March 16, 2023
As-Salaam-Alaikum. Thank you, Foreign Minister Merzoug and Secretary-General Taha, for hosting everyone here in Nouakchott with such warm and gracious hospitality.
This is the second OIC Council of Foreign Ministers meeting that I have attended on behalf of the United States. Since then, the United States and OIC held our first Strategic Dialogue in May 2022. We look forward to holding our next one later this year in Jeddah as an affirmation of the deepening U.S.-OIC relationship. I am grateful to our representative to the OIC in Jeddah, U.S. Consul General in Jeddah Faris Asad, for ensuring we have a regular and ongoing dialogue with the OIC Secretariat.
The United States and the Member States of the OIC have much in common. We share enduring economic, social, cultural, and people-to-people ties and are home to thriving, diverse Muslim communities. We share values of human dignity and peace – the dignity that emerges from respect for fundamental human rights, particularly freedom of religion or belief. With 57 Member States spanning several continents, the OIC has a critical role to play in all of the most important global issues. Together we can work to defend human rights, promote gender equality and empowerment, address shared security challenges, and promote truly sustainable development.
Indeed, the United States has long worked with the OIC to uphold human rights. As early as 2011, we joined forces to develop HRC Resolution 16/18 to combat discrimination and intolerance based on religion or belief. Its implementation demonstrates OIC and U.S commitment to the right to freedom of religion or belief – as well as to freedom of expression and rejection of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and all forms of intolerance.
Now, as we gather here today, there is another dire human rights situation that requires us to act: Afghanistan.
We are all aware of the dozens of edicts the Taliban have issued since August 2021 to restrict the human rights of women and girls, including by barring access to education above grade six and banning women from working for NGOs. These decisions have had disastrous consequences for the Afghan people.
Preventing girls from receiving education will only further marginalize women in Afghanistan over the long-term, affecting generations to come. Barring women from working for NGOs significantly hampers international assistance efforts and prevents Afghan women, girls, and other vulnerable populations from receiving life-saving help.
This situation is unacceptable.
A shared UN General Assembly resolution condemning the Taliban’s edicts would send a strong, united message that the international community opposes their unacceptable policies. It is especially important that this message come directly from the OIC and its Member States, given the Taliban’s attempt to justify these restrictions in the name of Islam. We urge you all to join this effort.
Precisely because of our shared emphasis on the importance of the freedom of religion or belief, I greatly appreciate the OIC’s commitment to defending the rights of religious minority populations. I ask you, in your role as the “collective voice of the Muslim world,” to fulfill that obligation by continuing to devote sustained attention to the crisis facing Rohingya.
I understand the OIC has been marshalling Member State support for The Gambia’s International Court of Justice case in favor of the Rohingya, a vital and brave initiative that I discussed earlier this week in Banjul. I respectfully urge the Member States present today to continue to follow through on pledges of financial support for this important endeavor as we seek justice and accountability for the atrocities committed against Rohingya people. The United States is also exploring how we can assist these efforts.
In this same spirit, we should work together to draw the world’s attention to the ongoing genocide and abuses of Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The OIC – and its 57 Member States – have a vital role in shining a light on the abuses that PRC authorities deny and that have upended the lives of millions of Muslims and denied them life, liberty, and dignity.
As the world’s second largest multilateral organization, the OIC also has a role in standing firm against challenges to the rules-based international order which has defined and strengthened our collective responsibility to each other since the UN’s founding. This past year, the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council delivered a strong rebuke of Russia’s aggression and human rights abuses time and again. We recognize the 33 OIC members who joined the latest UNGA resolution calling for a just peace and Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine. We urge OIC Member States to support these continued efforts and to hold Russia to account for its devastating aggression, which has destabilized food and energy security globally, but especially here in Africa.
I would also note we are going into a period where Muslims worldwide are preparing for the holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting and caring for communities. Just as Ramadan, Easter, and Passover are so close in timing this year, may we too find opportunities to be close to one another and recognize that which binds us. We are committed to consulting with partners in the region and beyond who have a common interest in supporting efforts to reduce tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and advance lasting peace. We are deeply engaged and we will continue to use our voice to do what we can to ensure the violence – the cycle of violence – comes to an end.
For our part, we are also here to listen and learn. For one, we want to draw upon the rich and varied experiences of OIC Member States with advancing tolerance and countering violent extremism, or CVE. This includes collaborating with the OIC’s own multi-national network of CVE advocates and working with the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, and the OIC Secretariat. As just one example, over the last several years, our gracious Mauritanian hosts have implemented pioneering initiatives with religious authorities, community leaders, and youth across the country. This is the kind of government and societal response that is gaining ground and needed around the world.
Finally, looking to a more sustainable future: OIC member countries – Egypt and the UAE — have taken the lead in the fight against climate change by agreeing to host two consecutive global climate summits; COP27 in Sharm El Sheik last year and the upcoming COP28 this year in Dubai. We should seize these opportunities to build government-civil society-private sector partnerships to reduce emissions, transition to clean energy, and help vulnerable countries adapt to climate-related changes. By exploring partnerships with the Islamic Development Bank and Islamic Organization of Food Security, among other actors, the United States hopes to build a stronger, more sustainable food system and equitably address the climate crisis.
I am honored to have joined you today in Nouakchott to mark the great progress in – and the bright prospects for – the U.S.-OIC relationship. Together, our collective efforts can realize the promise of peace by respecting human rights, finding new ways to face new and old security challenges, and partnering for a more sustainable future