[Indepth] UN Resolution on Islamophobia: Objectives, India’s stand

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Amid a rising global tide of Islamophobia, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to combat this issue, driven by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and backed by over 50 countries. However, this initiative faced opposition from countries like France, the European Union, and India, who expressed concerns about singling out one religion and the implications for freedom of expression. India’s stand highlights the need for a more inclusive approach to tackle religious discrimination universally​​​​.

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This topic of “[Indepth] UN Resolution on Islamophobia: Objectives, India’s stand” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

The UN Resolution on Islamophobia

  • Introduction and Support
    • The resolution, titled “International Day to Combat Islamophobia,” was introduced by Pakistan and received support from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
    • It was adopted by consensus in the General Assembly, highlighting the global recognition of Islamophobia as a significant issue.
  • Objective of the Resolution
    • The resolution aims to combat Islamophobia worldwide by proclaiming March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia.
    • It calls for strengthened international efforts to foster global dialogue, promote a culture of tolerance and peace, respect human rights, and appreciate the diversity of religions and beliefs.
  • Global Context
    • The adoption of the resolution comes against the backdrop of increasing hate speech, discrimination, and violence against Muslims in various parts of the world.
    • Islamophobia has been identified as a form of racism, often exacerbated by negative stereotypes and discriminatory policies, affecting Muslims’ rights and dignity globally.
  • Concerted Actions Called For
    • The resolution emphasizes the need for concerted action against violence directed at Muslims, including the appointment of a special envoy to combat Islamophobia.
    • It seeks to address and mitigate the impacts of Islamophobia on Muslims’ access to goods, services, work, and education, particularly highlighting the disproportionate targeting of Muslim women in hate crimes.
  • Incidents Leading to Adoption
    • The resolution was adopted in response to the growing global concern over “suspicion, discrimination, and outright hatred” towards Muslims, which has reached “epidemic proportions.”
    • It acknowledges the severe discrimination Muslims face in countries where they are a minority, contributing to a hostile perception that poses a threat to their security and well-being.

Global Support and Opposition

  • Support
    • The resolution, spearheaded by Pakistan and backed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was supported by over 55 Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Syria, Algeria, Morocco, and others across the Gulf and North Africa.
    • Other states outside the OIC, notably including Russia and China, co-sponsored the resolution, although China’s co-sponsorship drew criticism from Uighur activists due to the country’s treatment of Muslim minorities.
  • Opposition
    • France, the European Union (EU), and India expressed concerns about the resolution, though they did not oppose its adoption by consensus but raised issues regarding its focus and implications.
    • The EU articulated its opposition by emphasizing a universal approach to religious freedom and belief, expressing concern over the resolution focusing solely on Islam, arguing that it could undermine the universality of their approach and criticizing the term “Islamophobia” for potentially protecting the religion itself rather than the believers, advocating instead for the protection of individuals’ rights to freedom of religion or belief.
    • France shared similar concerns, emphasizing the protection of all religions and beliefs and questioning the singling out of a specific religion, highlighting the importance of liberty to believe, or not believe, and the right to change religion.

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India’s Stand on the Resolution

  • India’s stance on the UN resolution to combat Islamophobia encompasses concerns about emphasizing one form of religious discrimination over others and calls for a more inclusive approach that recognizes the diversity of religious discrimination globally.
    • India expressed concerns over the resolution’s focus on Islamophobia, emphasizing the existence of various forms of religious discrimination, including anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist, and anti-Sikh sentiments.
    • India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti, voiced apprehensions that the resolution might set a precedent leading to multiple resolutions based on selective religions, potentially dividing the United Nations into religious camps.
    • Ambassador Tirumurti also mentioned the existence of the International Day commemorating the victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief, which is inclusive of all religions, questioning the necessity of elevating phobia against one religion to the level of an international day.
    • Highlighting India’s rich tradition of pluralism and democracy, Ambassador Tirumurti expressed disappointment that the resolution did not include the term “pluralism,” underscoring India’s history of providing refuge to persecuted individuals from various faiths and its commitment to the equal protection and promotion of all religions.
    • India’s concerns also extended to contemporary forms of religiophobia manifested in attacks on places of worship, spreading of hatred and disinformation, and the destruction of religious symbols, which, according to India, are evidence of the broader spectrum of religious intolerance that needs to be addressed collectively.

