Science and technology were the two main topics of the first Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit of the same name held Sept. 10-11 in Astana. Representatives of the 56 member nations also used the opportunity to address issues of terrorism, Islamic unity and the situation in Myanmar.
The discussions yielded the Astana Declaration, which confirms the members’ commitment to “eradicate extreme poverty, including poverty of the mind,” and increase investments in science, technology and innovation (STI), education and research. The document also reaffirms the organisation’s efforts to accomplish the goals envisioned in the OIC 2025 Plan of Action and UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The declaration outlines the practical ways the objectives can be achieved, such as executing STI policies at sub-regional levels; developing educational, skills development and applied science initiatives, especially for women and youth; consulting with academia and creating a well-integrated ecosystem. The statement also calls on members to support agricultural and water management initiatives and welcomes the role of the Islamic Organisation for Food Security.
The summit was an outgrowth of the 2016 OIC summit in Istanbul, where 15 national leaders, including Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Uzbekistan, proposed an STI conference. OIC members were joined by an additional 23 foreign delegations to tackle the issues.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev opened the conference by noting Islam has deep roots in the nation’s history.
“Islam came to our land more than 1,000 years ago. We served as a link in the friendly dialogue between Islamic and Western civilisation,” he said.
Lack of unity in the 1.5-billion Islamic world is an issue requiring attention, he added, and the head of state called for establishing an STI fund to foster development in the Islamic world that, in the past, was making tremendous progress in surpassing the West. His comments were reinforced by five recipients of the OIC Science and Technology Achievement Award, who echoed concerns about the lack of funding.
Nazarbayev suggested forming a sub-group of 15 OIC members to enhance STI cooperation.
“I believe we need to establish the forum similar to the G20, an informal group to develop science and economy in the Islamic world. Fifteen leading OIC states can form the OIC-15, because the development of science and technology is very important for us. In this regard, we should establish fruitful cooperation with the Western world and this will foster the development of the Islamic world,” he added.
The President then expanded his comments to address non-STI issues which the international community, including OIC, must address.
“First is extremist and terrorist activity. Primarily, citizens of Muslim [and Muslim majority] countries suffer from their subversive activities. Second is the problem of the spreading of Islamophobia sentiments. Crimes against Muslims are on the rise every year in the Western countries,” he noted.
Nazarbayev also expressed concern about the recent escalation of the conflict in Myanmar and urged the states to join efforts to settle the issue peacefully through the UN. OIC specifically highlighted the recent brutal acts committed against the Rohingya Muslim community by security forces which, since October 2016, have burnt homes and places of worship and displaced more than 270,000 Muslims to Bangladesh. The organisation called on the Myanmar government to accept the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission “to conduct an independent investigation into all alleged violations of international human rights law and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousif Bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen noted the summit was a “historic event,” as it joined representatives of the member states to discuss salient STI issues.
“Kazakhstan has great respect in the Islamic world. On behalf of all delegations participating in the summit, I would like to express gratitude personally to you and all the Kazakh people for the warm welcome and high level of organisation of the event,” he said.
The second OIC Summit on Science and Technology will be held in Uzbekistan in 2020.