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UN rights chief urges comprehensive action against religious hatred and discrimination

Speaking before a panel of experts at the 55th session of the Human Rights Council, Volker Türk underscored the importance of strengthening social cohesion and increasing respect, with a particular focus on the role of social media.

Social media platforms have a clear responsibility to combat online hate speech that may lead to real-world discrimination and violence,” he said.

He noted that his office, OHCHR, is collaborating with several companies to intensify efforts in meeting their human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“It is vital to uphold people’s fundamental rights to live free from all forms of discrimination, and from targeted attacks that incite hostility and violence against them,” he added.

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The Human Rights Council, the UN’s highest rights body, had convened the panel to delve into the drivers, root causes, and human rights impacts of the desecration of sacred books, places of worship, and religious symbols.

Legal and judicial protections

In addition to promoting social cohesion, Mr. Türk urged countries to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, providing legal tools to deliver justice and empower minority communities for fuller participation in society.

He also called on justice systems to systematically address cases of religious hatred, including instances of desecration of sacred books and symbols.

“States also have an obligation to combat discrimination – including on religious grounds – and I also urge such cases to be brought before courts,” he emphasized, pointing out the need for proper training of police forces to record and act on incidents of incitement to discrimination, hostility, and violence, particularly those based on religious intolerance.

Vested political interests

During his speech, the High Commissioner drew attention to the disturbing trend of hate-driven attacks across different regions, ranging from hateful speech to symbolic acts and physical violence.

Politicians were identified as actively promoting such hatred, often scapegoating minority groups during electoral periods.

“This is acutely relevant in 2024, which will see more elections take place than any other year in history, and with conflicts rising, particularly in the Middle East,” he said.

Rise in xenophobia

Mr. Türk also voiced deep concern over the alarming increase in xenophobia and discrimination based on religion, gender, ethnicity, and migrant status, as well as religious hatred targeting women and girls.

“I want to stress my disgust for such expressions of scorn and hate,” he said, emphasizing the denial of a fundamental premise of the UN Charter – “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours” – in instances where individuals or groups face humiliation and discrimination.

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