43rd OIC Council of Foreign Ministers

Arsalan Suleman
Acting U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation 

Tashkent, Uzbekistan
October 19, 2016

(As Prepared)

Your Excellency Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, Your Excellency OIC Secretary General Iyad Amin Madani, Honorable Ministers and Heads of Delegation, Ladies and Gentlemen, Assalamualaikum.

The United States expresses its sincere condolences to the people of Uzbekistan on the passing of President Islam Karimov. We thank Interim President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Foreign Minister Kamilov, and Uzbekistan for their leadership and hospitality in hosting this ministerial.

The theme of this year’s ministerial — education and enlightenment — appropriately focuses on the solution to many of the ongoing challenges facing OIC members and the international community. Education and innovation are the currency of the modern global economy. Enlightenment, which can only be achieved through a well-rounded education, is what has enabled our global civilization to achieve such great advances in all areas, from technology and health to tolerance and pluralism. It is through enlightenment that we break down the mental barriers that divide us.

And yet despite all of our progress — built upon the contributions of societies and cultures from all parts of the world, including Uzbekistan — we see time and again how fragile the social fabric can be when it is threatened by hatred, repression, bigotry, and violence. That is why governments, including OIC members and the United States, must strive to uphold the values of pluralism, equality, non-discrimination, and tolerance, and ensure the protection of human rights so that we live up to our highest standards of enlightenment.

The brutal attacks on the people of Syria by the Asad regime and its backers represent the worst of humanity, the complete abdication of morality and dignity and enlightenment. Horrific acts that would amount to war crimes are being perpetrated. We urge the OIC and its members to enhance pressure on the Asad regime and its backers to cease these attacks on the people of Syria.

Terrorist groups like Daesh and Al Qaeda also reject the values and standards of civilization. They attack the hallmarks of enlightenment by targeting minority groups, women, religious and community leaders, and our precious cultural heritage. The fight against these violent extremist groups is a global fight, and it will take the collective efforts of members of the OIC and others to win it.

The OIC’s newly launched Center for Dialogue, Peace, and Understanding will contribute to the effort to combat the destructive ideology of terrorists who distort religion to justify their terrible crimes. The OIC and ISESCO have partnered with the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) to hold a workshop exploring the role of religious education in promoting peace and countering extremism. We hope all OIC and ISESCO members will send officials from their ministries of education or religious affairs to attend this important workshop on November 1-2 in Rabat. And we look forward to working together with the OIC on building the capacity of local religious and community leaders in combating violent extremism in their own communities.

We thank the OIC for participating in the Iraq donors pledging conference in July and continue to encourage the OIC to play a strong role in supporting the government of Iraq on humanitarian and stabilization challenges as Daesh is being defeated from the country and Iraqis begin the path to recovery.

We applaud the OIC for its role in organizing the international ulema conference on Afghanistan and look forward to its positive impact in securing long term peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

We welcome the announcement of a cessation of hostilities in Yemen and call on all OIC members to support UN Special Envoy Cheikh Ahmed as he works to reach a political solution to end the conflict in Yemen.

As we aspire to meet the standards of enlightenment, we must work together more closely to jointly address global challenges like the refugee crisis and climate change. We must also recognize the urgent need to enhance global efforts to protect the rights of minorities, including religious minorities. Having welcomed the important Marrakesh Declaration on the rights of religious minorities, it is necessary for OIC members to implement the actions called for in the declaration.

In addition to ensuring full protection of the rights of all citizens in OIC members, the OIC should work with other international partners to improve the situation of Rakhine State in Burma, the Tatars in Russian-occupied Crimea in Ukraine, and the Uighurs in China to demand that these populations also enjoy their human rights.

As President Obama’s Administration nears its conclusion, we are proud of the progress in advancing U.S.-OIC cooperation in a number of areas, including on political crises, humanitarian affairs, health, countering violent extremism, women’s rights, entrepreneurship, and human rights. We look forward to working with all of you to further enhance US-OIC partnerships and cooperation, including in the area of education and enlightenment. Thank you.