The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution condemning recent incidents in which the Quran was burned.
That was despite many countries’ choosing not to back the resolution for fear of it infringing on freedom of speech.
Amongst the 47 council members, there were 28 votes in favor of the resolution, 12 votes against, and seven abstentions.
‘Alarming rise’ in acts of religious hatred
On Tuesday the UNHCR debated the issues of religious protection and speech rights at an urgent meeting convened at Pakistan’s request.
Pakistan and other nations said they had been moved to action by “the alarming rise in premeditated and public acts of religious hatred as manifested by recurrent desecration of the Holy Quran in some European and other countries.”
Mistreating the Quran is considered blasphemy in Islam.
“We must see this clearly for what it is: incitement to religious hatred, discrimination and attempts to provoke violence,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said in a video address to council members.
“Speech and inflammatory acts against Muslims, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and actions and speech that target Christians — or minority groups such as Ahmadis, Baha’is or Yazidis — are manifestations of utter disrespect. They are offensive, irresponsible and wrong,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said as the special session got underway.
Türk said hate speech must be combated through awareness, dialogue, education and interfaith engagement. He added that provocations such as public Quran burnings “appear to have been manufactured to express contempt and inflame anger; to drive wedges between people; and to provoke, transforming differences of perspective into hatred and, perhaps, violence.”
“Powered by the tidal forces of social media, and in a context of increasing international and national discord and polarization, hate speech of every kind is rising everywhere,” Türk said. “It is harmful to individuals, and it damages the social cohesion necessary to the sound functioning of all societies.”
Regardless of the law or personal belief, Türk said, “people need to act with respect for others.”
Sweden’s right-wing government condemned the “Islamophobic” act but said it had an obligation to ensure the “constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression and demonstration.”
Türk said: “Every national limit on the greater right of free speech and free expression of opinion must be so formulated so that its only task, its only outcome, can be the protection of the individual — and not the protection of religious doctrines from critical analysis.”
He warned of the rising tide of hate speech, noting that individuals are continuously singled out for abuse because of their religion, skin color or sexual orientation.
Social media, he said, fueled national and international conflicts and polarization. He said segments of societies struggled with religions being misused for political purposes.