UN day for violence victims stresses religious tolerance

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)United Nations Office at Geneva on Aug. 21, 2019.

A group of United Nations experts together say that countries have an important role to play in promoting religious tolerance and cultural diversity and that they can do this by promoting and protecting human rights, including freedom of religion or belief.

"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," said the experts for the day which occurs on the same day this year as the World Council of Churches-led Thursdays in Black.

"This is a great opportunity to raise awareness about religious intolerance, and violence and discrimination against anyone based on their religion or belief."

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:

They singled out 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.

These, they said, would amount to religious intolerance and discrimination.


"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," they said.

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.

"We stress that religion or belief should never be used to justify discrimination," said the experts.

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, they said.

"Fundamentalism is on the rise across the world's major religious traditions, posing a threat to many human rights."

The experts said, "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."

They emphasized the words of the UN General Assembly resolution of June 3, 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: Ahmed Shaheed (The Maldives), Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Karima Bennoune (Algeria/USA), Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Fernand de Varennes (Canada), Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia), Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; David Kaye (USA), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Meskerem Geset Techane, (Ethiopia), Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Michel Forst (France), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Mexico), Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Agnes Callamard (France), Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; 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; Koumbou Boly Barry (Burkina Faso), Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Dainius Pῡras (Lithuania), Special Rapporteur on the right to health; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Ireland), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Victor Madrigal-Borloz (Costa Rica), Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Bernard Duhaime (Canada), Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances.

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