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Report by: Raheel Raza, President Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow
I am attending the 30th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. As a representative for The Center for Inquiry, I gave an oral statement on the murders of bloggers and supporters of free speech in Bangladesh. My statement can be found at:
It was shocking to hear that Saudi Arabia — easily one of the world’s most brutally repressive regimes — was chosen to head a U.N. Human Rights Council panel. You could hear the indignant buzz in the Serpentine lounge where most delegates gather for social interaction.
I also had an opportunity to attend some side-sessions which is where much of the conversation takes place. A stint at the UNHRC is always challenging and educational to see the changing players and alliances and great food for thought.
Overall it was interesting to note that there is a crack in the relationships within the OIC (The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is an international organisation founded in 1969 consisting of 57 member states. The organisation states that it is “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and works to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony”) The OIC has permanent delegations to the United Nations and the European Union. This year for the first time I noted that Saudi Arabia is being criticized openly by Arab States.
One session I attended was about Human Rights in the Gulf. The session was hosted by Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture. The facilitator came out straight away against Saudi Arabia for torturing its citizens and called upon the President of the Council to support the victims. There was discussion about oppression of activists in Bahrain who have either been arrested or banned from travel. Switzerland has sponsored a draft resolution with 33 countries to address these human rights violations. The session headed by Tunisia had the Arab Commission on human rights show concern about the Syrian refuges and thank the Arab states that have taken in refuges with no mention at all about any of the European states (present there) who took in the first round of Syrian refugees – the hypocrisy is well reflected.
There was a session on Civil Society and women’s rights with an all male panel! . The major focus of this session was human rights violations in Western Sahara supposedly by the State
Later I had an opportunity to attend the informal (3rd I believe) session on the draft resolution on preventing and countering violent extremism hosted by the Permanent Mission of the United States of America. This session was attended by representatives from across Europe and the Middle East as well as South Asia. The divide between the European Union states and Arab/Islamic states was obvious. Egypt, Algeria and Pakistan were concerned about the use of language e.g. use of the word ‘terrorist’. Pakistan spoke at length about the difference between extremism and violent extremism and along with many other Arab States called upon states to combat hate speech and look at the ‘root’ causes of extreme violence. They were supported by Palestine and Egypt. Australia and Canada were concerned about restrictions on free speech. The session closed with discussion about qualifying the word ‘radicalization’ for e.g. radical thought is acceptable but not radical actions.