Seventy-eighth Session,
62nd Meeting (AM)

Marking International Day to Combat Islamophobia, General Assembly Adopts Resolution Condemning Anti-Muslim Violence, Calling for Action against Religious Intolerance

Some Member States Object to Text’s Focus on One Religion, Cost of Creating UN Special Envoy Position

Meeting on the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for measures against such a phenomenon despite reservations expressed by some Member States about the text’s narrow focus on one religion and the cost of creating a senior United Nations position dedicated to the matter.

Adopting the draft resolution titled “Measures to Combat Islamophobia” (document A/78/L.48) by a recorded vote of 115 in favour to none against, with 44 abstentions, the Assembly condemned the incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence against Muslims as manifested in the increasing number of incidents of desecration of their holy book; attacks on mosques, sites and shrines; and other acts of religious intolerance, negative stereotyping, hatred and violence.

The Assembly also called upon Member States to take all necessary measures — including legislative and policy steps — to combat such hatred and violence and to prohibit by law incitement to violence against persons on the grounds of their religion or belief.  It also requested the Secretary-General to appoint a United Nations Special Envoy to combat Islamophobia.

Also by the text, the Secretary-General was asked to prepare and submit a report to the Assembly at its seventy-ninth session on the implementation of the present resolution and on the relevant measures taken by Member States and the United Nations to combat Islamophobia in all its forms and manifestations.

Before the adoption of “L.48”, the Assembly considered amendments to the text (documents A/78/L.51 and A/78/L.52) submitted by the representative of Belgium on behalf of the European Union.

By a recorded vote of 53 in favour to 61 against, with 28 abstentions, the Assembly rejected “L.51”, which would have replaced operative paragraph 2 with a provision:  “Condemns the incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence against persons based on religion or belief, including against Muslims, as well as the increasing number of attacks on religious sites and shrines and expresses concern at other acts of religious intolerance, negative stereotyping, hatred and violence”.

It also rejected “L.52” by a recorded vote of 57 in favour to 61 against, with 24 abstentions.  The amendment would have replaced operative paragraph 3 with a provision:  “Invites the Secretary-General to appoint a United Nations focal point, within existing structures and resources, to combat anti-Muslim discrimination”.

“Islamophobia is as old as Islam itself,” said the representative of Pakistan, who introduced “L.48” on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.  He noted that Islamophobia was manifested by the racist colonization and brutalization of much of the Islamic world in the past few centuries and resurged after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.  The most egregious current manifestation of such sentiment is Israel’s military onslaught in Gaza, he warned, stressing the need for bold and decisive actions against such phenomenon.

Furthermore, he expressed regret over the last-minute submission of counterproposals by the European delegations, stating that removing the reference to the holy book is unacceptable and the desecration of the Holy Qur’an offends the sentiments of all Muslims.  A focal point may be sufficient where numerous actions are being taken in various places against a particular problem, such as antisemitism, he said, emphasizing that in the case of Islamophobia, no specific and concrete actions are being taken by most Governments, or even by international organizations such as the United Nations.  The purpose of appointing a Special Envoy is to initiate specific actions to combat Islamophobia, he asserted.

The representative of Belgium, who introduced the amendments, stated that anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination are unacceptable and violate the principles and purposes of the UN as enshrined in its Charter and the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  However, “the UN should be religion-neutral and not refer to ‘desecration of holy books’”.  Under the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the term “desecration” is limited to religious sites only.  International human rights law does not protect a religion or belief as such, or its symbols, nor does it prohibit the criticism of religions or beliefs.

He also expressed reservations about the creation of a Special Envoy, citing the duplication of several mechanisms in place to address discrimination based on religion or belief and its financial implications.  The current focal point against antisemitism, High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Miguel Moratinos, could serve as a focal point to combat Islamophobia.

Speaking before the votes, the representatives of Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Malaysia, Uganda and Türkiye, all rallied behind “L.48” and opposed the amendments.  Iran’s speaker underlined the need to ensure that the Organization remains united against attempts to embrace Islamophobia, as well as measures such as Muslim travel bans, the burning of the Qur’an and bans on the hijab and Muslim symbols.  Appointing a Special Envoy is “without a doubt, money well spent”, declared the delegate of Kuwait.

Taking the floor after the votes, several of the delegations that abstained on “L.48”, among them the representatives of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, India, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, explained their positions.

India stands against all forms of religious phobia, be it antisemitism, Christian phobia, or Islamophobia, and against all anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist and anti-Sikh sentiments, said its delegate, warning that “L.48” should not establish a precedent that could result in numerous resolutions centred on phobias tied to specific religions, potentially dividing the UN into religious camps.  Similarly, Brazil’s representative underlined the importance of “fighting discrimination against Muslims, Christians and Jews on the same footing, without establishing priorities among these phenomena”.

Also speaking in explanation of position after the votes were the representatives of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Mexico, New Zealand, Oman, Peru, Russian Federation, Singapore, Syria, Tunisia and the United States, who supported “L.48” as a whole.

Peru’s delegate stated its nuanced position on appointing a new Special Envoy.  It would be more efficient to designate the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations as a focal point for addressing Islamophobia, he asserted. Adding to it, Mexico’s speaker said that the appointment of a Special Envoy on a particular religion might pave the way towards the proliferation of “compartmentalized, siloed mandates”.  Canada’s representative expressed concern that suggestions to integrate gender language into the text were not incorporated.

Among those stressing the importance of the resolution just adopted was the representative of Tunisia, who called for its implementation.

An official from the Secretariat noted that operative paragraphs 3 and 6 of the resolution entail budgetary implications, as they relate to the appointment of a Special Envoy starting in 2025, and the preparation of a report for submission to the Assembly at its seventy-ninth session.  The Secretariat would internally consult to determine the detailed budgetary requirements for 2025, which would be submitted for consideration by the General Assembly, through its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), during the main part of its seventy-ninth session, she said.

For information media. Not an official record.