Some takeaways from the conference

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned the state-backed violence against Rohingyas in Myanmar in a declaration made during the 45th session of the OIC's Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) in Dhaka on May 6, 2018. Photo: OIC

The 45th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) met in Dhaka on May 5-6, 2018 with the theme "Islamic values for sustainable peace, solidarity and development." The two-day conference came in the backdrop of tremendous pressure on Bangladesh created by the influx of one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. The CFM is the second-tier decision making body of the organisation after the summit of Heads of States, which meets every three years. The CFM meets every year and formulates policy implementation strategies, reviews programmes and financial matters, and addresses issues that concern the member-states.

The Bangladesh government made arrangements for attending heads of delegations to visit the refugee camps at Kutupalong in Cox's Bazar on May 4. Significantly, the Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Canadian Prime Minister's Special Envoy to Myanmar Bob Rai also visited the camps, though they are not part of the OIC.

Inaugurating the conference, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina focused on the condition of the Rohingyas and called upon all member-countries to firmly stand in solidarity with the Rohingya people. Hasina also called for sustained international pressure on Myanmar to honour their obligations for solving this problem. Chrystia Freeland, while speaking at the inaugural session, stressed her government's firm stance against ethnic cleansing perpetrated against the Rohingya people by Myanmar. She conveyed PM Justin Trudeau's invitation to Sheikh Hasina to the G7 summit in June 2018 to raise the Rohingya issue.

The chair of the 44th CFM, Marcel Amon-Tanoh, foreign minister of Ivory Coast, while handing over the presidency of the 45th CFM to his Bangladeshi counterpart AH Mahmood Ali, underscored the need for strong and cohesive Islamic position to meet current challenges. Accepting the new responsibility, Mahmood Ali made concrete proposals to reform the OIC and stated that the Muslim world is confronted with tremendous challenges including Islamophobia, extremism, inequality, Israeli occupation of Palestine, and terrorism. He also indirectly proposed that India be granted observer status at OIC because it had a huge Muslim population.

The 39-paragraph Declaration, released at the end of the conference, highlighted several issues including durable peace and stability in Afghanistan, nuclear disarmament, preservation of the ecosystem and biodiversity, condemning terrorism in the name of Islam, solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir, implementation of Program of Action by 2025, etc. The highlight of the unanimous Declaration was indeed the paragraphs on Palestine and the Rohingya issue.

On the Rohingya issue, the foreign ministers expressed deep concern over the systematic brutal acts perpetrated by Myanmar security forces that have reached the level of ethnic cleansing. The OIC shall remain engaged with UNGA and Human Rights Council and other UN agencies to address the massive human rights violations of Rohingya Muslims. The conference reaffirmed full solidarity with Bangladesh in the face of huge Rohingya influx with its humanitarian and security consequences for the country and with the Rohingyas, victims of state-backed violence in Myanmar. While calling for the implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission recommendations, the ministers formed an ad hoc Ministerial Committee headed by The Gambia to address the accountability issue for the violation of human rights against the Rohingyas in Myanmar. The ministers also lauded Bangladesh's efforts to provide shelter to these persecuted people.

OIC Secretary General Dr Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen called on member-states to channel part of their humanitarian assistance for the Rohingyas through the General Secretariat. Al-Othaimeen's call came following a brainstorming session organised by the Department of Cultural, Family and Humanitarian Affairs in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the side-lines of the CFM.

In another document released on May 6, the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission of OIC urged the Myanmar government to take immediate steps to end violence against the Rohingya population; bring the perpetrators of violence to justice; stop all discriminatory policies and ensure safe return of the Rohingyas to their homeland in the Rakhine State. The recommendations came after a three-day fact-finding visit by the IPHRC to Cox's Bazar.

It is significant that the council has called these refugees "Rohingya"—which is now accepted in international forums as a Muslim minority race of Myanmar. This is a substantive development as Myanmar authorities deny any racial identity to these people.

On the issue of Palestine, the council squarely rejected Washington's recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and condemned its decision to move its embassy to the city on May 14. It is against international law and the international community's collective will as expressed at the OIC Extraordinary Summit held in Istanbul in December 2017, and the UNGA Resolution of December 21, 2017. The ministers called upon all states not to move their embassies to Jerusalem as such moves will be in violation of the historical, legal, natural and national rights of the Palestinian people and undermine the peace efforts. The Declaration condemned the illegal policies of Israel against the Palestinian people and demanded complete cessation of all Israeli violations of international law.

The conference was not without fireworks. According to reports, the Saudi-Iran rivalry cropped up at the working sessions when Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir criticised Iran for its meddling in Arab affairs. Iran strongly protested his remarks.

At a time when the Rohingya issue was slowly being pushed to the back burner, Bangladesh needed to host this Islamic conference to raise international awareness over the plight of the Rohingyas and find a solution to the problem. Dhaka shall be satisfied that the 57 member-states of OIC have fully backed Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue. The Declaration will certainly help Bangladesh in building moral pressure on Myanmar, which is increasingly becoming a pariah state.

Mahmood Hasan is a former ambassador and secretary of Bangladesh government.

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