HRC 53 - Statement by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at urgent debate at the UN Human Rights Council
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Edited News | OHCHR , UNOG

HRC 53 - Statement by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at urgent debate at the UN Human Rights Council - 11 July 2023

This Urgent Debate is prompted by recent incidents of burning of the Quran, which is the core of faith for well over one billion people. These and other incidents appear to have been manufactured to express contempt and inflame anger; to drive wedges between people; and to provoke, transforming differences of opinion and perspective into hatred and, perhaps, violence,” Türk said.

 

“Setting aside for a moment the question of what the law states is permissible or not, and irrespective of one's own religious beliefs or lack of belief, people need to act with respect for others. All others,” Türk stressed, noting that  only in this way can sustained dialogue become possible.

 

“Yet, the vandalism of religious sites and destruction of icons, books and religious objects, have been used to insult and provoke people for centuries. To me, it is clear that speech and inflammatory acts against Muslims; Islamophobia; anti-Semitism; and actions and speech that target Christians – or minority groups such as Ahmadis, Baháʼís or Yazidis­ – are manifestations of utter disrespect. They are offensive, irresponsible and wrong,” he said.

 

“It is important to recall the immense benefit of diversity for all societies. Furthermore, all people have an equal right to believe, or not to believe: this is fundamental to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that unites us. We need to promote interfaith harmony and mutual respect, in the interests of all communities,” Türk said.

 

The High Commissioner said that political and religious leaders have a particularly crucial role to play in speaking out clearly, firmly and immediately against disrespect and intolerance – not only of their own communities, but of any group subjected to attack. They should also make it clear that violence cannot be justified by prior provocation, whether real or perceived.

 

Türk noted that these are complex areas. The limitation of any kind of speech or expression must, as a matter of fundamental principle, remain an exception – particularly since laws limiting speech are often misused by authorities, including to stifle debate on critical issues, he said.

 

But on the other hand, an act of speech, in the specific circumstances in which it occurs, can constitute incitement to action on the part of others. In recent years, numerous acts of violence, terror attacks and mass atrocities have targeted people on account of their religious beliefs, including inside their places of worship.

 

“International law is clear on these kinds of incitement, and this is my second main point. Article 20 of theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: States parties must, without exception, prohibit “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” the UN Human Rights Chief said.

 

Türk also outlined how other forms of expression, even if not deemed to incite violence, can amount to hate speech, if they use pejorative or bigoted language towards a person or group on the basis of their sex, belief, race, migration status, sexual orientation or any other factor.

 

 “Dehumanizing women and denying their equality with men; verbally abusing Muslim women and girls who wear a headscarf; sneering at people with disabilities; making false claims that migrants or people of specific ethnicities are more likely to engage in crime; or smearing LGBTIQ+ people: all such hate speech is similar, in that it stems from the baseline notion that some people are less deserving of respect as human beings,” he said.

 

Hate speech of every kind is rising, everywhere, using the tidal forces of social media and in a context of increasing international and national discord and polarisation, Türk said.  

 

“Hate speech needs to be addressed, in all societies, through dialogue, education, awareness raising, inter-faith and inter-community engagement and other public policy tools. It needs to be actively countered by all responsible authorities, figures of influence, and the private sector,” he said.

 

The  UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech is the UN’s response to address this phenomenon and to support States and societies to counter it, the High Commissioner noted.

 

“Many societies are struggling with this weaponization of religious intolerance for political purposes. We must not allow ourselves to be reeled in and become instrumentalised by these merchants of chaos for political gain – these provocateurs who deliberately seek out ways to divide us,” Türk said.

 

 The High Commissioner pointed to the profound enrichment of us all that is brought by our diversity, understandings of human existence, and ways of thought and belief.

 

Our societies – all our societies, wherever they stand in religious or cultural terms – must strive to become magnets of respect, dialogue and cooperation among different peoples, as has been achieved by multiple civilisations in the past,” he said.

 

We must commit to advancing greater tolerance; greater respect; and greater recognition of the importance and value of our differences, the High Commissioner said.  This should happen in the media, online, in businesses, in schools, in government, in the police, and outside and within places of worship.

 

The best way to push back against hate speech is with more dialogue, more conversations, more building of common understanding and more acts that manifest our conviction that we are all equal, that all of us have rights, including the right to hold different beliefs, to adopt different ways of living, and to have and share different opinions,” Türk said.

 

ENDS

 

For more information and media requests, please contact: 

Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / ravina.shamdasani@un.org or 

Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / elizabeth.throssell@un.org or 

Jeremy Laurence +  +41 22 917 9383 / jeremy.laurence@un.org or

Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 marta.hurtadogomez@un.org

 

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  1. Exterior shot: Palais des Nations, Geneva.
  2. Wide shot: wide shot room 20
  3. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR): This Urgent Debate is prompted by recent incidents of burning of the Quran, which is the core of faith for well over one billion people. These and other incidents appear to have been manufactured to express contempt and inflame anger; to drive wedges between people; and to provoke, transforming differences of opinion and perspective into hatred and, perhaps, violence.
  4. Cut away: room 20.
  5. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR): “Setting aside for a moment the question of what the law states is permissible or not, and irrespective of one's own religious beliefs or lack of belief, people need to act with respect for others. All others.”
  6. Cut away: room 20.
  7. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR):“Yet,the vandalism of religious sites and destruction of icons, books and religious objects, have been used to insult and provoke people for centuries. To me, it is clear that speech and inflammatory acts against Muslims; Islamophobia; anti-Semitism; and actions and speech that target Christians – or minority groups such as Ahmadis, Baháʼís or Yazidis­ – are manifestations of utter disrespect. They are offensive, irresponsible and wrong.”
  8. Cut away: room 20.
  9. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR): “It is important to recall the immense benefit of diversity for all societies. Furthermore, all people have an equal right to believe, or not to believe: this is fundamental to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that unites us. We need to promote interfaith harmony and mutual respect, in the interests of all communities.” Cut away: room 20.
  10. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR):“International law is clear on these kinds of incitement, and this is my second main point. Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: States parties must, without exception, prohibit “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”
  11. Cut away: room 20.
  12. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR):“Dehumanizing women and denying their equality with men; verbally abusing Muslim women and girls who wear a headscarf; sneering at people with disabilities; making false claims that migrants or people of specific ethnicities are more likely to engage in crime; or smearing LGBTIQ+ people: all such hate speech is similar, in that it stems from the baseline notion that some people are less deserving of respect as human beings.”
  13. Cut away: room 20.
  14. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR): “Hate speech needs to be addressed, in all societies, through dialogue, education, awareness raising, inter-faith and inter-community engagement and other public policy tools. It needs to be actively countered by all responsible authorities, figures of influence, and the private sector.”
  15. Cut away: room 20.
  16. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR): “Many societies are struggling with this weaponization of religious intolerance for political purposes. We must not allow ourselves to be reeled in and become instrumentalised by these merchants of chaos for political gain – these provocateurs who deliberately seek out ways to divide us.”
  17. Cut away: room 20.
  18. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR): Our societies – all our societies, wherever they stand in religious or cultural terms – must strive to become magnets of respect, dialogue and cooperation among different peoples, as has been achieved by multiple civilisations in the past.”
  19. Cut away: room 20.
  20. Soundbite (English)— Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR):The best way to push back against hate speech is with more dialogue, more conversations, more building of common understanding and more acts that manifest our conviction that we are all equal, that all of us have rights, including the right to hold different beliefs, to adopt different ways of living, and to have and share different opinions.”
  21.  

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