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Switzerland: UN expert on religious freedom regrets outcome of vote to ban construction of minarets

GENEVA (30 November 2009) -- The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, regrets the outcome of the vote on the initiative to prohibit the construction of minarets in Switzerland.
“I have deep concerns at the negative consequences that the outcome of the vote will have on the freedom of religion or belief of members of the Muslim community in Switzerland,” Ms. Jahangir said. “Indeed, a ban on minarets amounts to an undue restriction of the freedom to manifest one’s religion and constitutes a clear discrimination against members of the Muslim community in Switzerland.”
As also stated by the United Nations Human Rights Committee a month ago, such a ban is contrary to Switzerland’s obligations under international human rights law.
“This vote reminds us that no societies are immune to religious intolerance,” stressed Ms. Jahangir, adding that “it is therefore more than ever necessary to continue raising awareness and educating people about religious diversity, enabling all societies to adopt an enlightened and progressive attitude towards the beliefs of other communities.”
“Doing so will help to eliminate the grounds for irrational fears towards Muslims. Unfortunately, these fears have been largely exploited in Switzerland for political purposes,” warned the UN expert.
The Special Rapporteur emphasized that Switzerland, which has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, must protect and ensure respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion. “I therefore urge the Swiss authorities to abide by all its international obligations and to take the necessary measures to fully protect the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of the Muslim community,” concluded the UN expert on religious freedom.