Saeed Shehabi* Chairman:  Dr Saeed Al Shehabi

CHAIRMAN: I would like to welcome you all to our  seminar which is supposed to be discussing the issue of human rights from an Islamic perspective. As you all know, the world has just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the issue of human rights has become an international issue, it has become part of international politics.  Sometimes it has been exploited politically, sometimes it is taken as a genuine concern, sometimes it is used as a pretext for war, at other times it is meant to be a product of peace.

          Tonight we are going to discuss,  the  issue of human rights. How can we reconcile the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the specificity of the Arab and Muslim nation? How do they view things? How do they look at human rights, how do they value human rights and how do they view the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?  Are the components of that declaration   in line with our culture, with our tradition and our values?

          Where can we reconcile the two? Where is the divergence? Is there going to be auniversally accepted human rights code from our viewpoint  as Arabs and Muslims? A number of speakers will discuss this issue.




Dr. Abdelwahab El-AffendiDR ABDUL WAHAB EFFENDI: It is a great honour for me to be taking part in this illustrious panel of experts on the issue of human rights, to discuss this part of the international regime at the moment.

          It is also significant that we are here discussing this significant issue in this sombre time when events in the Gulf are again reminding us that we really  do have  serious and deep problems. Some have emanated from our region and others have not.

          The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN system from which is has emerged at the end of the Second World War was meant precisely to deal with situations like the one we have today.

          World War Two was a very devastating affair. Fifty million dead.  But is wasn’t just the war which resulted in the crisis. It was also what led to the war and what was discovered after the war, in particular the horrendous human rights violations which had taken place at the heart of Europe at that time and the realisation that you could no longer as an international community look the other way in the name of sovereignty when there was horrendous violations of human rights.

          There was also some sense of optimism that humanity,  at this juncture and after having learned these bitter lessons,  is not in a situation where people would say let us all sit together as human beings, without regard to race, colour, religion, country,  etc and try to work out a way of  co-existence.

          Now the way of peaceful co-existence was seen to come only through agreements on the freedoms that every single human being  be given his basic cultural rights and freedoms. To me the self evident truths seem very obvious. Human beings who differ from each other in aspects like colour, religion or race, nationality ought to sit together and work out this formula. This formula has to respect the rights of everyone, regardless of who he is.The  Declaration of Human Rights was worded on this basis.

          A number of Muslim countries attended that meeting of the United Nations and they also attended the deliberations which led to the declaration. Most of the Arab and Muslim countries supported the declaration as a whole but Saudi Arabia abstained when it came to voting on the declaration. It  did not register any particular objection but within the deliberation committees the Saudi delegations expressed concern about conflict between some of the provisions of the declaration and some Islamic principles, in particular with regard to freedom of religion.

          The progress at least on the theoretical level has been that most Arab and Muslim countries did subscribe to the declaration and all of them signed the covenants on civil andpolitical rights and social and economic rights. These are two sets of procedures: the declaration was a statement of intention. Most of its clauses were general and I don’t believe any person,  whether Muslim or non Muslim,  would have quarrels with them.

          They are all calling for freedom, dignity, protection of people, fair trials. All these are demands which  every normal, decent human being would subscribe to.

          In the interpretation of the declaration and in the covenants there were more details which led to some conflict from the Islamic point of view. But most of the countries involved did not raise these issues at the time from a religious  point of view.

          When they signed the covenant they would  always express reservations about this and that clause. Rarely did  countries cite religion. Saudi Arabia did. But most other countries, for example Bahrain,  suspended some clauses to do with workers rights which has nothing to do with any religious precepts.

          On the level of practise,  which is more important for us, unfortunately the Arab world has been,  and continues to be,  an area where there is a very systematic consistent violation of human rights in almost every country.

          And worst still there is no recognition that this is a violation of rights. There is no recognition of the right of people to free assembly or the right to vote. These are are not recognised as rights either by the official media or by the governments.

          Although it has become fashionable recently to cite cultural specificity in defense of this I don’t see most of the violations being carried out as culturally specific or being mandated by any specific religious mandate to do with Islam or Arab values. There is nothing in Islam which says we can torture people, there is nothing in Islam which says you can imprison people without a trial, there is nothing in Islam which says people cannot vote for their rulers, there is nothing which says people should not have freedom of assembly  or expression.

