Motion at the UN Human Rights Council urges action over Quran burning incidents in Sweden, which Pakistan says incited ‘religious hatred’.
Muslim nations including Iran and Pakistan say the desecration of the holy Quran amounts to an incitement of violence and called for accountability after a series of stunts in Sweden caused a backlash around the world.
A motion filed at the United Nations human rights body on Tuesday was in response to the latest incident last month, and calls on countries to review their laws and plug gaps that may “impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred”.
The debate highlighted rifts in the UN Human Rights Council between the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Western members concerned about the motion’s implications for free speech and challenges posed to long-held practices in rights protection.
An Iraqi immigrant to Sweden ripped, burned, and stomped on the Quran outside a Stockholm mosque last month during the Eid al-Adha holiday, sparking outrage across the Muslim world and angry protests in several Pakistani cities.
“We must see this clearly for what it is: incitement to religious hatred, discrimination and attempts to provoke violence,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told the Geneva-based council via video, saying such acts occurred under “government sanction and with the sense of impunity”.
— Spokesperson 🇵🇰 MoFA (@ForeignOfficePk) July 11, 2023
‘Irresponsible and wrong’
Bhutto Zardari’s remarks were echoed by comments from ministers from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia, with the latter calling the Quran burning an act of “Islamophobia”.
“Stop abusing freedom of expression,” said Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. “Silence means complicity.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian urged Sweden and European nations to take “urgent and effective measures” against such incidents.
Some Western nations condemned the stunts, but also defended “free speech”.
Germany’s UN Ambassador Katharina Stasch called the acts in Sweden a “dreadful provocation”, but added “freedom of speech sometimes also means to bear opinions that may seem almost unbearable”.
France’s envoy said human rights were about protecting people, not religions and their symbols.
UN Human Rights Chief Volker Turk told the council that inflammatory acts against Muslims, as well as other religions or minorities, are “offensive, irresponsible and wrong”.
The @UN Human Rights Council is holding an URGENT DEBATE to “discuss the alarming rise in premeditated & public acts of religious hatred as manifested by recurrent desecration of the Holy Quran in some European & other countries” https://t.co/Rp5jDsAkcg
— United Nations Human Rights Council 📍 #HRC53 (@UN_HRC) July 11, 2023
Taliban targets ‘Sweden’
The Taliban administration said in a statement it halted all activities by Sweden in Afghanistan “after the insulting of the holy Quran and granting of permission for insulting of Muslim beliefs”.
It did not provide details on which organisations would be affected by its ban. Sweden no longer has an embassy in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over in 2021.
The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) aid organisation said it was seeking clarification with authorities.
“SCA is not a Swedish government entity. SCA is independent and impartial in relation to all political stakeholders and states, and strongly condemns all desecration of the holy Quran,” the NGO said in a statement.
“For over 40 years SCA has been working in close collaboration with the rural population and in deep respect of both Islam and local traditions in Afghanistan.”
Thousands of Afghan staff work for the organisation throughout the country in health, education and rural development. SCA treated 2.5 million patients in its health clinics last year.
SCA strongly condemns all acts of desecration of the Holy Quran and seeks clarity on the July 11 directive from the DFA on Sweden’s activities in Afghanistan. SCA is not a government entity. Full statement here: https://t.co/J3XoOa3txd
— Svenska Afghanistankommittén SAK/SCA (@SAK_Sweden) July 11, 2023