The OIC’s Approach to Counter-Terrorism in the Middle East

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The phenomenon of terrorism is not new to the geographical region known as the Middle East, Gulf, and North Africa. Many Middle Eastern states have experienced different forms of terrorism. According to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region registered the most notable decline in terrorism-affiliated deaths for the second year in a row. Causalities have fallen 87% since 2016, the lowest recorded levels since 2003.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation OIC has been actively engaged in terrorism-related concerns since its inception. The OIC was formed in 1969. It is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations, with a membership of 57 States. It includes the State of Palestine and is spread across four continents. The OIC seeks to safeguard and defend the interests of the Muslim world, in particular through maintaining solidarity and collaboration among its Member States. The OIC has a moral position against terrorism in all its shapes and embodiments, dedicated by whomsoever and wherever, and denies all endeavors to attribute it to any country, race, religion, culture, or nationality.

The OIC reaffirms that the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (GA resolution 60/288) includes a continuous struggle and is a living document. It should be updated and re-reviewed regularly. The OIC also reaffirms that the policy should be executed in a balanced manner in all its parts.

Regarding counter-terrorism, The specified preference in the Organization’s strategic program is the OIC-2025 Programme of Action (OIC, 2016(a)). It deals with peace, security, counter-terrorism, human rights, and good governance.

Its first key mechanism was the adoption of the OIC Code of Conduct on Terrorism in 1994. The Code was political rather than legally binding. It affected the subsequent drafting of the Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on Contgaing International Terrorism in 1999 (adopted 1 July 1999, entered into force 7 November 2002). It is the Organization’s immediate instrument against terrorism.

The Convention has several notable characteristics. One is its article 2(a) exemption from the scope of the Convention’s provisions of those who indulge in what it believes to be legitimate armed self-determination efforts (as with the League of Arab States Convention). This is a critical provision since the OIC, through Malaysia in 2005, has directed this strategy to define terrorism in the context of continuing struggles to agree on a universal meaning of terrorism in the context of the draft Comprehensive Convention. 

Regarding its impact, although the Convention technically took effect on 7 November 2002. The broadness of some of its provisions risks impeding its significance as a substantive mechanism. Moreover, its effectiveness is influenced by a low level of uptake and ratification from within its membership. It needs only seven members to approve it for it to come into effect. However, several more have become state parties since. However, the Convention is an essential legal source, including articulating the Organization’s agreed institutional guidelines for counter-terrorism and expanding regional terrorism-related norms.

The Organization was notified in 2016 of its reflection of a proposal for further protocols as well as updates to the provisions of the 1999 Convention to support existing levels of cooperation. It aimed to recognize these and other challenges concerning the 1999 Convention. This would also agreeably reflect new trends in terrorism, such as cyber terrorism, terrorist financing, and transboundary terrorist networks, and highlight the significance of respecting human rights in counter-terrorism responses (OIC, 2016(b); OIC, 2017).

A significant landmark towards better reflecting the underpinning legal principles of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy was the adoption of the modified Organization of Islamic Cooperation Charter 2008

Its essential purposes and underpinning principles include “to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, rule of law, democracy and accountability in Member States per their constitutional and legal systems” (Preamble) and “to uphold the objectives and principles of the present Charter, the Charter of the United Nations and international law as well as international humanitarian law while strictly adhering to the principle of non-interference in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State” (Preamble, article 2(1) and (5)).

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