          On the contrary it is the obligation of every Muslim to speak his mind and to be heard. And also most of the government which are committing these violations are not committed to any Islamic values. They are secular governments. When they speak of cultural specificity they do not refer to this.

          Fifty  years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  the level of observance of this declaration is not progressing in the Arab countries. It is going backwards. There are some countries where human rights were more respected when the declaration was formulated than today. Now the people have today have less freedoms and less rights.

          A debate has recently opened on whether this declaration is compatible with Islamic values or not and I think  it has the character of a misguided controversy. There is a discussion of post modernism in countries which have not seen modernism. We are in a situation where we haven’t observed the minimum which is  enshrined in the declaration and we are in a situation where the Arab and Muslim are not  actually citizens, they are deprived of most oftheir rights.


          Some people ask whether this declaration is compatible or not compatible with Islamic values.  I think in order to have this debate we first have to reach the minimum level which is called for by the declaration.


          And the minimum level is that there is freedom for people to speak their minds about whether this declaration is compatible with this set of values rather than that. Otherwise we will just be playing the game of the tyrants who  want to use this confusion to say what we  are doing is the correct procedure because this declaration is invalid, it does not conform to our traditions.

          I think we should  tackle  the issue the other way around. We should insist at this particular time, 50 years after the declaration, and say first of all let us implement or abide by this declaration. Let us have freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, fair trials.  Then when we have a real community,  let us move on to debate in complete freedom whether we want to debate this declaration.

          I am not saying this declaration is sacred. On the contrary. I believe, and everybody knows that this is something which has not come from heaven, but was done on  First Avenue by some lawyers and they did their best at that time. There is nothing that says it cannot be improved on.

          Of course the Arab and Muslim nation at that time were not a match for the Western lawyers and experts who formulated the declaration.  But now we have our people who could contribute to the theory and practise.  We are not saying it is sacred and has to be implemented as it is. What we are saying is that most of what the declaration says is something which we as human being, as Arabs and Muslims identify with. We do not  think that the Muslims are a lower breed of people who should have guardians and should not have their full freedoms.

          On the contrary Muslims should have complete freedom and should be allowed to participate in their public life as anybody else.  And when they take part in the debate they can stress the points they want to develop.


CHAIRMAN:  Thank you Dr Affendi for this introduction. I think the issue of human rights from an Islamic perspective needs more  critical discussion. It is not as simple as that. I think those who express reservations will  cite certain articles in the declaration and they will oppose them and talk about those specific issues as being contradictory to Sharia, for example.   And this is where the problems start. Later in the discussion  it could be useful to  highlight some of those concerns. Now we listen to Dr Abdel Hussein Shaban the Head of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in in the UK.


DR ABDUL HUSSEIN SHABANDR ABDUL HUSSEIN SHABAN: Ladies and gentlemen dear friends: Firstly I would tothank you for  your participation in this seminar. Secondly I am not in the normal mood this evening due to yesterday’s (16.12.98) aggression on Iraq, which is a clear violation of human rights. This attack comes in addition to the long years of human rights abuses and international sanctions against the Iraqi people.

          Thirdly, in my contribution, I will highlight the importance of the subject of Islam and human rights. During the last few  years I have participated in many seminars  in Egypt, England, the US and other countries on this subject.  Last month I attended a human rights seminar in Morocco. The subject of Islam and different cultures and civilisations was discussed broadly last week (8.12.98) in the summit of the "Defender of Human Rights" in Paris.

          I will try to identify a number of current attitudes and approaches to this subject.

          The rejection concept sees the idea of human rights as a "Western innovation" which has a political agenda. One of its aims is to confront political Islam. Those who adopt this point of view defend it by pointing out the double standards which the West has often applied to human rights issues concerning Muslims: the bombing of Iraq and the West’s dealings with the problems of  Palestine, southern Lebanon,  Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia and other countries.

          Many advocates of political Islam stress the specific in opposition to the universal in their criticism of the Western concept of human rights. They tend to adhere blindly to what they see as the Islamic heritage, shutting themselves off from all other influences.

          The pioneering concept, tries to attribute everything to Islam, including the idea of human rights. This approach considers Islam to be its originator, pioneer and most comprehensive expression. This claim is often used to imply that modern concepts of human rights have nothing to offer to Muslims. In practice, it is used in an attempt to deflect the wave of change that has  swept the world and toppled the totalitarian regimes of Eastern Europe.

