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Holy See: UNHRC report on Islamophobia 'divisive', excludes other religious groups

The Holy See expresses disappointment and concern over a new report from the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief, calling it potentially divisive and polarizing.

By Lisa Zengarini

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last week released a report focused on “Anti-Muslim hatred/Islamophobia”, without reference to the numerous other faith groups which also fall victim to hatred, discrimination and persecution around the world.

According to the Holy See, the focus on one particular religious group presents “a real risk of being divisive” and “of polarizing the international community", further endangering the rights the Council should promote and protect.

This was pointed out on 4 March, by Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva, during the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council.

Erosion of religious freedom

The Vatican Nuncio recognized “the significant work“ presented in the report, outlining situations of discrimination, stigmatization, acts of violence and restrictions on the right to manifest one’s religion both individually and in community, often experienced by Muslim persons.

At the same time, Archbishop Jurkovič emphasized that “all” acts of religious hatred, discrimination and persecution “are to be vehemently condemned”, bearing in mind the universality of religious freedom enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR).

He reiterated that in the current scenario, “where religious freedom is being increasingly eroded by the need to protect human lives from the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is of paramount importance that the civil authorities commit themselves to respect, protect and defend the freedom of religion or belief, as the innermost dimension of the dignity of the human person, in his or her conscience.”

Lamentable change in methodology

According to Archbishop Jurkovič, the decision by the Rapporteur to limit the topic to one particular religious group “could represent a substantial change in the methodological approach.” 

He added that “rather than reducing the negative-profiling and stigmatization of such groups, presents a real risk of facilitating a ‘we’ versus ‘them’ mentality.”

“Indeed," he said, "any legislation or practice that would single out a specific group based, at least in part, on religious criteria, represents a subtle form of discrimination, regardless of the intended effects or the real outcome of such laws or practices.”

“It is therefore deeply concerning, concluded Archbishop Jurkovič, "that the present Report, which should defend the fundamental and universal human right of freedom of religion or belief, has been focused on a single religious group to the exclusion of others with the risk of polarizing the international community and creating more conflict that may further endanger the rights this Council should promote and protect.”

08 March 2021, 18:22