Robert Blitt

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Publication Title

Wisconsin International Law Journal


This article is the first of a two part series that draws on women’s rights and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to explore how the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) represents, interprets and seeks to impact the right to equality and protection against discrimination as enshrined under international human rights law. The study is a novel one in as much as the OIC is neither a state nor a religious group per se. Rather, the OIC stands out as the only contemporary intergovernmental organization unifying its member states around the commonality of a single religion. In this capacity, the organization maintains no direct obligations or rights under key instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Nevertheless, as part of its mandate representing 57 predominantly Muslim states, the OIC has increasingly asserted a role for itself on the international stage as “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” This new assertiveness is particularly evident in the context of debates surrounding the content of human rights norms in international fora such as the United Nations, where the OIC has sought to develop common policy positions and encourage its members to vote as a bloc on issues of concern. Against this backdrop, the article concludes that supporters of universal human rights norms need to better understand how the OIC’s mission to “protect and defend the true image of Islam” may impact international debates over the substance of equality and nondiscrimination norms, and develop appropriate responses to these efforts as a means to ensure that universality is not undermined.

This article begins with a brief introduction to the OIC, and proceeds to explore its relationship with the principles of equality and nondiscrimination by examining its founding document and other relevant primary sources. With this understanding in place, the paper turns to examine the OIC’s contemporary handling of these principles as manifested in debates surrounding women’s rights as well as the relevance and impact of “Islamic family values” on the scope of those rights. This article’s exploration of “family values” also serves as a pivot point to begin framing rights issues related to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) individuals and related SOGI issues. Throughout this examination, the role of the OIC’s newly established Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) is considered as a means of appraising whether a shift in the OIC’s position may be forthcoming.

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Publication Date

Summer 2017

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