UN Human Rights Council Passes Resolution on Religious Hatred Amid US, European Opposition

The measure, backed by the Organiation of Islamic Cooperation, passed by a 28-12 vote.

The Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, which houses the meeting room of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, which houses the meeting room of the U.N. Human Rights Council. (photo: Groov3 / via Wikimedia (CC0 1.0))

The United Nations Human Rights Council approved a controversial resolution Wednesday that urges member states to more aggressively prosecute acts of religious-based antagonism, with the motion passing even amid opposition from United States and European delegations. 

The measure, backed by the Organiation of Islamic Cooperation and passed by a 28-12 vote, calls upon member states to “examine their national laws, policies, and law enforcement frameworks” to identify and rectify “gaps that may impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred.”

The document referenced in part the recent incident of the burning of the Quran that took place in Stockholm last month. The resolution called for the perpetrators of the act to be “[held] to account” in accord with “international human rights law.”

The U.S. was joined by Germany, France and several other Western nations in opposing the measure.

Michèle Taylor, the U.S. envoy to the council, said afterward that she was “heartbroken” that the council “was unable to speak with a unanimous voice today in condemning what we all agree are deplorable acts of anti-Muslim hatred, while also respecting freedom of expression.”

“We strongly believe that hatred withers in the face of public scrutiny,” Taylor said, “and that limiting freedom of expression will only force hateful ideas to find new venues in which to manifest and call undue attention to acts that we would not wish to amplify.”

The document passed by the council, meanwhile, argued that “the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities,” adding that freedom of religion and freedom of expression are “interdependent, interrelated, and mutually reinforcing.”

The controversial Quran destruction that took place in Sweden was condemned earlier this month by Pope Francis, who said he was “outraged and disgusted” by the display.  

“Any book considered sacred by its people must be respected out of respect for those who believe in it,” Pope Francis said July 3. “The freedom of expression should never be used as an excuse to offend others. Allowing that is [to be] rejected and condemned.” 

Earlier on Tuesday, Volker Türk, the high commissioner for human rights at the U.N., said in an address at the Human Rights Council that recent examples of anti-religious bigotry around the globe “appear to have been manufactured to express contempt and inflame anger; to drive wedges between people; and to provoke, transforming differences of perspective into hatred and, perhaps, violence.” 

“Political and religious leaders have a particularly crucial role to play in speaking out clearly, firmly, and immediately against disrespect and intolerance,” he said, “not only of their own communities, but of any group subjected to attack.”