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End Violent Religious Intolerance, Uphold Human Rights for All

The Global Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women in the name of ‘Culture’ condemns the recent attacks against and between religious groups in various countries across the world, and is deeply concerned about, amongst others, the following cases:

- Religious minorities in Pakistan have been subjected to an increasing number of attacks in recent years. In early September, Shi’a, Christian and Ahmadi minorities were simultaneously targeted by deadly bomb attacks resulting in more than 40 deaths, and experience has shown that these attacks often lead to retaliatory violence.

- On November 7, Aasia Bibi, a Christian from Punjab province in Pakistan, became the first woman in the country's history to be sentenced to death for the crime of blasphemy. Attempts by government officials and legislators to seek a pardon and amend the abusive and discriminatory blasphemy law were greeted with threats, intimidation, and violence. The government eventually backtracked on its promise to review the blasphemy law.

- On January 4, 2011 - Mr. Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab Province of Pakistan, was assassinated was gunned down in Islamabad by a bodyguard who admitted to the killing, saying he did it because of Taseer's stance against the blasphemy law and religious extremism. Mr. Taseer had previously received numerous death threats for his support of Aasia Bibi and for his campaigning for the repeal of the controversial ‘Blasphemy Law’ (under Section 295-C of the Penal Code). The law prescribes a mandatory death sentence for anyone convicted.

- In Egypt, at least 45 persons were killed and scores injured in a series of attacks and counter-attacks between Coptic Christians and Muslims in the city of Alexandria toward the end of 2010 and start of 2011.

- Shortly before the end of 2010, a mass exodus of thousands of Iraqi Christians from Baghdad and Mosul to Northern Iraq and abroad was reported after a siege on a Christian church that killed 2 priests, more than 50 worshipers, and left many more wounded. The attack was followed by a subsequent series of bombings and assassinations targeting Iraqi Christians.

- More than 40 people were killed and 50 wounded in a suicide attack on a mosque in Iran targeting Shiite Muslim worshippers on the eve of the Shiite holy day Ashura (in the second week of December 2010).  Jundallah, the Iranian Sunni Muslim militant group claimed responsibility for the carnage.

- A series of attacks of vandalism targeting Islamic centres and mosques in various parts of the United States took place after an announcement to construct a Muslim Community Centre two blocks from Ground Zero in New York, while death threats were issued to the centre organizers. Authorities have appropriately treated and denounced these as hate crimes. Such intolerance, however, is reportedly also widespread in a number of schools in several states, according to civil liberties groups, with Muslim school children being verbally and physically harassed and labelled as “terrorists” or “jihadis”.

- Muslim mosques in various parts of Germany have been attacked. While no one was reported hurt in any of the attacks, property was damaged in each incident.

- Repeated sectarian attacks on both Christian and Muslim communities in Nigeria resulted in hundreds of deaths in 2010. Around 40 people were killed on Christmas Eve in the cities of Jos and Maiduguri, despite concerted efforts by religious leaders of both faiths to reduce inter-communal tensions after earlier bouts of violence.

- In Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, Christian churches wanting to establish their presence are facing heavy resistance from the police and local communities belonging to the Muslim majority. Members of the minority Muslim sect Ahmadiyah have also long been persecuted by mainstream Islamic hardliners. This repression of minority groups, committed in the name of religion, has led to the deaths and maiming of many innocent civilians. Further, such attacks were reported to have been carried out either by extremist politico-religious forces or by individuals or groups under their influence, and are sometimes tolerated or even encouraged by official authorities. The Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs recently honoured the Governor of West Nusa, Tenggara Zainul Majdi, who had been pushing for a ban on the Ahmadiyah in his province.

 
The same fanaticism, intolerance and discrimination underlying these attacks against religious minorities equally drive the most brutal forms of
violence  against women and girls, LGBTI people and other individuals or groups perceived as being ‘deviants’ of narrow and wrongful interpretations of religious teachings propagated by certain forces. This repression is especially experienced by women and other disempowered groups in minority communities.  

- An eyewitness account of an attack on Coptic Christians on a train in Egypt last December reported that women who were not wearing the hijab or a headscarf were particularly targeted by the attacker.  

- Muslim American women have also been subject to physical assault, precisely for wearing the hijab.   

- The Russian Orthodox Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, Head of the Synod for Cooperation with the Army and the Police Force and Co-Chair of the Ecclesiastical and Public Council for Biomedical Ethics, called for a law that would punish women who opt for abortion with a sentence of 8 years in jail.  Women’s control over their own bodies is an indefeasible right of women guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. 

- In Chechnya, the current government led by Ramzan Kadirov launched a plan for “moral education” which includes a series of decrees requiring that all women employed in the state sector, and all female school and university students, wear headscarves. This is in contrast with the Russian law that guarantees all women, including those in Chechnya, the freedom to choose how they dress as part of their constitutional right to freedom of conscience. To date, though, the Kremlin has taken no action to put an end to these decrees.

While firmly supporting the call for freedom of religion and belief to be protected for all, it is equally our view that freedom of religion does not mean freedom to violate others rights.  In many countries, divisive or weak state laws and policies are a major source of discriminatory attitudes and practices on the basis of claims to religious authority. Many countries in the world maintain laws that regulate obedience, modesty, and freedom of mobility, and require a woman’s submission to the men in her family, especially to her husband. These laws codify religious interpretations that profess women and girls to be the property of their fathers or husbands, and a woman’s behaviour to reflect on her family and community. Women perceived as defying these socially-prescribed roles are decried as having brought shame and dishonour on their family and community. In most circumstances, reprisal against these women often comes in the form of brutal violence, or the threats of violence, such as stoning, ‘honour’ killings, whipping, and lashing as means of punishment and control.

We call upon all member States of the United Nations to take all necessary and appropriate action, in conformity with international human rights standards, to combat hatred, discrimination, intolerance, violence, intimidation and coercion against any one or any group justified in the name of religion or religious beliefs. Specifically, we urge States to:

  1. Exercise impartiality in their policies relating to religious affairs in the country.  States should resist calls by members of one religious group to uphold discriminatory measures against those following other religious persuasions, even when these calls are couched in the language of human rights or expressed by groups who themselves have experienced discrimination;
     
  2. Take decisive legal action to address all forms of incitement to religious hatred, intolerance and related human rights violations.  States should develop strong and effective penal, civil and administrative sanctions in their domestic legislation to hold both State and non-State actors accountable for human rights violations, including those justified by religion or religious beliefs, and to provide adequate redress to women victims of such violations;
     
  3. Ensure that their constitutional and legal systems, institutes of education and their educational policy and curricula, promote tolerance and provide effective guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief to all without distinction or discrimination, including the right to belong to any - or no - religious group so long as the human rights of others are not violated;
     
  4. Eliminate practices and repeal laws that discriminate against women, including in the exercise of their right to freedoms of expression, thought, conscience and religion or belief;
     
  5. Make unequivocal guarantees that dialogues with religious and community leaders to uphold and promote human rights do not substitute State’s obligations to end impunity and to bring to justice those who incite and carry out violent forms of intolerance and discrimination especially against women and religious minorities being justified in the name of ‘religion’;
     
  6. Take decisive efforts to mobilise the support of followers of various faiths in the country to end the misuse of religions, traditions and customs as justifications of discrimination and intolerance against individuals and groups and to commit to promoting a culture of respect within communities.

26 January 2010

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