27–30 APRIL 2003



Bism Allah Arrahman Arrahim

In the Nam of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

Your Excellencies the Heads of Delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my sincere personal pleasure to welcome you all at the opening of these proceedings whose onerous mission is to prepare the 30th Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM) that, God willing, will be held in a few weeks time in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran.

This preparatory meeting comes at a precarious juncture for the Islamic world, urging us to perform an overall assessment of our causes in a spirit of responsibility and sincerity; to move to prioritize; and to begin to achieve effectiveness and realism in our drive to strengthen joint Islamic action.

As you are called upon to successfully prepare the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers by completing as much as possible of its proceedings, the General Secretariat has endeavored to draw up the ground reports on the latest developments in a number of Islamic causes discussed by the 29th ICFM in Khartoum. That is why the reports have been formulated to facilitate your task in adopting the necessary measures to address those developments. Likewise, a provisional agenda has been drafted for the proceedings of this upcoming ICFM for your consideration and whatever amendments you may wish to introduce. In addition, you will find a number of draft resolutions on the issues tabled for the deliberations of this committee.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The middle of last March marked an exceptionally momentous turning-point for the Islamic world, following the events of Iraq, the OIC member country; because these events in Iraq will bring with them long-term political, economic, and strategic repercussions both regionally and internationally. And this means that we will not only have to fully explore their spillover effects, but also to identify optimal modes and modalities to meet their new and attendant challenges.

This extraordinary situation calls for extraordinary efforts matched by extraordinary resolutions and recommendations that rise to the test of the new responsibilities we must all shoulder to assist the Iraqi people; to stand by them, in good times and in bad; and to help them to triumph over their current plight.

What we must do is to mobilize our Islamic efforts to defend the Iraqi interests by pressing forward the urgent demands of the present stage, first and foremost among which are the following:

(1) To stress the necessity of evacuating the foreign forces from Iraq at the earliest time possible.

(2) The need to preserve the sovereignty and political independence of Iraq; and to ensure self-governance for the Iraqi people.

(3) The need to preserve the territorial integrity and national unity of Iraq.

(4) To emphasize that the natural resources of Iraq are the sole property of the Iraqi people, who alone have the full right to manage and exploit them to suit their own interests.

(5) The need for the United Nations to have a central role in the administration of Iraqi internal and external affairs in the interim period; and to also play a pivotal role in the special arrangements for Iraq’s exploitation of its natural resources, which must be safeguarded in accordance with the internationally-agreed norms of contracts and obligations, in complete transparency, and in keeping with the laws of public accountability.

(6) To underline the need for the States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to have an effective presence; to play a key role in defending the rights of the Iraqi people, identity, and culture; to take a greater part in the reconstruction of Iraq, in rebuilding what was destroyed by the war, and in healing the aftermath of the long years of blockade it has suffered.

The events of Iraq have come on top of the many other preoccupations of the Islamic Ummah and the campaigns of prejudice and distortions leveled at Islam and Muslims in many parts of the globe.

The accumulation of these problems should not deter us from giving to each the full attention it deserves, as each bears a painful tragedy that cannot be wished away. Hence, we must redouble our efforts to invigorate joint Islamic action, to enliven Islamic solidarity, and to rally ranks around united positions. Only then will we be able to win the kind of international clout we desire, to make our voice heard in due proportion to our number, our capabilities, and our resources; on a par with the compelling heritage of our civilization and glory of our past; and in consonance with the depth of Islamic fraternity exhorted by our divine religion.

In the forefront of these problems, comes the targeting of the Syrian Arab Republic by the United States through a series of ominous threats and a whole array of accusations leveled at it. As we flatly reject this approach, we concurrently reaffirm our fraternal solidarity with the Syrian Arab Republic and call for an end to such campaigns.

The Palestinian cause, piling up relentless, tragic episodes, has been growing more somber, more desperate by the hour, particularly in the midst of the war on Iraq, as Israel moved to take advantage of the world’s preoccupation with those events by unleashing once again a frenzied orgy of its illegitimate practices against the Palestinian people. Consequently, scores of martyrs have lost their lives in blatant violation of the principles of International Law, International Humanitarian Law, The Hague Convention of 1904, and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention governing the conduct of occupying forces.

Our hope is that the Quartet Committee will be able to bring off the plan it started, to resume the peace process by publishing and implementing the Road Map to Peace as soon as possible, once the new Palestinian government has been formed. This strategy has to incorporate and be brought into line with the initiative proposed by His Royal Highness, the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, First Deputy-Premier and Commander in Chief of the National Guard, since that proposal was adopted as the Arab-Islamic initiative, particularly in view of the world-wide acclaim and support it received.