          The selective – compromising approach claims to accept only those modern human rights concepts that do not contradict  Islamic heritage. This selectivity is often arbitrary and false, designed to justify prejudices against, for example, women’s and or minority rights.

          The civilisational approach accepts and welcomes interaction between different civilisations. This is a growing current but it is faced by opposition from many governments and Islamic political movements, who use "cultural" reasons as an excuse for not complying with  basic human rights.


          This approach acknowledges that even though the concept of human rights may appear to be "Western"  – as formulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human rights and the 1966 international conventions on political and civil,  economic social and cultural rights – its substance is the product of the interaction of the totality of human thoughts, which are not confined to one continent, culture, nation or people.

          The concept of human rights emerged from the interaction of humanist ideas drawnfrom different civilisations over the ages, including  Arab and Islamic civilisations. While feudal Europe was still living in the dark ages, the Arabs and Muslims provided the world with knowledge and culture, and the basic features of what  later became known as human rights. These have been defined in modern times as freedom of expression and belief, the right to establish organisations and political participation. Variants of these ideas were developed and put into practice in the early Islamic era, though they receded in later centuries during the era of despotism.

          The problem in the relationship between political Islam and human rights is not, therefore, one of either adhering to heritage or abandoning it in favour of modernism. It is a problem of searching for an identity without either drowning in one’s heritage or renouncing it, without retreating into the past or "Westernising". It is a question of how to avoid subservience and dependency, while not clashing with or fearing other civilisations.

          We can see how the worst interpretations of the idea of "heritage" have been applied, for example, in Sudan, Iraq and other countries, where "Islamic laws" permit the amputation of limbs or the branding of foreheads and other degrading punishment, which are totally at odds with modern human rights values.

          In our inter-dependent world, it is wrong to deal with international human rights standards as the concern of "others" only. It is wrong to see Arab or Islamic values as though they are relevant only to Arabs or Moslems. The promotion of human rights ideas concerns the entire world, and those who believe in them should seek to free themselves from the confines of geography, nationality, race, religion or language.

          Interaction builds bridges between the authentic and the contemporary, between heritage and modernity, between the specific and the general. And finally, between what is Arab and Islamic and what is universal.


LORD AVEBURYLORD AVEBURY, CHAIRMAN INTER-PARLIAMENTARY HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP: I feel somewhat diffident in addressing this audience and being one of a panel of speakers who know much more about this subject than I do. I am probably the least qualified of all those who are speaking to you this evening because coming from a background which is not Islamic it may be rather pretentious and arrogant for me to talk about subjects of this kind.

          I was reminded when listening to my two colleagues earlier,  of a remarkable statement by Lawrence Fuller, who many of you know as a commentator on the Arab world. He said that in some ways London was the centre of discussion of Islamic and Arab values because we can say things in London, we can discuss these matters in a free and open  way which might be  difficult in many countries of the Arab world.


          I certainly agree that we have to look  at the human rights problem that exists in the Arab world and see:

          1) Whether these are compatible with modern standards of human rights and

          2) Whether they are compatible with Islam.

          But before I come to the details of what I want to tell you I want to agree with my two previous colleagues in what they said about the attack on Iraq.

          I am going to have to disagree with my own colleagues in the Liberal Democratic Party because I see that Mean Campbell, who is the spokesman on foreign affairs, has been more Catholic than the pope, in his support for the actions that have been taken by  President Clinton and Tony Blair.

          I just wrote a letter to Robin Cook in which I asked him to consider very carefully whether military action across frontiers,  which has been tolerated in several parts of the world,  doesn’t undermine the charter and encourage potential aggressors to take action on some pretence or another.

          The charter is actually quite specific on this matter. It says that action may only be taken under article 43 which is the end of a sequence of articles dealing with contraventions of the charter. It says that once all peaceful means have been exhausted then the Security Council may decide it will take collective military action.

          The implication of that is that military action doesn’t follow automatically as Mr Clinton and Mr Blair have claimed. They should have gone back to the Security Council and got another resolution before taking military action. But they didn’t because they knew that the three other permanent members of the Security Council would not agree.

