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Statement of HE Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC Secretary General, at the Ministerial Meeting, held on 15 July 2011 at the IRCICA in Istanbul-Turkey

Excellencies and Distinguished Guests, 

It is a pleasure and honor for me to welcome you all to this High Level Meeting on the implementation of the Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on Combating Incitement to Violence, and Intolerance based on religion or belief.

I am grateful to you Madam Secretary of State for accepting to co-chair this event.  We have fond memories of your visit to IRCICA as the First Lady of the United States of America for the landmark interfaith meeting in 1996 here at the Yıldız Palace. It is indeed an honor to welcome you again after fifteen years in this historical setting. Your presence here today reaffirms your personal commitment, as well as that of President Obama, towards inter-faith harmony essential to global as well as regional peace, security and stability. 

I am privileged to work closely with you on one of the priorities of the OIC on the matter of Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18. I can personally vouch for the level of commitment sustained and the interest taken by you and your government.

I also express my thanks to the Excellencies Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Distinguished Representatives for honoring this most important meeting on contemporary issues with far-reaching implications.

Presence of and support to our initiative by the EU High Representative Baroness Ashton and our dear friend the new Secretary General of the Arab League Dr. Nabil Alarabi is a matter of profound happiness for us.

It was during my address to the 15th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that I outlined a new approach towards evolving a consensus against incitement to violence and intolerance on religious grounds that could endanger peaceful coexistence and must be viewed as a direct contrast to the very notion of a globalized world. I am glad that the eight points in the proposed approach found resonance with all the negotiating partners. They formed the basis of the consensus reflected in HRC resolution 16/18. The importance of the consensual adoption of this Resolution should be duly recognized.

Let me say that it reaffirmed OIC’s credibility and demonstrated ability to seek, promote and build consensus on even the most sensitive of issues in contemporary international relations. It clearly demonstrated that, as a mature International Organization, OIC was not wedded to either a particular title or the content of a resolution.  We just wanted to ensure to the actual matter of vital concern and interest was addressed. I must congratulate all those who contributed to this process particularly the OIC Ambassadors’ Group and their colleagues and counterparts in Geneva. The understanding, maturity and resolve shown by all parties have indeed been commendable.


Distinguished Guests,

However, the test would lie in the implementation. Having been successful at consensus building, we must now act in concert to build on the consensus. The adoption of the Resolution does not mark the end of the road. It rather signifies a beginning based on a new approach to deal with the whole set of interrelated issues. 

As mentioned in the Resolution, steps need to be taken to end double standards and racial or religious profiling. Such acts must not be condoned by states but duly addressed through structured and sustained engagement. We also need to squarely address and develop a common understanding on some of the grey areas. They include the exact nature and scope of the complementarities between the freedom of opinion and expression and the prohibition of incitement to hatred on racial, national and religious grounds as stipulated in articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Clearly, in a world faced with the menace of terrorism, we cannot and must not ignore the implications of hate speech and incitement to discrimination and violence. The Resolution 16/18 provides a good basis for concerted action by states, at both national and international levels and must be utilized accordingly. Otherwise, we would be faced with the unaffordable risk of the agenda being hijacked and set by radicals and non-state actors.

At this point let me reiterate once more, our utmost respect to and conviction in freedom of expression. In this regard, our calls which stem from our genuine concerns, should not be interpreted as calls for restriction of this freedom.  However we believe that mutual understanding, tolerance,  respect and empathy should also be accompanying components when we advocate supremacy of the freedom of expression.  

Unfortunately, all around the world we all have witnessed the dire consequences born by acts of hatred and violence. We continue to be particularly disturbed by attitudes of certain individuals or groups exploiting the freedom of expression to incite hatred by demonizing purposefully the religions and their followers. Though we respect their freedom of opinion and expression, we find these attitudes politically incorrect and insensitive. Naturally when societies are challenged by real concerns, the concerns can easily be manipulated and inflamed. Yet it may take years or decades to heal the wounds caused by fearmongering.    

Most rightly, the HRC resolution 16/18 called upon all States to take effective steps to adopt measures to ensure that public functionaries do not discriminate on the basis of religion or belief, and also called upon the States to adopt measures and policies to promote the full respect for and protection of worship and religious sites.


Distinguished Guests,

The importance of this meeting of Ministers and High Level functionaries is both symbolic and substantive. In addition to reflecting the requisite political will towards implementation of the resolution, it should put in place a process of sustained and structured engagement. An engagement geared towards evolving and implementing a common understanding on interrelated issues.

I propose a three-pronged strategy to that end:

1.      Firstly,  OIC offers to launch a structured process of conducting a series of events at multiple venues to build on the consensus reflected in the Resolution 16/18 by evolving a common understanding on respect for religious and cultural diversity in a manner that addresses the concerns of all parties;

2.      This process of technical engagement would yield alternatives and policy options to be subjected to the inter-governmental process - preferably at the UN Human Rights Council - with a view to furthering the consensus with particular emphasis on implementation in a result oriented fashion; and

3.      The implementation will then be underwritten and monitored by the Human Rights Council through the available reporting mechanisms.

As the second largest international Organization, the OIC is dedicated to seeking multilateral solutions to contemporary issues of global significance. I believe that the subject matter of HRC resolution 16/18 must figure into the strategic calculations of the international community.

Joining our efforts on the basis of this resolution, and without losing our hopes in the tenets of multiculturalism, we should bring about a new era of religious tolerance, peaceful coexistence and respect for religious diversity as well as promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms across our nations.  The onus is on our shoulders.

I hope this meeting will generate a critical mass of the political will necessary for according priority to and addressing this matter with far-reaching implications towards peace, security and stability in the regional as well as the global context.

I thank you.