Primacy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Date / 27 December 2007

IHEU and the World Council for Progressive Judaism have written to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights asking for a legal ruling on the primacy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Aussi disponible en Francais ici.

Mrs. Louise Arbour
High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson

21 December 2007
By Fax

Your Excellency,

Primacy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The message of OIC Secretary-General, Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, on the occasion of Human Rights Day has just come to our attention, and his statement is noteworthy. It reads, in part:

Respect of Human Rights through effective protection and promotion of equality, civil liberties and social justice is a milestone in the OIC Ten Year Plan of Action. In this regard the OIC General Secretariat is considering the establishment of [an] independent permanent body to promote Human Rights in the Member States in accordance with the provisions of the OIC Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and to elaborate an OIC Charter on Human Rights. The OIC is also committed to encourage its member States to reinforce their national laws and regulations in order to guaranty strict respect for Human Right[s].” [italics and bold type added]

On Friday, 14 December, I handed to you the two statements we addressed to the Council on 11 December, one concerning Darfur, the other the primacy of the UDHR. We were however unable to complete the latter statement because of a procedural ruling by the President, Ambassador Toru Romulus da Costea, but it was officially circulated at the plenum with the Secretariat’s approval.
In this statement, we noted:

We were surprised that Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan, speaking yesterday morning on behalf of the OIC, claimed that the Cairo Declaration was “not an alternative competing worldview on human rights”, but failed to mention the shari’a law as “the only source of reference” (articles 24 and 25) in that same Declaration – the shari’a law where there is no equality between Muslim men and women, and between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The Final Communiqué of the Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit held in Mecca on 7-8 December 2005 (…) provides a clear message regarding the UN system of human rights:

The Conference called for considering the possibility of establishing an independent permanent body to promote human rights in Member States as well as the possibility in preparing an Islamic Charter on Human Rights in accordance with the provisions of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and interact with the United Nations and other relevant international bodies.

We seriously question whether such a body would be “complementary” to the Human Rights Council or whether, given the wording of the Cairo Declaration, it will have shari’a law as its “only source of reference” and be seen as an alternative.

On 14 September 2000, in reply to a communication from the Association for World Education as to the “universality” of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (published in Volume II: Regional Instruments, OHCHR, 1997, pp. 477-84 of A Compilation of International Instruments), the legal advisor to the then HCHR replied:

The Member States which have acceded to and ratified United Nations Human Rights
Conventions remain bound, under all circumstances, by the provisions of those texts as
well as the erge omnes obligations under customary international law.

We are writing to you today to request an official ruling from your legal advisor as to whether the above official statement on Human Rights Day by the OIC Secretary General – in regard to the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam and a future “Islamic Charter” based on shari’a law – would clash with the UDHR and the Universal Instruments (in, A Compilation..> Volume I, 1993).

Please accept our season’s greetings, and our sincere appreciation for your multifarious efforts in holding to the highest standards of human rights and in guiding the international community along that straight and narrow path toward an appreciation of the universality of the UDHR.


(Original signed)

David G. Littman
Representative to the UNO, Geneva

Roy W Brown
IHEU main representative, UN Geneva

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