          Therefore I am against what has happened just as I was against the American cruise missile attacks on the factory in Khartoum and the alleged hideout of Mr Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

          What the  Americans are saying is that they are going to be the judge and the jury of whether violations of the charter have occurred. They are going to punish other states unilaterally and without the proper procedures which are provided for  in the charter  which say that a threat to peace exists. And that is of course the only ground, other then self defense, on which trans frontier military action is permitted.

          So I think we are embarking on a very dangerous course and in saying that I have no brief whatsoever for Saddam Hussein.  I would like to see him overthrown. I would like to see a democratic regime in Iraq and I would like to see all Iraqis enjoying the full human rights which we are discussing this evening.

          But there is a right and wrong way of going about it. And I think once you say any country is able  to take the law into its own hands in the way that America and Britain have done,  this is setting an extremely bad example which will no doubt be copied by those who have less wonderful motives then President Clinton or Mr Blair.

          That is enough on Iraq. Let me comment on other points. During the discussion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights no one, except Saudi Arabia, had any objections to the provisions of that document. It was a set of aspirations which are not politically binding on any of the signatories. There was no legal enforcement as  there is with the covenants. And that is where the difficulties begin.


            Saudi Arabia expressed concern about a particular aspect of the universal declaration and that was the provision for freedom of religion. That was because of their argument that the Prophet maintained that there should be only one religion in the peninsula therefore they couldn’t grant the same freedom of religion within the territory of the state as others could do, without violating the principles of Islam.

          But when you come to the covenant, those provisions are semi enforceable. If I may put it that way  there is provision for the forms it takes under the covenant to be reviewed.

          And so it is a stricter test for the member states to go through which in some cases has not been easy for Arab and Islamic states to adhere to.  I do not think there is anything either in the universal declaration or in the covenants that conflicts with Arabic or Islamic values.

          A lot of people say that human rights is derived from Western traditions that extend from the beliefs and teachings of the French philosophers and from those who organised the American revolution in the 18th century.

          I consider that this is a very narrow view and what is more a dangerous one because it undermines the universality of human rights and ignores the contributions that have been made by other civilisations and belief systems.


           This gives rise to false notions of cultural specificity which have already been mentioned.  So  if we go down that track we would have different sets of human rights according to whether  or not we live in Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. And we would also have those geographical systems overlapping and to some extent conflicting with another set of rights which belong exclusively to Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or Jews. And you may think there may  even be  another set of rights  for indigenous peoples. One can imagine the endless scope of conflict and confusion in  these multiple codes. And you can appreciate the wisdom of those at the United Nations World  Conference on Human Rights,  just a few years ago who  rejected the proposition that fundamental human rights could vary from one part of the world to another.

          That is not to say that human rights can’t be looked at from different cultural or religious perspectives. The question is whether we can we can arrive at the same end result from the different starting  points. And if so whether that reinforce the universality of human rights and enhances  respect  for others religions which is essential for a peaceful and harmonious world order.

          Now in Islam, as I understand it, the fundamental duty of every human being is toserve God. And God himself ordained the principles of justice and moderation which were expressed,  for example,  in the guidance given by Abu Bakr  on  the first expedition to Syria.


          He told his soldiers not to mutilate or kill civilians. So he was anticipating the Geneva Conventions. The worth of the individual is underlined in Islam, by its  emphasis on the equality of human beings and on the principle of universal brotherhood.

          So Islam has been at the forefront of the world’s efforts to combat racism and racial discrimination. I think it is for that reason that many down trodden people were attracted to Islam in the first place.

          Those who were raised in the Western tradition nevertheless accepted colonialism until the principle of self determination finally came into its  own in the post-war era in the 50s and  60s.  Western states allowed racism to flourish in South Africa.  We did nothing about it until comparatively recently.


          We have to say that racism is still endemic in Europe and North America despite attempts to deal with it by legal means.


          We do have the law but we have institutional racism in our societies as you can see by the recent discussions about the behaviour of the police  which have triggered off the very important debate which we should have had years ago. If we had that debate a long time ago perhaps the Lawrence Inquiry would not have been necessary.

          Obviously things happen in Islamic states which are not sanctioned by  religion just as things happen in  Christian states which are not sanctioned by Christianity.


          But I take it that  we are discussing  ideologies and not the practical experience of human behaviour which is so frequently at odds with the professed beliefs that human beings adopt.

          Now it is said sometimes that Islam tends to emphasise collective rights while in the Judeo Christian tradition individual rights are considered to be of much greater importance.

