GENEVA: Attacks on religious minorities in places like Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan should serve as a wake-up call to authorities everywhere to combat rising fanaticism, the top UN human rights official said on Friday.
All countries have a moral and legal duty to protect freedom of religion by quashing sectarian violence and rooting out discriminatory laws that can lead to full-fledged conflict, said Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Attacks on churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other religious sites around the world, as well as targeted attacks against individuals, should act as a wake-up call to all of us,” Pillay said in a statement.
Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Ahmadis have been targeted in the past year, according to Pillay, a former war crimes judge. She specifically condemned attacks in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and Pakistan. She did not single out particular faiths for blame, but the examples she cited were mostly of Muslim countries where Christian minorities or rival Muslim sects have been targeted.
“I am concerned that divisive or weak state laws and policies in many countries foster the religious discrimination that feeds extremism. It is also vital that authorities discourage the exploitation of religions for political agendas.”
In the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, a New Year’s Day bombing killed up to 23 Christian worshippers leaving a Coptic church, raising fears of further attacks. Officials suspect an al Qaeda-inspired bomber. Militant websites have carried threats against Egyptian Christians before and since that attack, which followed a deadly siege of a church in Baghdad in October by al Qaeda-linked militants who said they would also target Christians in Egypt.
In Nigeria, police last week arrested 92 suspected members of the Boko Haram radical Islamic sect, which wants strict Islamic law imposed throughout the country. The group has claimed responsibility for Christmas Eve church bombings and other attacks in the central city of Jos and the northern city of Maiduguri that killed around 100 people and led to violence between Muslims and Christians.
Religious minorities in Pakistan have also been subjected to an increasing number of attacks, Pillay said. In Malaysia, attacks on churches led to retaliation attacks on a mosque and several Muslim prayer rooms in January 2010.