Iran Declares ‘Islamic Human Rights Day’

By Patrick Goodenough | July 25, 2008 | 5:13 AM EDT

The report comes amid growing international criticism of Iran’s rights record, particularly its use of capital punishment.

( – A top Iranian body headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly has declared August 5 international “Islamic human rights day,” in what may be a bid to boost shari’a law.
Italian news agency AKI reported Thursday that the decision was taken by the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, which also decided to designate another day as a ways of promoting the virtue of the Islamic veil.
Attempts to obtain confirmation and details from the offices of the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council were unsuccessful. The Qom-based council is a 37-member body, currently chaired by Ahmadinejad, and tasked with drawing up cultural, educational and research policies. Only Iran’s Supreme Ruler can overrule its decisions.
The report comes amid growing international criticism of Iran’s rights record, particularly its use of capital punishment. This week, a British parliamentary foreign affairs committee released a document that described Iran’s human rights record as “shocking” and “deteriorating” and noted that its statute books permitted execution by hanging, stoning, flogging and amputation.
On Thursday, a European anti-death penalty group said executions in Iran increased from 215 in 2006 to at least 355 in 2007, and 23 people were hanged in the first 10 days of 2008 alone. According to Amnesty International, at least 140 minors in Iran are currently on death row.
Iran’s Defenders of Human Rights Center and others are warning that a new bill under consideration will have the effect of increasing the number of crimes punishable by death – including the offense of publishing material on the Internet deemed to promote “corruption, prostitution and apostasy.” Under Islamic law (shari’a), apostasy is the act of leaving Islam for another faith.
If the report about Iran promoting an “Islamic human rights day” is true, it appears to mark the latest attempt by a Muslim government to elevate the status a document drawn up by member-states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1990. August 5 is the day the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam was adopted.
The Cairo Declaration asserts the superiority of Islam and stipulates that all human rights and freedoms are subject to shari’a.
On freedom of speech, it says “everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the shari’a.”
“[Information] may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of prophets, undermine moral and ethical values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society or weaken its faith,” the declaration says.
It concludes by stressing that shari’a “is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.”
In recent years, the OIC has invoked the Cairo Declaration in its campaign at the United Nations and elsewhere against what it calls the “defamation” of Islam. Critics are concerned about the implications for free expression.
The bloc, which comprises 56 sovereign states, is also considering drafting a new document called the Islamic Charter of Human Rights, which OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu says will be in line with the provisions of the Cairo Declaration.
Over the years since 1990, Islamic states have pushed to have the Cairo Declaration raised to the status enjoyed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which marks its 60th anniversary this year.
Earlier this year three non-governmental organizations in a joint statement to the U.N. expressed concern about the issue, arguing that the Cairo Declaration “is clearly an attempt to limit the rights enshrined in the UDHR.”
The International Humanist and Ethical Union, the Association for World Education and the Association of World Citizens noted that the majority of Islamic states are signatories to the UDHR (Saudi Arabia was one of eight countries to abstain in the 1948 vote).
“By adopting the 1990 Cairo Declaration those States are in effect reneging on the obligations they freely entered into in signing the UDHR,” the NGOs said.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow