The top United Nations human rights official yesterday (7 January 2011) condemned the recent attacks on religious groups in various countries, and urged states to show determination to combat such violence and to scrap discriminatory laws and practices affecting religious minorities.
“Recent deadly attacks on religious groups in various countries have been carried out by extremist groups,” said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“It is clear that this rise in fanaticism poses particular difficulties for states. I believe that there are a number of important actions they can take that would help promote religious tolerance, and reduce the number of such attacks in the long term,” she added.
Ms. Pillay praised the widespread condemnation by many Egyptian religious, political and civic leaders, as well as media commentators, of the bomb attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria in the early hours of New Year’s Day that killed at least 21 people and injured dozens of others.
She said she was particularly heartened by the strong reaction of many ordinary Egyptian Muslims, who rallied to the support of Christian congregations as they prepared to celebrate the Coptic Christmas amid fears of further attacks.
“Attacks on churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other religious sites around the world, as well as targeted attacks against individuals, should act as a wake-up call to all of us,” the High Commissioner said.
In Nigeria, repeated sectarian attacks on both Christian and Muslim communities resulted in hundreds of deaths last year, including about 40 people killed on Christmas Eve in the cities of Jos and Maiduguri, despite a concerted effort by religious leaders of both groups to reduce inter-communal tensions after earlier killings.
Ms. Pillay said religious minorities in Pakistan have been subjected to an increasing number of attacks in recent years, with Shi’a Muslims, Christians and Ahmadis targeted by deadly bomb attacks on the same day in early September, resulting in a total of more than 40 deaths.
She noted that over the past year, there have also been attacks on members of religious groups in a number of other countries around the world.
They included attacks – mostly arson – on 11 churches, a convent school, a Sikh temple, a mosque and several Muslim prayer rooms in Malaysia in January last year; a bomb attack on a mosque in Iran on 15 December; a continuation of attacks on Shi’a Muslims, as well as Christians and other religious groups in Iraq; and continued violence against Christians and Ahmadis in Indonesia.
“All States have not only a moral, but also a legal, obligation to ensure they [religious minorities] are protected. The recent attacks are a tragic reminder that protection of minority rights is not only a human rights imperative but also a key element in preventing conflict, before it gets out of hand,” said Ms. Pillay.
“States everywhere can and should ensure that their educational approach, legal systems and political policies promote tolerance of different beliefs. They must also ensure that incitement to religious hatred is punishable by law.
“I am concerned that divisive or weak state laws and policies in many countries foster the religious discrimination that feeds extremism,” Ms. Pillay added. “It is also vital that authorities discourage the exploitation of religions for political agendas,” she said.