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News Posted on September 29, 2017

Professor Bennoune Issues Statement on Malaysia Mission for United Nations

Professor Karima Bennoune, acting in her capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, issued a statement summarizing the findings of her 10-day fact-finding mission to Malaysia. 

“Malaysia has, over the years, risen to the challenge of building a society inclusive of its broad cultural diversity, but this achievement should not be taken for granted and could be at risk if steps are not taken to meet current challenges,” Bennoune states in a United Nations press release.

During the September 11-21 fact-finding mission, Bennoune met with federal and state authorities, as well as a wide range of people working in the field of culture, including academics, artists, and relevant institutions. She held talks with civil society organizations, representatives of UN agencies, and regional organizations, enabling them to share their experiences, discuss best practices, and identify challenges in the enjoyment of cultural rights.

Her report notes that there is growing pressure in Malaysia to adopt a narrow interpretation of the Muslim religion and identity, which excludes the country’s cross-cultural history, marginalizes religious minorities, and fails to take account of the diversity of Malay Muslims.

“I have heard worrying reports of attempts at Islamization spreading in many areas of society which could lead to cultural engineering: changing how people dress, in particular women, and girls in schools, and altering the arts, cultural practices, religious beliefs, and even the historical narrative of the country,” Bennoune said. “The government must respect and ensure the rights of human rights defenders challenging fundamentalism who often face harassment.”

Karima Bennoune is an author, lecturer, teacher, and international law scholar as well as the first Arab-American to be honored with the Derrick A. Bell Award from the Section on Minority Groups of the Association of American Law Schools. In 2014, she was awarded the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for her book Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight against Muslim Fundamentalism, now available in paperback from W.W. Norton & Company. In October 2015, she was appointed UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.  She was recently presented with the 2016 Rights and Leadership Award by IANGEL, the International Action Network for Gender Equity & Law.