The Broader Debate on Religious Freedom and Discrimination

  • Complexities of Addressing Religious Discrimination
    • Balancing the right to freedom of religion or belief with freedom of speech is central to international human rights law.
    • It’s crucial that actions or laws aimed at protecting individuals from religious discrimination do not inadvertently infringe upon the freedom of thought, conscience, and expression.
    • However, narratives or actions that incite violence, hate, or discrimination against specific groups, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, are not protected under these freedoms and constitute hate speech.
  • Role of International Days and Resolutions
    • International days, such as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT), are designed to promote awareness and foster actions against discrimination, including on the basis of religion or belief.
    • These observances serve as reminders of the ongoing struggle against intolerance and the importance of solidarity across different communities.
    • They aim to encourage states, religious leaders, and other stakeholders to adopt narratives that promote respect and compassion, refraining from perpetuating stigma or justifying discrimination.
  • Importance of a Balanced Approach
    • The dialogue between protecting religious sentiments and upholding freedom of expression is ongoing.
    • The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has historically sought to address defamation of religions as a human rights violation, arguing that it fuels discrimination and intolerance.
    • This perspective contends that defamation of holy symbols or religions can be seen as manifestations of collective discrimination or a new form of racism.
    • However, many Western countries argue that human rights should protect individuals, not religions, and that initiatives to ban defamation of religions might undermine international free speech ideals by supporting censorship or even violent repression of minorities.
    • Resolution 16/18, adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, marked a significant shift by emphasizing the protection of individuals rather than religious ideas and underscoring the importance of freedom of expression in combating intolerance and discrimination.

Implications for International Relations

  • Geopolitical Tensions and Alliances
    • The adoption of the resolution by the UN, spearheaded by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), garnered support from over 50 Muslim-majority countries, underscoring the solidarity among these nations in addressing Islamophobia on the global stage.
    • However, the resolution also attracted opposition from countries like France, the European Union, and India, reflecting underlying geopolitical tensions and differing views on how best to protect religious freedom without infringing on other fundamental rights such as freedom of expression.
  • Impact on Policies towards Religious Freedoms and Anti-Discrimination Efforts
    • The resolution calls for international efforts to foster a global dialogue on promoting a culture of tolerance and peace, based on respect for human rights and the diversity of religions and beliefs.
    • While it aims to combat Islamophobia, the response from various nations indicates a broader conversation about the need for inclusive approaches that acknowledge and combat all forms of religious discrimination.
    • France and the EU expressed concerns about the focus on one specific religion and the implications for other fundamental freedoms, suggesting that protecting individuals, not religions, should be the priority.
    • Meanwhile, India emphasized the importance of acknowledging various forms of religiophobia beyond Islamophobia, reflecting its pluralistic society.

The UN resolution on Islamophobia and the ensuing debate underscore the intricate balance between combating religious discrimination and upholding freedom of expression and belief. Reflecting broader geopolitical dynamics, the resolution has highlighted alliances and tensions among global actors, emphasizing the need for inclusive approaches that recognize all forms of religious discrimination. As nations navigate these complex waters, the resolution’s impact on international relations and policies toward religious freedoms remains a pivotal area for ongoing dialogue and action​​​​.

Practice Question

Evaluate the implications of the UN resolution on Islamophobia for global diplomatic relations and religious freedoms, considering the opposition by some member states. Discuss the balance between combating religious discrimination and safeguarding freedom of expression within the context of international law. (250 words)

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