Over the past week, most of us have been understandably focused on the UN General Assembly speeches by Obama, Abbas, and Netanyahu. There are, of course, other things going on at the United Nations as well, including one surprisingly sort-of-positive development.
Last Friday the UN Human Rights Council took a break from its usual Israel-bashing routine to adopt a resolution in support of LGBT human rights. Buzzfeed understandably called the resolution “rather anemic,” as all it does, apparently, is call for “a report from the U.N. high commissioner for human rights on combatting human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” The resolution that passed was reportedly watered down from a previous draft that had called for yearly reports. Still, this is clearly a step in a good direction. The Washington Blade has listed the countries that voted for and against the resolution.
As mild as it was, the resolution was not without opposition, which came, predictably, from OIC-members Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt.
Buzzfeed quoted Saudi Arabia’s representative to the Council as saying, during the debate on the measure, that,
We feel there is an attempt to impose uniculturality [that] runs counter to religious and cultural practices of some countries. . . . In my opinion, this [resolution] is a human rights violation.
Pakistan’s representative was quoted saying,
The wider connotation of the words ‘sexual orientation’ can be destructive and inimical to our Muslim [faith] . . . and to our youth as a whole.
Such actions and statements are consistent with a pattern by the OIC and some of its members of interpreting any steps towards political tolerance as attacks on Islam. In March of 2013, when Egypt was under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Brotherhood government denounced a proposed (and subsequently adopted) declaration from the UN Commission on the Status of Women for advocating, among other things, for wives to have the right to file legal complaints against their husbands, for the abolition of polygamy, and for women to be able to travel without the consent of their husbands. The Brotherhood’s statement at the time read:
This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.
The OIC also has a history of using the UN as a tool to limit free speech rights, through resolutions opposing so-called “defamation of religion.” Two years after western pressure at the UN finally defeated such measures, the OIC put out a report blaming Islamophobia on “the exploitation of freedom of expression.” The Gatestone Institute said of the 2013 OIC report, “the common thread that binds the entire document together is the OIC’s repeated insistence that the main culprit responsible for ‘the institutionalization of Islamophobia’ in Western countries is freedom of speech.”
The UN currently has 193 voting member states, of which 56 belong to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. This bloc comprises more than a quarter of the nations that have voting rights in the UN General Assembly, and its outsize influence on the UN in general and especially on the HRC has been noted. Friday’s resolution, however, shows that opposition from the OIC can be overcome when there is a political will to do so. Sadly, when Israel is the target, that political will is not there.