Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Refugee Crisis and Human Rights


 Author: Azeemah Saleem Assistant Professor at the Center for Communication and Critical Thinking, JK Lakshmipat University, Jaipur, India


The Organization of Islamic Cooperation was established in 1969 to support, strengthen the relations, consolidate the understanding among 57 Muslim member states and outside, imbibe the universally held Islamic values of peace and tolerance, and promote dialogue. The organization encourages cultural interaction and fosters cultural diversity while preserving cultural identity and intellectual integrity. OIC focuses on the question of the Palestinian rights to self-determination, safeguarding and protecting the interest of the Muslim world in promoting peace and harmony. Since then, OIC has conducted many sessions, summits, and extraordinary meetings and formed multiple humanitarian and economic umbrella organizations such as Muslim World League, Islamic World Education, Scientific and Cultural organizations, Islamic Development Bank, etc. However, these sessions were the outcome of the reaction to the ongoing political instability and social and cultural turmoil in the Muslim region, ranging from the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Iraq war in 2006, the Kurdish questions, Shia- Sunni conflicts, Arab uprising 2011, Yemen conflict, ongoing civil war in Libya, and the question of failed states in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, the 48th Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers held in March 2022 was conducted to counter Islamophobia, Kashmir-Palestine issues, humanitarian crisis, discussion on vaccine equity, and the continuing crisis between Russia and Ukraine.

Besides, Muslim countries’ political and economic structure echoes the authoritarian representations, terrorism, illicit arms funding, sectarian conflicts, civil war, and deepened regional politics, especially between Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab of Emirates. The sustained authoritarian regimes and decisions have further aggravated various vulnerabilities and crises in OIC countries; one of them is the enforced displacement of civilians. In recent years, the Muslim nations produced the largest refugee crisis due to the ongoing crisis and instability, causing an immense humanitarian crisis and violation of human rights. Though OIC countries had the six most prominent refugee-hosting countries in 2016, where Turkey hosted 2 million refugees, Pakistan hosted 1.5 million refugees, Iran hosted 950000 (approx.), Ethiopia 6,54,141 (approx.), and Jordan 654,141 (approx.) refugees, yet the accommodation of refugees among member states remains uneven.[1] Further, with the consistent emergence of refugees, the intervention of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is evident on multiple levels yet limited in dealing with consistent hostilities and instabilities in devising the political solution. For instance, to establish a Syrian state based on pluralism, democracy, and a civil system, respecting human rights, mediating proxy war between regional conflicts, and providing humanitarian assistance to refugees under the banner of IDB (Islamic Development Bank).[2]

Further, the unsystematic accommodations of refugees questioned the member’s legitimacy and role in OIC. Due to its socio-political, economic, and financial resources, the restricted and limited refugee intake by the host and Muslim society perse, highlighted the significance of ‘reformative’ supranational institutions. Based on the Quranic verses[3] to protect the forced migrants, OIC has established multiple treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1981), Cairo declaration on Human Rights (1990), The Arab Charter of the Human Rights (1994), all contain clauses pertaining to the rights and livelihood of forced migrants.[4] OIC expressed solidarity for the groups of people forced to leave their homes due to difficult humanitarian and social conditions caused by wars, conflicts, and natural disasters and called for the international community to take the necessary action by hosting the refugees on the principles of partnership and stressing the need for substantial effort to address the root of the refugee crisis in the Islamic world (OIC call for global solidarity, 20/6/21).

However, OIC institutional arrangement in accommodating refugees, meditation, and the decision-making process remains limited or undermined for multiple reasons. Firstly, the dominance of regional and sub-regional organizations such as the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, and other regional actors played a significant role in shaping the politics of interventions, influencing the conflicted zone, and deepening the regional politics For instance, during the Syrian crisis, the Arab League mediated a mission to end violence and open-up monitoring dialogue with the opposition. The league suspended Syria, angering Iran and further fading the lengthy negotiation on the mission’s mandates. However, Arab League has contributed on 12 occasions, which is the primary cause of success. Thus, the league projected its effectiveness in solving the issues of the core membership than expected from the supranational organization like OIC.

Secondly, the GCC act as an optimist mediator of the border disputes in the Gulf area. GCC undermined the role of moral institutional arrangements of Muslim nations, as they have been continuously committed to humanitarian support for the Syrian refugees and other Muslims in Africa and Asia. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab of Emirates are significant contributors to foreign aid to the vulnerable Muslim nations and provide direct funding to UN Agencies, rather ongoing through the OIC route. Thus, it undermined the role of OIC and limited the roles of humanitarian assistance due to the lack of funding and dependency on the donor, i.e., the rich GCC states prefer to have regional solutions for regional problems.[5] Moreover, many states failed or refused to pay their annual membership, undermining the organization’s value. Thirdly, wealthy Muslim nations use OIC as a tool to set their agendas and manage their affairs outside the influence of regional organizations. For instance, the caution under which Saudi-led GCC sub-regional organizations approached the Libyan and Syrian crisis, compared with the affairs of Yemen, seems to confirm the biased approach of the regional organization. Fourthly, from the legal perspective, the lack of any crystalized institutional structure gives the members the veto right and effectively deprives them of any substantive power to impose their decision on the member states.[6] The regime focuses on preserving its self-interest rather than the common good of all citizens. The rooted sectarian polarization in the region, reflecting Shia & Sunni politics, Arab & non-Arabs, and rich & poor, limits the moral structural reformation of OIC. Fifthly, the individual regime has a weak domestic base, which is more focused and prioritizes state-building and reinforcement of state-based patriotism over creating a strong pan-Arab or Muslim entity. The lack of representative democratic institutions undermined the effective supranational institutions in the region due to the lack of any representative approach in the decision-making process. An unaccountable check on the authoritarian rule in most Muslim nations undermines moral, social, and political domestic institutions while violating the fundamental human rights prescribed not only in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also in the Quran and hadith. Thus, the institutional chaos and political instability resulted in the refugee crisis’s emergence without legal and structural control. Moreover lastly, the question of regional politics, where the substantial overlap between the membership of two major regional organizations undermined the legitimacy of OIC.[7] It has undermined domestic and regional moral institutional arrangements, creating immense instability within Muslim countries. It failed to negotiate and develop consensus due to authoritarian tendencies, a self-centered approach, and the tussle for regional supremacy, resulting in a consistent crisis.