          It is a fact that the universal declaration is concerned entirely with individual rights as indeed are the covenants. But if this contrast is correct than Islam has a beneficial effect on the world’s thinking because what are called second generation  human rights are entirely of a collective nature.

          It is accepted now that individual rights  detailed in the social and  political covenants need to be supplemented by sets of rights which apply to particular groups of human beings such as women or children or minorities in  society.

          It is a rather simplistic idea of the universal declaration, if one is permitted to say that on the 50th anniversary, having enumerated the rights of the individual you have  done all that is necessary.

          All the articles of the universal declaration begin either with the world everyone or no one so you constantly come across this principle of individuality in human rights. But now weare establishing mechanisms which will deal with collective rights and you can see that in some of the instruments of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

          I would like to speak about India. I asked someone from the human rights commission how they cope with the flood of petitions. And he said, even though we have 450 people in our commission it is impossible to cope with the flood of complaints.  And therefore we adopt a different approach. We are telling the military and police if you start from the top and you instill a culture of human rights among the people under your command this will be a better way of solving this problem. You will have the people on your side and your force and your military will be more effective as a result of this.

          Although there was some hostility to this idea at first, many of the commanders have  come around to this point of view. And they passed it down the line so you would prevent acts of brutality or torture against citizens instead of trying to pick up the pieces afterwards by looking at the complaints  people made. I thought that was a very good idea.

          Now finally we should discuss the idea of democracy from an Arab and Islamic perspective and we have to recognise that democratic institutions are still very impractically developed in the Islamic world.

          In Iran elections are held but if you participate in them you have to accept the viyalet al faki, the principle that the spiritual leader has the last word, not only on subjects that are clearly dealt with in the  Holy Koran and the Sunnah but in every other aspect of life.

          And as I understand it, the  heresy which is complained of against for example Ayatollah Montezeri and Ayatollah Sherazi is that they believe in certain matters such as management or science which are not specifically dealt with in the Holy Koran  decisions  should be made on first principles.

          And the question is whether an Islamic state is one in which the religious principles of Islam are followed or whether it is a state in which every decision is as it were imbued with religious overtones and has to be taken along whatever lines the orthodox prescribe. It  is a very important and difficult one that we can confront at this meeting.

          What in fact do we mean by an Islamic state? Is it one in which the principles of Islam are applied and the rules of Islam,  in so far as they are prescribed in the Koran and the Sunnah,  are followed?  But in all matters which are not dealt with in the holy books decisions are made on first principles. Or do we say that the religious authority is supreme and can over ride the decisions of an elected authority?

          I was taking yesterday to a group of journalists from Algeria, which I think is in a very interesting state of development because  of the departure of the military from the scene . The stage is now  set for almost free elections.

          I say almost free because  I doubt that the FIS will be allowed to take part. But there will be two parties contesting that election from an Islamic perspective. I understand that bothof them accept the separation of religion from the state.


          And that I suppose is the fundamental question. Is it possible to have democracy in a state where political  Islam is the dominant view. Or will that result in extremism rather than  pluralism which is an essential feature of a democratic system.

          Now the journalists  from Algeria I was talking to yesterday (16.12.98) say they  believe there can be a synthesis between Islam and democracy and certainly nothing in the Koran would prevent that from happening.

          If one looks at the early days of  Islam, when there was an authoritarian tradition, the first caliph said on  election that if he deviated from the law of  God then the people were to withdraw their loyalty from him.

          So essentially even in those very early days the people were sovereign and the idea of the Shurah was in essence democratic in a society where the number of people was so small that everybody could participate. It has only become undemocratic in a larger, modern state where only a few hand-picked people, favourites of the ruling clan in many cases in the  Gulf are allowed to speak, and then purely only in an advisory capacity.

          So I suggest that one of the questions that we debate here is how we can best help the development of  democracy in the Arab and Islamic world. How we can do that without in any way violating the principles of Islam. Where there are democratic movements, as there are in many of these countries, how we can help to promote them. And that is I would of thought something which should be officially encouraged.

          You remember in the words of the Foreign Office admission statement which Robin Cook made shortly after the present government came into office he said that  we would seek to promote in all the bilateral dealings we have with other states and in the fora  of which we are members, those values of human rights and democracy which we demand for ourselves. And since we demand a system in which everybody has the vote and everybody has  equal participation in the government of their country we should  be supporting movements in the Arab and the Islamic world which are calling for the same objectives.

