Monday 28 June 2010

The IHRC and The Right to Abortion Information in Pakistan

As I have been arguing with friends over the issue of ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, it is more important to judge people and organisations over what they actually do than what others say about them - especially when the criticism comes from the pro-war 'Decent' left represented by the likes of Nick Cohen and the Harry's Place blog.

So it is with the Islamic Human Rights Commission. It's to their credit that they have protested against the brutal killing by Egyptian police of Khaled Saeed and have called on the Sudanese government to give four journalists the right to a fair trial "articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". But IHRC should be roundly condemned for comments made by its chair Massoud Shadjareh that were reported in yesterday's Independent on Sunday.

In Pakistan, an abortion hotline set up by women's groups, to try and save the lives of thousands of women who die every year as a result of estimated 890,00 backstreet abortions, has faced a violent reaction from the country's fundamentalist groups and political parties, who oppose even the provision of accurate family planning information to women.

Shadjareh's reaction to this has not been to offer support for the right to potentially life-saving information but to accuse the organisers of the hotline of actions that are "counterproductive", will "create huge problems"and that are deliberately provocative.

But it is this argument that disgusted me the most - he is quoted as saying attempts to set up the hotline are "part of the colonial idea that the West's way is the best, and that is not the case."

Since when did providing information become 'colonial'? In fact, when did human rights no longer become universal in the eyes of the the Islamic Human Rights Commission? IHRC is happy to quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in other situations but Shadjareh seems to believe that Article 19, the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless frontiers", should not apply to Muslim women in Pakistan on the basis of their gender and religion.

Before now, the IHRC has asked whether the concept of a Muslim human rights activist will ever be fully acceptable in Western society. I think in some quarters it already has, despite the doctrinaire attitude of some in the human rights field and their allies in the Islamist-obsessed 'left'. It's just that Massoud Shadjareh and the IHRC set an incredibly poor standard for others to follow and emulate.

Rather than simply raging against Shadjareh's crassness and double standards, a practical idea would be to contact IHRC and - politely - call on them to withdraw comments made by their chair, whilst also clarifying their position on Article 19 rights to receive and impart information and ideas. IHRC can be contacted at and their postal address is: Islamic Human Rights Commission, PO Box 598, Wembley HA9 7XH.

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