Your Excellency OIC Secretary General Iyad Amin Madani, Your Excellency First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Honorable Ministers and Heads of Delegation, Ladies and Gentlemen, Assalamualaikum.
It is an honor to attend such an august gathering of esteemed representatives and leaders from around the world. I would like to thank the State of Kuwait for its leadership and generosity in hosting this ministerial. We congratulate His Highness the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on receiving the fitting designation of Leader of Humanitarian Action by the United Nations.
Your Excellencies, people across the globe are looking to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to contribute to solutions to the urgent situations of the day. The OIC has the capacity to be a leading voice against extremism and for tolerance and pluralism, it possesses the mandate to provide assistance and new opportunities for the impoverished, and it holds the promise of transforming situations of conflict to those of peace. Now more than ever, we need the OIC to lead concrete, productive initiatives to address these challenges.
Recognizing the OIC’s unique role, President Obama has sought to deepen and expand U.S.-OIC cooperation in a number of areas, including on political crises, humanitarian affairs, science and technology, health, entrepreneurship, and human rights. It is an honor for me to work to continue to build this important relationship as the Acting Special Envoy to the OIC.
This year’s Council of Foreign Ministers is focused on promoting tolerance and rejecting terrorism, a task that is quite likely the singular challenge of our times. Groups like Daesh, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, Al Shabab, and others have manipulated Islamic terminology to try to justify their acts of terrorism. The OIC, Islamic scholars from around the world, and Muslim communities in every corner of the globe have loudly condemned these groups’ activities as abhorrent crimes that are prohibited by Islam. And yet, on a daily basis, we are confronted with continued acts of terrorism that rob people of their lives and dignity, that unravel centuries of peaceful coexistence and development, and that perpetuate a distorted image of Islam globally.
No OIC member state is immune to the threat from violent extremism, which is why a unified response to this challenge is vital. The OIC, with its global platform and portfolio of affiliated, subsidiary, and specialized organs, is uniquely placed to lead a unified effort to combat these violent extremist groups and their ideologies.
For example, the OIC’s Fiqh Academy has produced essential scholarly rulings that reject as un-Islamic violent extremism and the groups that promote it. The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) engages in important work around education programs and cultural heritage preservation, areas that are critical in countering violent extremism. ISESCO could partner with other entities, such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), the Abu Dhabi-based Hedayah center, and the Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN) to develop education-based approaches to CVE. The Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) also plays an important role in preserving and commemorating Islamic history, art, and culture, the very things that extremists groups have sought to destroy. IRCICA, for example, could work with others to develop a rapid-response, social media monitoring capability to document and expose violent extremists’ abuse of historical, artistic, and cultural sites and practices.
The Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC) could partner with those starting to implement the CVE Summit-inspired action agenda on CVE research to study the conditions for the rise of violent extremist groups. There is no doubt that repression of dissent, of opposition groups, and of civil society feeds instability and violent extremism. We have seen these conditions contribute to violent extremism many times, including in OIC member countries. Ameliorating such conditions is one of best ways of protecting society from the scourge of violent extremism. The Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) could advise member states on needed human rights reforms to ensure that the rights of all citizens are fully respected and that individuals have effective, peaceful means of airing grievances.
Universities with OIC ties could launch speaker series programs and collaborate on reform efforts with civil society within host member states. The OIC Youth Forum could hold a series of youth conventions focusing on developing positive alternatives and opportunities for youth. Research indicates that youth are more likely to listen to, and be influenced by, their peers — so we need to empower youth to reach their peers in creative, compelling and effective ways, particularly through technology. In this regard, the OIC could build a messaging capability to amplify the reach and effectiveness of all of its CVE-related activities, as well as the statements of Secretary General Madani, who has been forceful in condemning violent extremists groups and their crimes.
The United States stands ready to partner with the OIC and OIC member states on the full range of these activities, and we are hopeful that this ministerial will endorse a whole-of-OIC plan of action that includes long-term, comprehensive efforts to combat this threat.
The situation in Yemen is another area where the OIC can play a decisive role. Already the OIC has mobilized its vast network of NGOs to assist with the delivery of humanitarian aid in Yemen. We urge all parties to allow for the unimpeded entry and delivery of essential relief items to the civilian population, including urgently needed food, medicine, and fuel, through UN and international humanitarian organization channels. It is vital that all Yemeni parties quickly return to all-party negotiations led by the UN, and we hope that the OIC can help to encourage such talks.
