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International Day Commemorating the Victims ofActs of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, 22 August 2021

All societies must collectively reject religious violence – experts

GENEVA (20 August 2021) – On the occasion of International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, UN experts* call on all societies to collectively reject hate and exclusion, and for an end to impunity for violent acts driven by religion or belief. The experts issue the following statement:  

"Since the adoption of the 2019 UN General Assembly’s resolution 73/296 designating 22 August the international day to commemorate the victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief, the world has faced an alarming escalation of hate, both online and offline, targeting religion or belief minorities as well as members of lesbian, gay, transexual and intersex communities.

Women and girls are disproportionately impacted and in very specific ways that are often sexualized, with serious implications for their physical and mental health, livelihood, participation in public life, safety and survival. Targeted acts of violence have led to a pervasive environment of fear for many women and girls around the world. These trends have been exacerbated by an unprecedented pandemic, regression in respect for the rule of law and human rights, and the devastating impacts of man-made and natural disasters that continue to test the international community’s capacity to foster solidarity and strengthen the commitment of all governments to uphold human rights for all. 

In these challenging times for humanity, we are deeply concerned at the persistent instrumentalisation of religious ideologies and beliefs as a means to perpetuate and exacerbate discrimination, exclusion and violence, as well as at the propagation of incendiary and stigmatising discourses which target and scapegoat vulnerable segments of society, including, members of religious and belief minorities, non-religious persons, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, LGBTI persons, as well as those that may stand in defence of the rights of these individuals and groups.

We have been regularly monitoring, reporting and alerting concerned States and the international community about the panoply of human rights violations perpetrated in the name of religion or belief, as well as practices that discriminate against freedom of religion or belief, and we have been calling for a genuine commitment to address them through comprehensive legislative, institutional and policy initiatives that foster inclusion and build resilience against violence and abuses. 

It is shocking that even today, in many parts of the world, the rights of people to freely adopt and peacefully practice their religion or belief continue to be framed as national security threats, anti-blasphemy laws are used to suppress dissent, and racist, misogynistic and homophobic laws, policies or discourses are used to stigmatise and dehumanise individuals and groups. These practices enable and legitimize appalling abuses and crimes committed by State and non-State actors, such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual and gender-based violence, as well as arbitrary detentions, and discrimination in education, employment and participation in public and cultural life.

Religious or other ideologies and beliefs can never be evoked to justify attacks against life, human dignity and rights, and in no circumstances should be used for suppressing critical and dissenting opinions and views, and undermining rule of law, peace and the democratic principles, as has been reiterated by the experts in past statements, including the latest one regarding the critical situation in Afghanistan.

Individual States and the international community as a whole should take all appropriate measures to ensure the promotion of peaceful, just and inclusive societies, in line with the global commitments under the 2030 Development Agenda, to effectively address impunity and to develop and implement mechanisms for redress, support, and rehabilitation for past and present atrocities, in accordance with the international law.

A meaningful society-wide engagement and the role and responsibility of religious and belief actors and political leaders in tackling hate speech and incitement to hatred constitute important elements in this effort.

We wish to recall the UN General Assembly’s resolution 75/309 of 21 July 2021 urging States to counter advocacy of hatred and discrimination and to promote reconciliation, durable peace and sustainable development, including through initiatives of inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue, inclusion and respect for human rights. We also recall the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites, as well as the UN Strategy and Action Plan on Hate Speech, both launched by the UN Secretary General in 2019.

On this important day, and in the year celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief , we honour and remember all those who have lost their lives, those who are exposed to suffering and indignity for merely exercising their rights to freely and peacefully hold, observe and manifest their culture and religious or other beliefs, and all those who strive to defend and advocate for these rights. We urge States and people everywhere around the world to join forces in the fight against hatred and violence, and in creating enabling environments for the enjoyment of all human rights without discrimination on any ground."

ENDS

(*) The experts: Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism;   Fernand de VarennesSpecial Rapporteur on minority issues; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-chairperson), Leigh Toomey, Mumba Malila, Priya Gopalan, Working Group on arbitrary detention; Reem AlsalemSpecial Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Melissa Upreti (Chair), Dorothy Estrada-Tanck (Vice Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Victor Madrigal-BorlozIndependent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Irene KhanSpecial Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Nils Melzer,Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Tae-Ung Baik (Chair-Rapporteur), Henrikas Mickevičius (Vice-Chairperson), Aua Balde, Gabriella Citroni and Luciano A. Hazan, Working Group on Enforced or 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.

For further inquiries and media requests, please contact please contact: Mr. Damianos Serefidis (dserefidis@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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