17 January 2016, New York – Speech by European Union Special Representative for Human Rights Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis at the High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred
Happy to be co-organising such an important event, together with the United States, Canada and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Let me also thank the United Nations for hosting us.
This event could not be more timely: There is indeed a rising tide of discrimination and violence targeting people of Muslim faith. This phenomenon affects Europe, but let us not forget its global dimension. Muslims are also targeted by sectarian violence inside the Middle East and elsewhere. And Muslim minorities, alongside other religious minorities, suffer discriminations all around the world.
This is the time to stand TOGETHER against this scourge, to borrow the name of the ongoing UN campaign against xenophobia.
The phenomenon is not new, but the trend is worrying. And across the world xenophobia and intolerance are being fostered through new channels and media.
Some say we live in a post-truth world. We must have the courage to confront narratives when they are based on prejudice, or blatant lies, so that they do not become part of the mainstream.
So let us try to set the record straight. Muslims are very often the first victims of terrorism. Islam is not the mover of terrorism. On the contrary, terrorists are trying to hijack Islam for their own wicked purposes. Islam itself is a victim of groups like Daesh.
The global migration situation – or rather, the global shortcomings in addressing it – have added to the tide. Migrants, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, get singled out as all potential criminals. And yet the only ‘crime’ – for most of them – is to be born in a country at war, or hit by climate change, or in extreme poverty.
The issue we face is very clear: instead of looking for real solutions, many prefer to look for a scapegoat. But it is openness, not isolation, that made our European culture great. Our culture is Greek and Arab and Roman and religious and secular. Diversity made us rich, diversity is written in our DNA. And the same is true for so many parts of the world, probably for every single part of the world.
So the question is: How can we fight discrimination that contradicts our interests, our legal and moral obligations and, indeed, our DNA, and how can we build more inclusive, resilient societies?
The first answer is that we need good laws and we need them to be enforced.
Within Europe, many are pulling their weight. You will hear from a number of them during the course of today. The European Commission has taken a number of measures notably in terms of legislative reforms to tackle racism and xenophobia. You will hear more from David Friggieri, coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred. The European Parliament has a dedicated intergroup on Anti-racism and diversity. Their coordinator Alfiaz Vaiya will speak to their work. The European Network against Racism is one of the examples of our very active civil society. I welcome the presence of Director Michael Privot. And last but not least, I am happy to see that OSCE advisor on anti-Muslim hatred, Dermana Seta, is also here today.
The implementation of robust laws and policies to address anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination within the EU is crucial.
But this is not only internally about Europe, and it is not only about laws. Within and beyond Europe, political will and political persuasion must go hand-in-hand with legal protection.
In the daily work of our foreign policy, we constantly raise the cases of discrimination against Muslims – no matter who the perpetrator.
Together with the other co-organisers of this event, we have worked hard in New York to promote freedom of religion or belief and to combat intolerance. During the Third Committee session of the UN General Assembly in November 2016, the adoptions without vote of the EU led resolution on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the “twin” resolution run by the OIC on Combating Intolerance were another good example of our constructive collaboration. It was a testimony of the large consensus worldwide to respect the values of freedom of religion and respect all human beings and their beliefs.
Our joint effort is to deliver on these good words and to translate them in action, like also our own EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief — our collective policy commitment, of the EU and its member states, for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief, that is not limited to any religion but concerned equally with all – in solidarity with each other.
Government officials and political leaders have a duty to guarantee this right, and the rights of minorities. Religious leaders, on their side, need to be very clear that one can never discriminate against others, let alone eliminate others, in the name of God.
Legislation and political will are key, but in themselves are not enough. There is a deeper, long-term work we also need to focus on – as a matter of urgency. The keyword here is Education. We need to build – or rebuild – the foundations of a society where everyone has the right to their own identity, but where everyone at the same time respects a set of common human rights-mandated norms.
Let me quote our High Representative for foreign policy, Federica Mogherini. She recently argued that – I quote – “strong identities are the basis for openness. Too often, those who are afraid of multiculturalism do not have a strong identity, but rather a very weak one. In today’s world it is crucial to make sense of our identities and our differences.”
There can be no real dialogue, no real integration, if we don’t understand and acknowledge our differences, if we are not educated from an early age to respect human rights for all, to be open, and to be tolerant. This is true for Muslims and for Christians alike, for Jews and Hindus, for religious and secular people, in Europe just like everywhere else.
And this leads to my final point. The underlying issue we discuss here today is the universality of human rights. Human rights must be the same for everyone, regardless of how we pray or not pray, of the colour of our opinions, or the colour of our skin.
If it becomes OK to violate the rights of those least popular or least powerful in any one society, then it will be OK to violate the rights of entirely different people who may be least popular or powerful in another society. Picking and choosing among rights is dangerous for all.
Let us not forget that, in one setting or another in our lives, we are all “minorities.” If only the rights of those “I like” or those who are “like me” are to be protected, then no one’s rights are ever truly safe.
And so, as we discuss the scourge of anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred today in this room, let us keep reminding ourselves of the importance of working together, above and beyond all else, to protect the universality of all human rights, for all human beings.
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