United Nations Human Rights Council adopts resolution on religious hatred

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On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) approved a resolution on religious hatred, following an incident where a Koran was burnt in Sweden, as reported by Reuters. The development has elicited reactions from Western states who fear it may influence long-standing human rights protection practices.

Introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the resolution requires the U.N. rights chief to develop a report on religious hatred. It also calls on states to examine their laws and rectify any gaps that might “impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred.”

The United States and the European Union opposed the initiative, stating that it diverges from their views on human rights and freedom of expression. While they did not hesitate to condemn the burning of the Koran, they stated that the OIC initiative seems more focussed on safeguarding religious symbols rather than human rights.

Last month, the burning of the Koran by an Iraqi immigrant in Sweden triggered wide-ranging outrage across the Muslim world and calls for action from Muslim states.

The vote result is seen as a notable development for Western countries, given the current significant influence the OIC holds in the council. The council is unique in being the only global body composed of governments specifically tasked with protecting human rights.

The vote concluded with 28 countries in support, 12 against, and seven abstaining. Following the resolution’s approval, some country representatives applauded the decision.

Marc Limon, the director of the Geneva-based Universal Rights Group, observed that the result indicates a decline in Western influence at the Human Rights Council, suggesting that they are gradually “losing support and losing the argument.”

Michele Taylor, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UNHRC, said that the United States’ concerns about the initiative “were not taken seriously.” She believed that “with a little more time and more open discussion, we could have also found a way forward together on this resolution.”

Post-vote, Khalil Hasmi, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. in Geneva, criticised the West for not doing enough to uphold their commitment to prevent religious hatred. He stated that those opposing the resolution demonstrated a “lack of political, legal and moral courage” to denounce the public desecration of the Holy Koran or any other religious book.

This recent decision underscores the shifting dynamics within the international human rights community. It will be interesting to monitor how this resolution impacts the ongoing discourse surrounding freedom of expression and the prevention of religious hatred.

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