          I believe it is in our interests and in the interests of mutual understanding between the West and Islam that that should be made one of  our highest priorities.


CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much Lord Avebury. Lord Avebury has raised some questions about  political Islam which are relevant. I don’t know whether there will be time to discuss these issues. But listening to Sheikh Rashid Ghannoushi may highlight some of these concerns. We also have our brother Mohammed Iqbal Asaria who will speak after Sheikh Rashid. Sheikh Rashid is a well known thinker, ideologue and writer. I do not think I need to provide a longer introduction because he is well known for his ideas, for his contribution to Islamic thought and for his contribution to the dynamic attitude of the Islamic movement ofmodern times.



SHEIKH RASHID GHANNOUSHISHEIKH RASHID GHANNOUSHI: We can discuss the issue of human rights at three levels. The first level is that of basic principles, the second is that of content and the third is that of implementation.

          Some people argue that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could only work in the framework of Western principles, in particular secularism and introducing religion will distort and destroy these rights.  


          This is a misleading proposal because even when the universal declaration was being discussed these issues were raised. Some people thought the declaration should be legitimised on universal, rational principles while  others wanted to legitimise it on religious principles.  Then all these were discarded and people said it does not matter what frame of reference is used, the declaration should be compatible with all frames of reference.


          And in this regard the principles enshrined in the declaration can also be found in Islam, for example the principle of justice and equality between people refers to the message which had been brought by all the prophets.  Islamic  discourse has always been humanistic and not sectarian, so actually the Islamic frame of reference of reference is the most hospitable and the one in which human rights could be more successful.

          With regard to content  any study or declaration about human rights and Islamic thinking would reveal that there is a complete agreement  between  Islamic values and the values in the universal declaration.

          There are some exceptions as in the issue of the equality of women or minorities regarding religious freedom. This does not mean that Islam does not accept equality. It shows that it look at equality from a different perspective and a different angle.

          For example, Islam says that the essence in marital relations  is that they should be between people from the same religion. There are exceptions made for males who could marry believers from other religions such as Judaism and Christianity.  But  women are not given this right and this has to do with the way Islam looks at the family as a value and also the emphasis on bringing children up in a Muslim environment as this environment recognises Judaism and Christianity whereas the other religions do not recognise Islam.

          The  other question is that of apostasy which has been misinterpreted – the historical perspectives shows that the apostasy which has been condemned and prohibited was armed insurrection against the legal state.


          Apostasy did not refer to people who had left  Islam since these people were Muslims, but they defied the state and instead of making their  point they used military means. That is the specific understanding of apostasy. It does not refer to changing religion.  Freedom of thought  and religion is a basic value in Islam.

          The only other difference is that human rights  in Islam are not seen  only as entitlements. They are looked at as duties and  it is the individuals duty to partake of these rights otherwise he would have sinned.

          With regard to political freedom many Islamic thinkers look at democracy as the best implementation of the principle of shurah which is the principle of the sovereignty of the ummah or the community and the best mechanism to implement this supreme value. This value has always been there but a mechanism has not been found to implement it.

          With regard to the third level, the level of practise,  Islamic history is human history and the Muslims have interacted with various traditions including the Arab tribal traditions and the imperial traditions of Rome and Persia and the result was a system of rule which  imbibed the spirit of Islam but was also influenced by these traditions.

          We should not judge history by  today’s standards. We should put  it in perspective. The Islamic practise has  always been progressive. We have not witnessed genocides, racist wars or  even religious wars. The wars we had were mainly political conflicts.

          The era in which we are living now is the era of Islamic decline which has witnessed the worse excesses in violations of human rights. These violations are sometimes legitimised by  distorted and erroneous interpretations of Islam by some group which accuses anyone who opposes  its views as being outside the pale and kafir. They are also legitimised by  secularist elites  who are extreme in wanting to impose their narrow vision and  try to legitimise violations of human rights in the name of  modernisation, and the protection of civil society as was the case in my country, Tunisia.

          Throughout the last 100 years groups like this have been supported by the West, especially by Western democracies who  have co-opted corrupt elites and supported  their  excesses.

          In this context the  modern Islamic movement regards  itself as a product of liberation from dictatorship and it sees itself as an ally of the modern human rights and democratic movements worldwide and also of modernity.


