States must do more to stop hate crimes and promote interfaith initiatives, say UN rights experts

GENEVA August 21, 2019 –  States have an important role to play in promoting religious tolerance and cultural diversity by promoting and protecting human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, say a group of UN independent experts*. The experts urged States to step up their efforts to combat intolerance, discrimination and violence against people based on religion or belief, including against members of religious minorities and people who are not religious. Their comments come in a statement marking the first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief on 22 August:

“We welcome the decision of the UN to designate 22 August as the international day to commemorate the victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness about religious intolerance, and violence and discrimination against anyone based on their religion or belief.

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Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief which has the effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis would amount to religious intolerance and discrimination. This was made clear in the 1981 General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

We have observed violence in the name of religion around the world perpetrated by States and non-state groups leading to discrimination, persecution, arbitrary arrests or detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence and killings of many people based on their religion or belief. Victims have included religious minorities, individuals who are not religious, LGBTI persons, children and women who face many forms of discrimination and gender-based violence. Such violence threatens the hard-fought progress in securing women’s equality and the rights of LGBTI persons.

“We stress that religion or belief should never be used to justify discrimination. When faced with religious persecution or discrimination, victims are often also deprived of their right to participate fully in political, economic and cultural life, as well as their rights to education and to health. This can include the desecration and destruction of numerous cultural heritage sites of rich historic and religious value, such as places of worship and cemeteries.

As populism has become a trend in the political and social arena, it has fostered many forms of hatred against those who are viewed as foreign or simply different. Often, States and religious institutions resort to the instrumentalisation of religions or beliefs in order to retain their influence or control and achieve other political agendas. Fundamentalism is on the rise across the world’s major religious traditions, posing a threat to many human rights.

Moreover, critical views of religions or beliefs are sometimes mischaracterised as ‘hate speech’ or labelled an offence to the religious feelings of others both by governments and non-state groups. Too often this is used as a pretext to silence those with critical voices and punish others for not believing.

The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief is misunderstood as protecting religions and beliefs instead of the people with the beliefs and those without.

It is incumbent on States to ensure that religions or beliefs are not used to violate human rights, and to combat religious extremism – which are a threat to many human rights, while adhering to international norms.

States have resorted to the securitisation of religion or belief, or viewing them through a lens of national security, in their fight against violent extremism. But an overly securitised approach has proven to be counterproductive and has led to xenophobia, increasing ‘religious profiling’ and discrimination, particularly towards religious minorities.

We emphasise the words of the UN General Assembly resolution of 3 June 2019 designating the international day that ‘terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group’.

We urge States and all individuals and groups to work together to enhance the implementation of international human rights standards that protect individuals against discrimination and hate crimes, and to increase interreligious, interfaith and intercultural initiatives, and expand human rights education in an inclusive manner as a key catalyst for change.”

 * The experts: Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (The Maldives), Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Ms Karima Bennoune (Algeria/USA), Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Mr. Fernand de Varennes (Canada), Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia), Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Mr. David Kaye (USA), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ms Meskerem Geset Techane, (Ethiopia) , Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Mr. Michel Forst (France), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Mexico), Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Ms Agnes Callamard (France), Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (The Netherlands), Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material; Ms Koumbou Boly Barry (Burkina Faso), Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Mr. Dainius Pῡras (Lithuania), Special Rapporteur on the right to health; Ms Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Ireland), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz (Costa Rica), Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Mr. Bernard Duhaime (Canada),  Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.