be used for medical or scientific experiments without his consent or at the risk of his health or of his life. It also prohibits the taking of hostages of any individual "for any purpose whatsoever". Moreover, the CDHRI guarantees the presumption of innocence; guilt is only to be proven through a trial in "which he [the defendant] shall be given all the guarantees of defence". The Declaration also forbids the promulgation of "emergency laws that would provide executive authority for such actions". Art. 19 stipulates that there are no other crimes or punishments than those mentioned in the sharia, which include corporal punishment (whipping, amputation) and capital punishment by lapidation or decapitation. The right to hold public office can only be exercised in accordance with the sharia, which forbids Muslims to submit to the rule of non-Muslims.
The Declaration also emphasizes the "full right to freedom and self-determination", and its opposition to enslavement, oppression, exploitation, and colonialism. The CDHRI declares the rule of law, establishing "equality and justice for all", with the limitations provided under Islamic law. The CDHRI also guarantees all individuals the "right to participate, directly or indirectly in the administration of his country's public affairs". The CDHRI also forbids any abuse of authority "subject to the Islamic Shariah."
Article 22(a) of the Declaration states that "Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shariah." 22(b) states that "Everyone shall have the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shariah." 22(c) states: "Information is a vital necessity to society. It may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of Prophets, undermine moral and ethical values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society, or weaken its faith." 22(d) states that "It is not permitted to arouse nationalistic or doctrinal hatred or to do anything that may be an incitement to any form of racial discrimination."
Although the CDHRI uses a universalist language akin to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "quite a number of [its] features express an Islamic particularity." The preamble is mostly religious rhetoric, and the particulars of the CDHRI contain numerous references to the Quran, sharia, and aspects of the Islamic faith that appear on no other similar international list. The CDHRI concludes in article 24 and 25 that all rights and freedoms mentioned are subject to the Islamic sharia, which is the declaration's sole source. The CDHRI declares "true religion" to be the "guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human integrity". It also places the responsibility for defending those rights upon the entire Ummah.
The CDHRI has been criticized for being implemented by a set of states with widely disparate religious policies and practices who had "a shared interest in disarming international criticism of their domestic human rights record."
Article 24 of the declaration states: "All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia." Article 19 also says: "There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Sharia."
The CDHRI has been criticised for failing to guarantee freedom of religion, in particular the right of each and every individual to change their religion, as a "fundamental and non-derogable right". In a joint written statement submitted by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a non-governmental organization in special consultative status, the Association for World Education (AWE) and the Association of World Citizens (AWC), a number of concerns were raised that the CDHRI limits human rights, religious freedom, and freedom of expression. The statement concludes that "The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam is clearly an attempt to limit the rights enshrined in the UDHR and the International Covenants. It can in no sense be seen as complementary to the Universal Declaration." In September 2008, in an article to the United Nations, the Center for Inquiry writes that the CDHRI "undermines equality of persons and freedom of expression and religion by imposing restrictions on nearly every human right based on Islamic Sharia law."
Rhona Smith writes that, because of the CDHRI's reference to Shariah, it implies an inherent degree of superiority of men.
Adama Dieng—a member of the International Commission of Jurists—has also criticised the CDHRI. He argued that the declaration gravely threatens the inter-cultural consensus on which the international human rights instruments are based; that it introduces intolerable discrimination against non-Muslims and women. He further argued that the CDHRI reveals a deliberately restrictive character in regard to certain fundamental rights and freedoms, to the point that certain essential provisions are below the legal standards in effect in a number of Muslim countries; it uses the cover of the "Islamic sharia (Law)" to justify the legitimacy of practices, such as corporal punishment, which attack the integrity and dignity of the human being.
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- Islam and democracy
- Human Rights in Islam
- Human rights in Asia
- Human rights in Africa
- Arab Charter on Human Rights
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- Smith (2003), p.195
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