CHAIRMAN: Thank you Sheikh Rashid for this enlightening speech. It needs to be elaborated on hopefully  at some other time, because it is shedding new light on things that have been left aside for a long time. The issue of Islamic thinking and human rights needs more and more discussion to remove the uncertainties surrounding it. The final speaker tonight is Iqbal Assaria, an economist, an adviser to  several NGOs working on the World Bank and the  South East Asian situation. He is also a writer and a journalist so I think his interpretation will be of interest to us.


IQBAL ASARIAIQBAL ASARIA:  I think there is no doubt, as  the previous speakers have  pointed out, thatthere are several grave concerns in Muslim countries about the violations of the rights of Muslims, both internally and by external forces.

          There are several areas which need to be looked at and discussed seriously. These violations have to be mitigated and hopefully removed.


          I also think  in this era of globalisation these violations are  a reflection of the creation of expectations of freedom among the peoples of the world which have  not been met for several reasons. I am going to look at this process of the creation of expectations and the frustrations of the people when the expectations have not been met or supported by others who have championed,  or are seen to have championed,  the cause of human rights.

          During the last 10 to 15 years there are three examples which illustrate this process in action. The most germane example is that of Algeria. We have a situation where a nation moves towards freedom, moves towards a more representative  form of government and this victory is  snatched from them by military intervention which is then supported by the rest of the world. Before that the rest of the world was seemingly  in favour of democracy and representative governments.

          An expectation has been created and then suppressed by the very people one would have thought would support that expectation. This is a very serious crisis of confidence among the peoples of Algeria and of course observers, especially  bewildered Muslim observers.

          The second example, very similar in nature but not yet finished, is that of Turkey, where even today there is an attempt to form a government without even bringing into consideration the majority faction in the elected parliament of the country.

          I was very sad to read  a recent issue of the Financial Times which quoted a leading Western diplomat in Ankara as saying that if the Islamist came anyway near power Turkey’s chance of joining the European community would be finished!

          So again there is an expectation created where a force which has moved in a democratic direction has been prevented by the military from taking  its rightful position. This has been reinforced by those who one would have thought would have supported that restoration.

          These examples can multiply. Unless we are able to create democratic institutions, pluralist societies and active civil society institutions we cannot  mitigate human rights violations.

          But the creation of these kinds of institutions is very much dependent on  internal processes,  external support and external pressures.


          Let us turn to an economic example. We had several discussions   with the previous president of the World Bank and the current president. I said to them you are going to countries, many of them Muslim countries, where you are trying to put forward structural adjustment programmes and all kinds of restructuring programmes to bring those economies into balance of one kind or  another.

          Those of you who are familiar with economics will understand that most of these programmes involve the lending of money which is backed by a sovereign guarantee. This means that is guaranteed by the nation and not by the ruler.

          Thus, the $13 billion which has been borrowed  by  Congo under Mobotu still has to be paid by the people of Congo, even though Mobotu has not returned the loot.

          This is a  clear case of the need for consultation with the people as to what kind of programme is being discussed on their behalf because they are guaranteeing the repayment.


          We have not seen  any country democratically accepting structural adjustment programmes. Indeed, the World Bank and the IMF dare not put any of their programmes to the democratic test!

          Again you have processes at work which are dictatorial in nature but which rely on popular consent for their delivery. So you have this crisis of expectations building up.  You cannot have human rights  flourishing in this kind of system.

           Finally we have a very major problem and this is that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council also happen to be the five biggest exporters of arms. It is quite simple that if you are a salesman you will do everything to  create conflict as part of your strategy for market creation. Promotion of arms and conflicts becomes a primary objective. Can this be compatible with the promotion of human rights?

          I trust that these few observations underpin my assertion that human rights promotion is thwarted by dishonest promoters and champions. These only create expectations and cost lives and  livehoods.

udges, prosecutors and officials.

4.       Conclusion

It is evident from the discussions above that there are powerful factors which have impacted and continue to impact on both the development of the rule of law ideal in China and the provisions of the UCL.  The aim of this final section of the thesis is to draw an overall conclusion on the development of the rule of law in China and the significance of selected aspects of the UCL in that development.

Since the late 1970Õs the Chinese leaership has actively and consistently promoted a policy establishing a role for law in Chinese society.  This was initiated as.

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