From a reformative approach, to make a structural change, it is significant for the powerful OIC member states like Pakistan and Indonesia to play a substantial role in cooperating with the peacekeeping, conflict resolution, or forming a consensus through negotiations or by their leadership positions. For instance, in the Syrian crisis, Pakistan, Indonesia, or Nigeria, who are not part of the region, can take up leadership responsibility without any plan or impartiality through the OIC.[8] It can establish an intergovernmental structure that requires a consensus among member states for significant decisions that hinder the efficacy of the organizations. However, it is challenging to reach a consensus at times, as members comprise different continents and states. The disagreement undermined the dispute resolutions and failed to resolve internal disputes among member and non-member states, bringing OIC to impasses.

OIC conflict resolution needs to be supported by strong political will by developing and initiating various organizational reform programs involving OIC in mediating conflicts among its member states. To strengthen the political will, the need to empower the office of the Secretary-General by delegating authority and allocating the appropriate financial resources for his mediation efforts. Through proper collaboration, mediation can take a multi-method approach, and together such organizations may have more significant potential to mediate intractable conflict successfully. Most significantly, through economic cooperation, free trade, and protection among the member states, OIC can strengthen its organization, taking the example of the European Union. It can also improve the intra-Muslim cooperation by improving the conditions of all and call benefit for the long-term sustainability of growth, overcoming cultural and political barriers. As a result, it would equalize and promote regional trade, capital investment, and development among states due to substantial equality reduction among the OIC countries.

Further, the OIC’s leading members like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan are held accountable for avoiding to taking action that would harm the interests of their allies, limiting it with narrow goals, and above the morality and legality of organizations. OIC needs to be accountable to the goal set for their minimalist foundations and establishes an initiative under the banner umbrella organization rather than the dominance of individual member of organizations. Secondly, the effectiveness depends on the inclusiveness of all the member states, rather than being designed for the rich countries. Thirdly, the institutional overlap among the major regional organizations such as 52 OIC members, many are also members of the Arab League, the African Union, GCC and so. The overlapping membership performing meditation led to conflicts of interest and competition for loyalties. Thus, it becomes significant to raise the question of “authoritarian regionalism”. Fourthly, based on the financial and economic resources, it needs to establish a comprehensive economic forum to reduce inequality among the poor and rich nations, and function for the benefit of all. And lastly, OIC needs to adopt an active performative social and economic approach in collaboration with all member states, rather than merely dealing with the existing or emerging crisis.   

[1]AI. (2015, October 12). Global refugee crisis – by the numbers. Retrieved from https://; OIC. (2012). Ashgabat Declaration of the International Ministerial Conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on refugees in the Muslim world. Jeddah: Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), p. 2; Shaikh, H. (2013, September 8). OIC’s new mediation unit is now in operation. Arab News; Ghassan Maarouf (1987). Asylum in the Arab-Islamic Tradition. UNHCR, Geneva 45, p.21.

[2] Mehmet Nuri Ucar and Hussein Mahmoud Ragab Elkabany (15 March 2013). OIC supports Political Solution to Syrian crisis Syrian war led to deaths of one million people, 11 million forced to leave homes, Secretary-General says,

[3] (OIC Resolution, 15 December 1994); Kirsten Zaat (December 2008). The protection of forced migrants in Islamic law. UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research, Research Paper No. 146, University of Melbourne Law School Australia, Policy Development and Evaluation Service.  ISSN 1020-7473, pp16-17 & 23-24; See Quranic verses of  Q22:39, Q2:246, Q17:76, Q60:90, Q8:73, Q9:100, Q9:117, Q28:4, Q33:7, Q33:27, and Q33:31;  Also see Organisation of the Islamic Conference (2005). Enhancing Refugee Protection in the Muslim World. OIC Ministerial Conference on the Problems of Refugees in the Muslim World, Draft: 18 March 2005: Working Document #1, 28-30 November 2005,; for Further comprehensive understanding, refer to Sarena Parekh (2020), No Refuge: Ethics and Global Refugee Crisis, NY: Oxford University Press.

[4] Quranic Verses surah Q9:100, Q9:117, Q33:7, Q33:27, Q33:31, and Q 28:4

[5] Marco Pinfari (2018), Regional Organizations in the Middle East, Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935307.013.86.  p8.

[6] Mohsen Tavakol (November 23, 2020). Regional stability is in the interest of both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Atlantic

[7] Pinfcari, 2018, p.9.

[8] Selçuk Çolakoğlu (May 10, 2013), “The OIC: Difficulties, Reform And A Way Forward”, The Journal of Turkish Weekly.