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UN rights expert warns against use of religion as excuse for criminal acts

UN rights expert warns against use of religion as excuse for criminal acts

Religious belief should never be accepted as a legitimate excuse for carrying out criminal actions that encroach on the rights of others, a United Nations independent human rights expert warned today.

Speaking before the General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (Third) Committee, Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said religious intolerance remains on the rise and the voices of moderation are often marginalized.

“The freedom in pursuing one’s religion or belief must be protected and respected,” she said in her statement to the Committee. But, “on the other hand, the rights of individuals have also to be protected from being violated on the premise of religion or belief.

“No impunity should be awarded when criminal acts which infringe on the human rights of others are given a religious label. At the same time, all governmental actions should be proportionate, abide by the rule of law and respect the applicable international human rights standards.”

Ms. Jahangir urged governments worldwide to avoid knee-jerk responses and to try to focus on tackling the underlying problems instead.

“Wise and balanced decision-making at all governmental levels, as well as non-discriminatory legislation, are crucial for addressing the delicate issues involved. Furthermore, an independent and non-arbitrary judiciary is a prerequisite for safeguarding freedom of religion or belief.”

Protection must be complemented by prevention efforts, she said, calling for pro-active strategies to deter acts of intolerance and discrimination.

“However, specific legislation should be introduced in a cautious manner since any compulsory overregulation may be counterproductive.”