For many years now, the problem of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir has remained intractable, dragging in its wake ominous security and political issues for the whole region of the Indian Sub-Continent. Yet, in recent weeks, a General Secretariat delegation visited the area on a fact-finding and monitoring mission. Our hope, nevertheless, is pinned on the application of the principle of self-determination, as the legitimate basis adopted by the UN Security Council for the resolution of comparable issues. Therefore, we not only hope that the dialogue recently proposed by India will be maintained with Pakistan, but we also wholeheartedly welcome it and look forward to its success in putting an end to the conflict. To that end, the General Secretariat has made spirited efforts to urge the parties to the dispute to favor reason and confidence-building to pave the way towards a lasting and just solution based on international legitimacy.

By the same token, we welcome the dialogue between the two Cypriot Turkish and Greek sides within the framework of the United Nations to reach a just resolution of the Cypriot impasse that protects the legitimate rights of the Turkish side.

On Chechnya, the Russian government has informed us that it is in the process of introducing sweeping reforms in the Republic of Chechnya to tackle educational facilities, social infrastructure, humanitarian services, etc. We hope, therefore, that these measures will be the prelude to a resolution of the Chechen crisis through negotiations between the representatives of the Chechen people and the government of the Russian Federation, while ensuring that the rights of the Chechen people are respected within the framework of that Federation.

The situation on the Azeri territories occupied by Armenia remains deadlocked, despite the mass of UN Security Council resolutions calling on Armenia to pull out its forces from the Azeri territories and put an end to the plight of the Azeri refugees displaced from the province of Nagorno-Karabakh. Hence, while firmly standing by its previous stance on this issue demanding the evacuation of the occupying forces from the Azeri territories, including the Lachin and Shusha areas, the General Secretariat has, concurrently, continued coordination with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to reach a just and final settlement of this issue.

In this past year, the Trust Fund for the Urgent Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons to Bosnia and Herzegovina was set up and launched operations, building residential facilities in different parts of the country. That’s why I am eager to appeal to our Member States to make their generous contributions to this Fund, which stands in dire need of support and resources to secure the return of refugees and the displaced to their homes, as the sole guarantee of reaffirming the Islamic identity of these areas.

While we are on this humanitarian subject, I am duty-bound to refer to another humanitarian issue regarding the predicament of the missing Kuwaitis and the need to make every possible effort to find out their fate and return those found to their homes.

On the African scene, the political situation in Somalia still gives cause for our deep concern, as the Somali factions have sadly been unable to reach a solution that unites them, despite international and regional efforts deployed to that end. Accordingly, we can only hope that the situation will not worsen after the end of the tenure of the Somali interim government by August 2003.

Similarly, we look forward to the restoration of peace and stability to the Côte d’Ivoir, following the signing of the peace agreement in France between the rival parties. We are also profoundly satisfied at the official proclamation of the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone and its return to stability. And we hope that the Member States will make generous donations to the Sierra Leone Reconstruction Fund launched pursuant to the relevant ministerial resolutions affirming the principles of Islamic solidarity.

At the same time, we must acknowledge the growing stability of the situation in Afghanistan, so much so that the General Secretariat felt emboldened to take executive steps to transfer the OIC Afghanistan Office from Islamabad to Kabul, where it will be operating. What is more, the OIC has reactivated the Afghan People’s Assistance Fund through a meeting of donor countries that was held last year, to that end, and raised US $15m. We hope, therefore, that the Member States will continue to support and finance this Fund to empower our brothers, the Afghan people, to complete the reconstruction of their country, after their long years of strife and the many successive wars that have wreaked destruction and ruin upon their infrastructure and the very foundations of their economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On OIC relations with Muslims in non-OIC member states and abroad, the General Secretariat continues to be mobilized for the sake of Muslim minorities around the globe, monitoring their conditions and working on solutions to their problems in cooperation with local, regional, and international bodies. In so doing, our paramount objectives are to ensure protection for the interests of these minorities and secure respect for their identity and rights.

On this front, a wide range of symposia and conferences have been organized to tackle head-on the situation of Muslim minorities in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. The events succeeded in formulating recommendations and resolutions to energize these minorities, affirm their presence and identity, and spur them to assume a proactive role in their societies within the framework of respecting the laws of their host states.

Of particular interest to the General Secretariat in Asia have been the situation of the Muslim minorities in Arakan, Myanmar, and the question of Muslims in the southern Philippines. Here, we must make special mention of the superb job being done by the Committee of Eight entrusted with the question of Muslims in southern Philippines as the Committee has been deploying worthy efforts to implement the 1996 Peace Agreement signed between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Moved by its provision for the establishment of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the agreement seeks notably to affirm the aspirations and hopes of the Bangsamoro people.

