Antonio Guterres says the pandemic has also been accompanied by a surge in stigma. (File)
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for an end to discrimination against religious minorities and related hate crimes, pointing out that the coronavirus pandemic was accompanied by stigma and the racist discourse.
In his message for the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, observed on August 22, Mr Guterres said, "The right to freedom of religion or belief is firmly trenched in international human rights law and is a cornerstone for inclusive, prosperous and peaceful societies."
He added that across the world "we continue to witness deep-seated discrimination against religious minorities, attacks on people and religious sites, and hate crimes and atrocity crimes targeting populations simply because of their religion or belief."
Noting that while societies have shown resilience and strength in the face of COVID-19, the pandemic has also been accompanied by a surge in stigma and racist discourse vilifying communities, spreading vile stereotypes and assigning blame.
"As we commemorate the victims, we must do more to address the root causes of intolerance and discrimination by promoting inclusion and respect for diversity. We must also ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes are held accountable," Mr Guterres said.
The UN chief added that states have the primary responsibility to protect the right to freedom of religion and belief and he has also made this a priority through initiatives such as a Call to Action for Human Rights, a strategy on hate speech and a plan of action to safeguard religious sites.
"This extraordinary moment calls on all of us to work together as one human family to defeat a disease and put an end to hate and discrimination," he said.
The International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief was created by a UN resolution adopted in May 2019, in response to a rise of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief against individuals, which are often of a criminal nature.
Launching his strategy on hate speech in June 2019, Mr Guterres had said that "a groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance, violent misogyny, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred" is being seen around the world, and noted that, in some places, Christian communities were also being systematically attacked.
The "strategy" aims to enable the UN to respond to "the impact of hate speech on societies," he had said, by bringing individuals and groups together who have opposing views, working with traditional and social media platforms, and developing communications guidance.
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