GENEVA (15 March 2024) – Acts of harassment, intimidation, violence and incitement based on religion or belief have risen to “alarming levels” across the world, including against Muslims, a group of UN independent experts* warned today. On the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, they issued the following statement:

“In proclaiming 15 March the International Day to Combat Islamophobia in 2022, the UN General Assembly called for “strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue on the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels”.

Yet today, hate entrepreneurs, political parties, armed groups, religious leaders and even State actors around the world, are trampling on respect for diversity of religions and beliefs, discriminating, violating human rights, and overlooking or even attempting to justify these violations.

Acts of harassment, intimidation, violence and incitement based on religion or belief have risen sharply across the world last year, reaching alarming levels, shocking our conscience and creating a climate of fear and deep distrust.

We urge States to ground their responses to all forms of religious hatred, including Islamophobia, in the universal values, principles and legal framework of international human rights.

Orchestrated public burnings of the Holy Qur’an are deplorable. Expressions of religious intolerance engender deep hurt and fear at individual and community levels, and must be condemned.

Where advocacy of religious hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, it must be prohibited by law in accordance with international standards.

During this holy month of Ramadan, we are appalled at the continued refusal by Israel to allow adequate humanitarian assistance and food aid to be provided to the mainly Muslim civilian population in Gaza despite the widespread hunger and signs of severe malnutrition. We are seriously concerned about undue restrictions imposed on access to the Al Aqsa Mosque. These restrictions are particularly alarming, in the context of monumental loss of life and destruction of a significant number of places of worship in Gaza. Cultural property is protected in international humanitarian law during armed conflict since it recognises damage to the cultural property of any people as resulting in damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind.

Physical attacks – including killings, harassment, verbal attacks and death threats – motivated by the perceived religious affiliation of the victims are an unacceptable failure of the State to protect all its citizens in line with its obligations. In too many countries in the lead up to elections, State and non-State actors feed religious tensions and promote discriminatory laws and policies against Muslim minorities to gain political advantage. Recent tensions in relation to the Babri Masjid – now Ram Mandir – are a case in point.

Across the world, we have witnessed attacks on mosques, cultural centres, schools and even private property belonging to Muslims.

States and faith-based actors have human rights responsibilities, and they have to step in to counter such violations, in line with the Rabat Plan of Action. The UN Faith for Rights framework provides concrete implementation guidance, while stakeholders can also use the #Faith4Rights toolkit to encourage respect for religious diversity.

In observing the International Day to Combat Islamophobia this year, we stand in solidarity with those that have suffered intolerance, discrimination, violations and violence, purely on account of being Muslims. Nobody should suffer fear for having or manifesting their religion or belief. Everyone should feel safe and benefit from the equal protection of their human rights, which must be guaranteed by all States.”

*The experts: Ms. Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Ms. Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mr. Nicolas Levrat, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Mr. Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.