GENEVA (17 April 2020) – Antisemitic hate speech has risen alarmingly since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis and must be rejected, said the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed.
"I am extremely concerned to see that certain religious leaders and politicians continue to exploit the challenging times during this pandemic to spread hatred against Jews and other minorities," Shaheed said. "We must collectively reject antisemitism and other forms of intolerance and discrimination now."
He said that 'conspiracy' theory prevails in claiming that Jews or Israel are responsible for developing and spreading COVID-19 virus to reduce the non-Jewish population and to control the world. The UN expert presented his
report on combatting antisemitism to eliminate discrimination and intolerance based on religion or belief to the UN General Assembly in October 2019.
Antisemitism threatens stability and security and hate crimes require unequivocal responses from leaders, the Special Rapporteur said. "It is necessary to invest in preventive security measures and enact appropriate hate crime legislation. I also reiterate my call to for endorsement by States of the Working Definition on Antisemitism and for its use in compliance with international human rights law."
He urged States to work with Jewish communities and organisations to strengthen monitoring of hate speech or crimes, and to develop strategies to support victims of antisemitism. "It is imperative for the civil society organisations and faith-based actors to signal a zero-tolerance policy towards antisemitism online and offline."
The Special Rapporteur said the COVID-19 crisis highlighted the need to establish collaborative networks to foster mutual understanding, promote dialogue and inspire solidarity.
"Countering online hate speech also will not succeed if the mainstream or social media do not take seriously the reports of cyberhate targeting Jews and other minorities," he said. "They must remove any posts that incite to hatred or violence in addition to identifying and reporting fake news.
"At this deeply challenging time, ensuring that all individuals are able to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief without fear and to the greatest extent feasible while safeguarding public health is more essential than ever," said Shaheed.
Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is Deputy Director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, UK and Senior Fellow of the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Centre in Canada. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country's efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice. Mr. Shaheed is the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.
The Special Rapporteurs 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.
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