Speaking at the Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said the tome is the “core of faith” for more than a billion Muslims.
Those who burned the Quran probably did it “to express contempt and ignite anger”, Mr. Türk said, while he warned that these acts also aimed “to drive wedges between people”, to provoke and turning differences into hatred.
Dialogue to heal differences of opinion and belief is key, the UN rights chief continued, as he condemned hate speech against and against people of all mainstream and minority faiths, highlighting the benefits in the diversity of all societies.
The right to believe – or not to believe – “is the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, the High Commissioner told the Human Rights Council, which met on Tuesday for an urgent debate on Pakistan’s request.
He said leading politicians and senior religious figures have “a very important role to play” in speaking out against disrespect and intolerance.
“They should also be clear that violence cannot be justified by the first provocation, whether real or perceived,” he added.
Limits on freedom of speech
The High Commissioner emphasized that limiting freedom of speech or expression at any level should remain “as a fundamental principle” an exception, especially given that laws limiting speech “are often used by non- good” by the government authorities.
However, some speech acts constitute incitement to violence and discriminatory action, he continued.
Many acts of violence, terror, and mass atrocities have targeted people based on their religious beliefs, including within places of worship.
Although international law is clear on the issue, national courts must determine each case in a way “that is consistent with the guardrails provided by international humanitarian law”, he said.
Law enforcement against hate
“My second point is this: advocacy of hatred that includes incitement to violence, discrimination, and hatred must be prohibited in every State,” Mr. Türk told the delegates of the Geneva Council.
He gave examples of abusing Muslim women who wear headscarves, making fun of people with disabilities, defaming LGBTIQ+ people, or making false claims against of migrants and minorities, as “all such hate speech is the same”, which comes from the idea that some are less worthy than others.
The tide of hate speech is fueled by social media and increases discord and polarization, he warned.
Next, he called for rising hate speech to be addressed through dialogue, education, greater awareness, and interfaith or community engagement.
He highlighted the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, as an important support tool for governments to combat it.
He urged countries to redouble their efforts to implement the Plan.
Resist the chaos traders
Faced with the growing weaponization of religious differences for political gain, he said societies should not take the bait.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be drawn in and become instrumental to the merchants of chaos for political gain – these provocateurs who are deliberately looking for ways to divide us.”
He said that his main goal in responding to the debate was to emphasize the “deep development” provided by diversity, existential perspective, “and our thoughts and beliefs”.
The UN rights chief said that all societies should be “magnets of respect, dialogue, and cooperation among different peoples, as many civilizations have achieved in the past.”