Bilal Chaudhry
Bilal Chaudhry

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly on Tuesday adopted a resolution, calling for countering hate speech and deploring attacks on places of worship, religious symbols and holy books.

The Moroccan resolution, entitled ‘Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech’, was adopted by consensus. It was co-sponsored by Pakistan.

It won the approval in the 193-member UNGA amid growing acts of desecration of the Holy Quran.

Diplomats said Pakistan led the efforts, along with Malaysia and Egypt, to work towards the settlement of language aimed at upholding the sanctity of religious sites, symbols and holy books. The paragraph reads, “Strongly deploring all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief, as well as any such acts directed against their religious symbols, holy books, homes, businesses, properties, schools, cultural centres or places of worship, as well as all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines in violation of international law”.

Moroccan resolution co-sponsored by Pakistan; EU move to amend draft deploring attacks on religious symbols, books fails

Spain submitted an amendment asking for the last words of that paragraph “in violation of international law” be deleted.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the Spanish delegate emphasised that although such actions are deeply offensive and disrespectful, they do not constitute a violation of international law, and thus proposed the elimination of the reference to international law.

But the amendment to cha­nge the phrasing was defeated. It secured 44 votes in favour, with 62 voting against it. There were 24 abstentions.

Under the terms of the resolution, the General Assembly urged the member states to engage with all stakeholders to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue and respect and acceptance of differences, among other things, to reject the spread of hate speech which constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.

The assembly further called on member states and social media companies to counter hate speech and address its increasing spread, enable research into measures to reduce it and promote users’ access to effective reporting channels.

The UNGA voiced deep concern over the rise in instances of discrimination, intolerance and violence, regardless of the actors, including cases motivated by Islamophobia, on a proposal put forward by Pak­istan, and backed by Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, according to the diplomats.

Pakistan’s delegate Bilal Chaudhry, expressing satisfaction over adoption of the resolution, said the text resonated with the resolution on religious hatred, presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, recently adopted at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

That landmark resolution condemned “all advocacy and manifestations of religious hatred, including recent public and premeditated acts that have desecrated the Holy Quran” and called for countries to adopt laws enabling them to bring to justice those responsible for such acts, he pointed out.

“Islamophobia is on the rise, with repeated incidents of desecration of the Holy Quran. These acts are not just a provocation to the feelings of more than two billion Muslims in the world, but a step to sabotage interfaith harmony and peace,” the Pakistani delegate added.

“Such incidents are also a manifestation of racial hatred and xenophobia, and absence of preventive legal deterrence, inaction, and shying away from speaking out encourages further incitement to hatred and violence,” he said.

He emphasised that the text does not seek to curtail the right to free speech, but tries to underline the “special duties and responsibilities” of the international community to safeguard interfaith peace and harmony.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2023

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