UN expert warns of religious hatred in India

Foreign Desk Report

NEW YORK: A UN expert has deplored the flare-up in some countries of religious intolerance resulting from the coronavirus, and called for ensuring that the pandemic was not “twisted” for political or economic gains. “I am alarmed to see the upsurge in incitement to hatred, scapegoating religious or belief communities, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims for the spread of virus,” the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, said in a statement issued in Geneva on Wednesday.
He urged authorities in the countries where minorities and ethnic groups have been blamed for the spread of the infection to clamp down on hate speech and religious intolerance. In India, the ruling Hindu-nationalist BJP officials have blamed the Tableeghi Jamaat for spreading the virus that led to a spree of anti-Muslim attack across the country, as also denial of health and other facilities to the victims.
“Any incitement to hatred or violence based on religious, belief or ethnic identity is simply not acceptable,” Shaheed said.
” To combat disinformation, it is critical that States establish effective strategies and channels of communication to provide accurate and reliable information to the public,” he said.
“The firm commitment by political leadership to curb hate speech that stigmatizes people on the grounds of their religion or belief is essential in this regard,” Shaheed said stressing that religious leaders can also play an important role. “Solidarity among people of all faiths and none has never been more critical in living memory.”
The Special Rapporteur noted not all religious or belief communities or those living in marginalized conditions can access online information regarding COVID-19 and best practices to avoid transmission. “I urge civil society and faith-based organizations to widely communicate and assist those in vulnerable situations, regardless of their belief or ethnic background.”
“States must also be non-discriminatory in assisting those in need and ensure that everyone has fair access to all public and health services,” Shaheed said.
“Inclusive dialogue will ensure that all communities implement and adhere to the required public health measures voluntarily, including by analyzing how religious practices may be adapted in response to COVID-19 preventive measures, such as organizing virtual religious services.”
“States, all religious leaders and faith actors should step up in promoting social inclusion and solidarity as well as combating incitement to hatred through engagement and education,” Shaheed said.
“I appeal to states, faith leaders, civil society, media and general public to reject hate and exclusion and provide support and solidarity to those who could be victimized at this difficult time,” the Special Rapporteur underscored.