The General Secretariat has been moving full-steam on its efforts to bolster relations with influential regional and international organizations in implementation of Islamic resolutions. That’s why, a spate of coordination meetings and contacts have been afoot with the United Nations in New York and Geneva. Equally fruitful work has been gestating to energize the role of the Islamic Group in these two forums in defending the just Islamic causes. More engaged contacts are right on track with international organizations and institutions, such as the European Union, the European Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

In New York, a meeting has been organized alongside the 57th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with the active participation of the General Secretariat, the Foreign Ministers of the European Troika states and their OIC counterparts, as well as Mr. Chris Patten, the EU Commissioner for External Relations. Seizing that opportunity, we agreed to continue our meetings in our common quest to lay firm foundations for cooperation between the OIC and the EU. And it is that desire that crystallizes the pressing need to launch an OIC Office in Brussels to boost cooperation with the European Union and keep abreast with the activities of the European Commission. The reason is that the international role played by that institution has clearly been an increasingly major one on all fronts, and is bound to grow even more forceful when it expands to include 25 states and thus become the first world economic power.

The issue of human rights has been a central focus of the General Secretariat, with a battery of symposia and meetings taking place at both governmental and non-governmental levels, and culminating in the success of the UN Islamic Group in Geneva in getting a Muslim lady elected as the Chair of the UN Commission for Human Rights—this lady being Ambassador Najat Al-Hajaji from Libya.

Moving on to information, and as the media has a growing role in shaping local and international public opinion, and even steering the course of political events, this question has been the object of special attention by the General Secretariat. Hence, we are especially determined to see the Islamic media play a leading role in promoting a truer perception of Islam and changing the stereotypes that misrepresent its radiant image of openness and tolerance.

To that end, the 7th Session of the Standing Committee for Information and Cultural Affairs (COMIAC) was convened in Dakar, Republic of Senegal, under the Chairmanship of H.E. Maitre Abdulaye Wade, President of Senegal. Accordingly, the Session considered the Islamic Information Plan and joint Islamic Information Programme, and finalized financing modalities for these plans that have hitherto failed to materialize because of lack of finances. Similarly, the 6th Session of the Islamic Conference of Information Ministers (ICIM) was held at the beginning of March 2003 in Cairo where it agreed to bring up to date the implementation mechanisms of the Information Strategy and revamp the Information Plan programmes by aligning them with modern imperatives. In particular, these programmes must meet the challenges of counteracting media campaigns against Islam and closing down the digital divide between the Member States and advanced countries. The 6th ICIM was also able to prepare the ground for the World Summit on the Information Society scheduled for the end of this year in Geneva, preparatory to the second 2005 leg of that Summit in Tunisia.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This has been a brief tour of the major activities of the General Secretariat during the past year on political, information, and legal affairs. But there is one more issue I would like to address, particularly because it has started to capture the attention of many senior officials in the Member States, who insist that it must be given the proper priority. This concerns the operative working methodology of OIC meetings and the prolix items featuring on conference agendas with impossibly long and inexhaustible details that defy due consideration. Many have, therefore, come to the conclusion that it is high time that agenda items were cut down, and that there is no need to carry items forward from one year to the next, since past resolutions remain a valid reference within the OIC, until such time as they are replaced or revoked. Besides, easing the burden of the agenda in this way will make it possible to focus greater efforts on tackling the crucial and fundamental causes clamoring for the attention of the Islamic Ummah. This would in fact be the sum-total of the approach adopted by international organizations and major world conferences that are, by so doing, able to work out the desired decisions on critical issues after meetings of no more than one or two days.

Let me leave this matter in your capable hands, certain that our higher interests will guide your good judgment towards the right decision.

Before I conclude, I must say it is particularly gratifying for me, on this opportunity, to convey my cordial appreciation and gratitude to the government of the Republic of Sudan for hosting and chairing the current session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers. I would particularly like to commend H.E. Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail, the Foreign Minister of the Sudan, for his excellent stewardship of the meetings of this session, his untiring follow-up of Islamic interests throughout this year, as well as his unstinting initiatives to further the cause of joint Islamic action. I must also convey my sincere thanks to the representatives of the Republic of Sudan to the United Nations in New York and Geneva for the excellent job they have done during their chairmanship and tenure of the Islamic Group.

Concluding, I would like to pay a glowing tribute to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz, long may he live, for his unwavering support and assistance to the OIC General Secretariat. My heartfelt thanks also go to His Royal Highness the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, First Deputy-Premier and Commander in Chief of the National Guard, for his magnanimous generosity to empower the General Secretariat to fulfill its mission statement in optimal conditions.

My final words are my wishes of a resounding success for your deliberations in serving our Islamic Ummah to the good and glory of all. Let me wish all of you, at the same time, a pleasant stay in Jeddah.

Thank you for your attention.