A larger challenge of sectarianism looms over the situations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. We were shocked and saddened by the deplorable bombings last week of a mosque in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, and one in Sanaa, Yemen. We condemn such acts and express our condolences to the families of the victims and the people of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Sadly, these are just the latest in a succession of actions seeking to foment sectarian tensions. Such terrorist acts, as well as divisive sectarian rhetoric, seek to tear societies apart. The OIC must play a leading role in promoting unity and rejecting divisive sectarian rhetoric and actions that can only further exacerbate conflicts.
The past several weeks have brought the world’s urgent attention once again to the situation of the Burmese Rohingya, a people who face deplorable conditions and repression in their home country. Burma, Bangladesh, and other countries in the region must take steps to address the root causes of the crisis, with attention to long-term, sustainable development and the protection of human rights for these vulnerable migrants. We are pleased that Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to accept 7,000 migrants, and by reports that Malaysia will be conducting search and rescue operations for those stranded at sea. We recognize the important work that OIC Special Envoy for Myanmar Dr. Albar has done in this regard, and we urge the OIC to continue to support this effort and to attend the May 29 conference hosted by Thailand.
Since FY 2014, the U.S. government has provided approximately $109 million in humanitarian assistance for vulnerable Burmese, including Rohingya, in Burma and the region. U.S. efforts include ongoing resettlement of the most vulnerable Rohingya referred by UNHCR to the United States and support for voluntary repatriation to Burma when conditions are right. More than 1,000 Rohingya have been resettled to the United States so far this fiscal year. The U.S. government has repeatedly urged the Burmese government to allow unfettered humanitarian access for all those in need in Rakhine State; to ensure safe conditions for freedom of movement for the Rohingya currently confined in IDP camps; the voluntary return of internally displaced Rohingya to their places of origin; a path to citizenship for stateless persons in Rakhine State and elsewhere that does not require the Rohingya to self-identify as Bengali; and to reinforce the rule of law by protecting vulnerable populations. We urge OIC members to continue to engage Burma, Bangladesh, and ASEAN countries to contribute urgently to a solution to this situation.
With so many challenges, it is important not to overlook positive developments that provide foundations upon which to build. Earlier this month, the Central African Republic (CAR) concluded a successful Bangui Forum, which allowed for inclusive debate on CAR’s future and resulted in armed groups agreeing to release child soldiers, end violence, and enter into a disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and repatriation (DDRR) process. The engagement of the OIC, its Special Envoy for CAR Dr. Gadio, and OIC member states was pivotal in creating the conditions for a successful Bangui Forum. We appreciate the OIC’s ongoing commitment to CAR and the Bangui Forum, including its financial commitment to support the Forum, and urge consideration of additional support to ensure a peaceful political transition and economic recovery in CAR.
In March, for the first time in Nigeria’s history, an opposition candidate unseated an incumbent. This peaceful transfer of power demonstrates the power of democratic institutions in providing peaceful means for change. It has also created new hope for success in the country’s struggle against Boko Haram. And in January, Sri Lanka held an historic free and fair election in which the people chose a path of inclusiveness and progress over authoritarianism and corruption. Beleaguered minority populations in Sri Lanka, including the Muslim community, finally have hope for a prosperous, inclusive future. These positive examples prove that sustained, principled commitment to inclusive, rights-based policies can successfully lead to progress, and that the painstaking work we engage in can and does make a difference.
Finally, returning to the CFM theme of promoting tolerance, there is an urgent need to enhance global efforts to protect the rights of minorities, including religious minorities. Religious minorities, such as Christian, Shia, Sunni, Yezidi, Ahmedi, and Bahaii communities, have been the targets of violence in a number of OIC member states, and it is vital that those countries ensure that the rights of members of those communities are fully protected. Full protection of those rights may require that certain restrictive laws, including blasphemy laws, be repealed or reformed to ensure full compliance with international human rights law.
Certain minority Muslim populations continue to face severe repression. In addition to the Rohingya discussed earlier, the Crimean Tatar community continues to suffer under the Russian occupation of Crimea. Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province are also facing severe restrictions of their rights, including freedom of religion. The OIC and its member states have a vital role to play in promoting the rights of the Muslim minorities in Crimea and Xinjiang, and we hope that these issues will feature prominently in the OIC’s engagement.
Next week the OIC is hosting a meeting of the Istanbul Process, which focuses on encouraging implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on religious tolerance. The United States looks forward to continuing this conversation at that meeting and working together to address our shared concerns over religious intolerance.
And we look forward to working with all of you to further enhance US-OIC partnerships and cooperation. Thank you.