Despite vehement opposition from the European Union and other western nations as well as India, the UN General Assembly on Wednesday adopted a Pakistan-Philippines sponsored resolution on promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue that underscored the need for respecting sacred religious symbols.
The resolution received a majority of 90 votes, none against, with 52 abstentions.
This year, the sponsors amended the resolution to reflect new trends, such as the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the rise in religious intolerance, xenophobia, hate speech and the upsurge in denigration of religious symbols.
Facing strong opposition from the powerful western bloc mainly based on freedom of expression, the Pakistan Mission worked hard to rally the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other developing countries to garner support for inclusion of new elements in the resolution.
The only notable exception from the developing world was India that joined the western countries in abstaining on the resolution.
Introducing the draft, Pakistan’s Ambassador Munir Akram referred to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s repeated calls to the international community and the United Nations to counter Islamophobia and promote respect for religious sensitivities.
In his address to the 75th session of the General Assembly, the prime minister had highlighted the incidents of Islamophobia and other provocations. He also called on the United Nations to declare an “International Day to Combat Islamophobia”.
Ambassador Akram also emphasised on the deliberate “vilification and negative stereotyping of adherents of one of the largest religions in the world - Islam - only perpetuates dangerous self-fulfilling prophecies such as the ‘clash of civilisations’, and must be addressed on an urgent basis".
Diplomatic sources told the APP that throughout the negotiations, the EU and other western countries opposed the inclusion of any language on the significance and respect for religious symbols. The EU also tried to block insertions of the clearly established and internationally recognised limitations on the exercise of freedom of expression.
After some intensive lobbying, the resolution acknowledges — for the first time — the significance and respect for religious symbols.
In this regard, it also stressed that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities, and must therefore be subjected to legitimate restrictions.
The resolution further appreciates the recent “Call for Mutual Respect” issued by the High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations which stresses that insulting religions and sacred religious symbols provokes hatred and violent extremism leading to polarisation and fragmentation of society.
While reaffirming that violence can and should never be justifiable or acceptable response to acts of intolerance, the resolution underscores “that such violence should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group.
Meanwhile, India also tried to unsuccessfully mobilise support for the deletion of reference to opening of the Kartarpur Corridor by Pakistan, and welcomed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initiative.
The prime minister performed the opening ceremony of the corridor on November 9, 2018 before a huge gathering of pilgrims from across the world, marking the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder, Guru Nanak Dev.
The adoption of Wednesday’s resolution by the General Assembly is part of the concerted efforts led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, calling for universal prohibition on willful provocation and incitement to violence, according to the diplomatic sources.
It is also part of Pakistan’s diplomatic campaign to raise awareness about rising Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hatred, as well as defamation of sacred religious personalities and symbols.
Under other terms of the resolution, the assembly reaffirmed the solemn commitment of all states to fulfil their obligations to promote universal respect for and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, in accordance with the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The resolution condemned any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence or discrimination; and underlines the importance of inter-relgious and intercultural dialogue as a valuable tool for promoting social cohesion, and peace and development in the world.
The assembly encouraged member states to consider, as and where appropriate, initiatives that identify areas for practical action in all sectors and levels of society for the promotion of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue, tolerance, understanding and cooperation.
States were invited to promote reconciliation to help ensure durable peace and sustained development, including through reconciliatory measures and acts of service.
Also, under the text, the assembly stressed the important role of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the invaluable contributions of the United National Alliance of Civilizations in promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue at all levels.