UN rights body passes Pakistan-led motion on religious hatred after desecration of Holy Quran in Sweden

Published July 12, 2023
The flags alley is seen outside the United Nations building during the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27. — Reuters
The flags alley is seen outside the United Nations building during the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27. — Reuters

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday approved a disputed resolution on religious hatred in the wake of desecration of the Holy Quran in Sweden.

Last month, a man desecrated the Holy Quran in Sweden’s capital Stockholm, resulting in strong condemnation from several Muslim states, including Pakistan, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the European Union, Pope Francis and the Swedish government, among others.

The resolution, introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the 57-nation OIC, calls for the UN rights chief to publish a report on religious hatred and for states to review their laws and plug gaps that may “impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred”.

It was strongly opposed by the United States and the European Union, who say it conflicts with their view on human rights and freedom of expression.

While condemning the desecration of the Holy Quran, they argued the OIC initiative was designed to safeguard religious symbols rather than human rights.

An Iraqi immigrant to Sweden desecrated the Holy Quran outside a Stockholm mosque last month, sparking outrage across the Muslim world and demands by Muslim states for action.

The vote’s outcome marks a major defeat for Western countries at a time when the OIC has unprecedented clout in the council, the only body made up of governments to protect human rights worldwide.

Twenty-eight countries voted in favour, 12 voted against, and seven countries abstained. Representatives of some countries clapped after the resolution passed.

Marc Limon, director of the Geneva-based Universal Rights Group, said the outcome showed “the West is in full retreat at the Human Rights Council”.

“They’re increasingly losing support and losing the argument,” he said.

Michele Taylor, the US Permanent Representative to the UN Human Rights Council, said the United States’ concerns about the initiative “were not taken seriously”.

“I believe with a little more time and more open discussion, we could have also found a way forward together on this resolution,” she said.

After the vote, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Khalil Hashmi, accused the West of “lip service” to their commitment to prevent religious hatred.

“The opposition of a few in the room has emanated from their unwillingness to condemn the public desecration of the Holy Quran or any other religious book,” he said.

“They lack political, legal and moral courage to condemn this act, and it was the minimum that the council could have expected from them.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said Pakistan welcomed the adoption of the resolution.

“We are grateful to all the member countries of the UN Human Rights Council that supported the resolution moved by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC,” he stated, asserting that incidents like the desecration of the Holy Quran in Sweden could not be tolerated at all.

“All religious symbols, holy personages and Divine Books are equally sacred for followers of all faiths. Those indulging in such despicable and vile acts as the burning of the Holy Quran in the name of freedom of expression need to be called out publicly.”

PM Shehbaz added that humanity was better served by a “consensus on the resolve to safeguard our shared values of religious tolerance, pluralism and respect for all faiths”.

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