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To Whom Does UN Law Actually Apply?

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Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, attends a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (out of frame) on March 27, 2018 in New York. (Photo: BRYAN R. SMITH / AFP / Getty Images)
Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, attends a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (out of frame) on March 27, 2018 in New York. (Photo: BRYAN R. SMITH / AFP / Getty Images)

Most people haven’t heard of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights. Normally, the legal basis of human rights is mentally juxtaposed with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948 at the third session of the U.N. General Assembly. In this piece we ask to whom does UN law actually apply

The effectiveness of the U.N. Declaration has long been debated, with adherents to both sides maintaining their stances. The Declaration itself contains 30 articles which affirm the rights of the individual. Although these are not legally binding themselves, a number of international treaties and other laws have adopted them.

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam is widely seen as the Islamic world’s response to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. The fundamental difference between the two is that the Cairo Declaration restricts rights to the limits set by sharia law. This has a massive impact on the rights that are afforded to religious minorities, women and freedoms of expression and movement. These extensive limitations have eventuated to the Cairo Declaration sanctioning things the U.N. Declaration vehemently outlaws. For example, blasphemy against Islam in Islamic countries is punishable by death, whereas the U.N. Declaration provides for freedom of religious expression without fear of retribution.

Article 24 of the Cairo Declaration specifies that:

“All the Rights and Freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia”, and Article 19 stipulates “There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Sharia.”

This leads us to a fundamental question. How can we consider states which follow the Cairo Declaration as equal partners for peace, experts or authorities on human rights, or honest trading partners, if their definitions and protections afforded to fundamental human rights, daily conduct and freedoms are inherently different to our own? How can we encourage tourism to countries where our citizens are subject to the rights provided for them by sharia law and not those expressly stated in the U.N. Declaration?

And most importantly, how can the United Nations incorporate a coalition of states which seek to prevent and outlaw any criticism of religion, while trying to maintain its image as the world’s moral compass?

 

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