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Human Rights: The Universal Declaration vs The Cairo Declaration

Date Published: 
Monday, 10 December, 2012

Author(s):

Summary: 

On the 64th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), LSE Masters student Jonathan Russell explores the differences between the UDHR and the Organisation of Islam Cooperation’s Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) and argues that the CDHRI limits the universal rights enshrined in the declaration six decades ago today.

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Most Muslim-majority countries including Egypt, Iran and Pakistan signed the UDHR in 1948, but crucially Saudi Arabia, where the King must comply with Shari’a and the Qur’an, did not sign the declaration, arguing that it violated Islamic law and criticising it for failing to take into consideration the cultural and religious context of non-Western countries. Saudi Arabian law is completely at odds with the UDHR as all citizens are required to be Muslim. Therefore, non-Muslims risk everything from arrest to torture and the death penalty for their beliefs. Women are prohibited from voting or driving a car. Likewise, Said Raja’i Khorasani, an Iranian official and representative to the UN claimed in 1982 that the UDHR was a “secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition” and that it is impossible for Muslims to implement it without contravening Islamic law.[1] In accordance with this criticism, the then 45-member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC, now Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) adopted the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) on 5 August 1990 which, despite its claim to be a general guidance for member states of the OIC and complement the UDHR, undermines many of the rights the UDHR is supposed to guarantee. When implemented, the CDHRI essentially removes the universality that underpins the UDHR, providing the 45 signatories and all of their citizens with a set of human rights based on an undefined interpretation of Shari’a law. The CDHRI clearly limits the rights enshrined in the UDHR and the International Covenants and cannot be viewed as complementary to the Universal Declaration.