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UN human rights chief calls for immediate response to cases of desecration of religious symbols

The UN human rights chief called for an immediate response to the increasing desecration of religious sites and symbols around the world.

Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave a verbal presentation at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday on the drivers, root causes and human rights implications of religious hatred. He said:

“Human Rights Council resolution 53/1 noted with deep concern the rising incidents of desecration of places of worship and religious symbols across the world, calling for immediate action to address it.”

Turk noted that public burnings of Islam’s holy book, the Koran, continued in some countries. He added:

“I want to emphasise once again that I strongly reject these disrespectful and offensive acts, especially those which have the clear aim to provoke violence and stir division.”

He said such actions, which deeply affect millions of people, are a blow to their identity and values. To address the issue, Turk said a broad consultation process with states and stakeholders would be undertaken. He added:

“I hope this process will ultimately provide a blueprint for countries to adopt legal and law enforcement frameworks and robust policies to counter the scourge of religious hatred – in line with international human rights law – and to act swiftly to ensure accountability.”

The UN human rights chief said he would study the issues in detail during the next two sessions of the council, including the presentation of his office’s report next June.

Turk believes that gaps in national policies and legal frameworks allow hatred and discrimination to slip through the cracks in the face of real consequences. The burning of the Koran and other instances of religious hatred around the world show that tackling the root causes and drivers of hatred requires “much more.” That’s why he claimed:

“Member states can and must do more.”

Turk emphasised that overcoming religious hatred would require “a renewed social contract based on trust and respect”.

An Iraqi immigrant to Sweden burned the Koran outside a Stockholm mosque in June, sparking outrage across the Muslim world and demands by Muslim states for action.


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