Statement Attributable to
the Spokesperson of the High Representative for
the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC)
A Call for Mutual Respect
New York – 28 October, 2020
The High Representative is following with deep concern the growing tensions and instances of intolerance triggered by the publication of the satirical caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammed, which Muslims consider insulting and deeply offensive. The inflammatory caricatures have also provoked acts of violence against innocent civilians who were attacked for their sheer religion, belief or ethnicity. The High Representative stresses that insulting religions and sacred religious symbols provokes hatred and violent extremism leading to polarization and fragmentation of the society. He calls for mutual respect of all religions and beliefs and for fostering a culture of fraternity and peace.
The High Representative stresses that the freedom of religion or belief and the freedom of expression are interdependent, interrelated and mutually re-enforcing rights rooted in the articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Upholding and protecting these fundamental rights is the primary responsibility of member states. At the same time, freedom of expression should be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions. He re-affirms that acts of violence cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group. At the same time, violence can and should never be justifiable or acceptable response to acts of intolerance on the basis of religion or belief.
The High Representative recalls the UN Plan of Action and Strategy on Hate Speech which provides guidance on fighting hate speech, racism and discrimination. He stresses that addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech. It means keeping hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, which is prohibited under international law. The High Representative also recalls the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites that is anchored in a set of principles including mutual respect for all peoples, regardless of their faith, culture of history; responsibility to build bridges of mutual understanding and cooperation; diversity to accept and respect the differences among human beings.
The High Representative notes that all major world religions espouse tolerance and peaceful coexistence in a spirit of shared humanity. He emphasizes that we should reject and stand-up against those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to score political gains, create misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred.
The High Representative strongly encourages interfaith and intercultural dialogue and the debate of ideas at the local, national and international levels which can be a powerful tool against religious intolerance, prejudices and stereotyping.
The High Representative re-iterates the readiness of UNAOC to support any efforts that promote continued dialogue and foster mutual respect and understanding.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations was created fifteen years ago to serve as a soft power tool for conflict prevention through the promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue and building bridges of understanding between different cultures and religions.