Islamphobia and Human Rights
Shaza Zafer Al Jundi, PhD
Islamophobia, whether in the shape of intolerance and discrimination, or whether in the form of violence, is a violation of human rights and is a threat to social and political cohesion. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDR) states that: ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.’ Also, Article 1 of the UDHR states that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. Articles 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights oblige States to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of human rights. Importantly, Article 26 of ICCPR creates a right to equality, guaranteeing all persons equality before the law and equal protection of the law.
Specifically with regards to discrimination based on religion, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 35 calls on ‘all States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life. It also adds that they ‘shall make all efforts to enact or rescind legislation where necessary to prohibit any such discrimination, and to take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion or other beliefs in this matter.
The General Assembly adopted a Resolution 55/97 on Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance in 4 December 2000, calls that discrimination against human beings on the grounds of religion or belief constitutes an affront to human dignity and a disavowal of the principles of the Charter, and urges States, in conformity with international standards of human rights, to take all necessary action to prevent such instances, to take all appropriate measures to combat hatred, intolerance and acts of violence, intimidation and coercion motivated by religious intolerance and to encourage, through the educational system and by other means, understanding, tolerance and respect in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief.
The 60th Session of the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution 60/150 on Combating defamation of religions, which called for the urgent need to respect beliefs and disallow their defamation. This resolution reflects the international community’s views and willingness to eliminate any discrimination against Muslims or defamation of Islam. Most importantly, because of the tight link between defamation of religions and its prejudice to individual Muslims and communities, it was necessary to deal with this particular issue as a rising human rights issue.
The United Nations, European Union, Human Rights Firsts have reported that Islamphobia was increasing and that there is a need for actions to prevent violation of human rights caused by discrimination, prejudices and unqual treatment of which Muslims are victims:
The former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan stated in the conference on Confronting Islamophobia in 2004 " Islamophobia is a deeply personal issue for Muslims, a matter of great importance to anyone concerned about upholding universal values, and a question with implications for international harmony and peace. We should not underestimate the resentment and sense of injustice felt by members of one of the world’s great religions”.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance, Mr. Doudou Diène, in his report to the 6th Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia on the enjoyment of all rights has documented the dangers of the issue in clear terms. He defined Islamophobia "as a baseless hostility and fear vis-à-vis Islam, and as a result a fear of and aversion towards all Muslims or the majority of them. It also refers to the practical consequences of this hostility in terms of discrimination, prejudices and unequal treatment of which Muslims (individuals and communities) are victims and their exclusion from major political and social spheres. The term was invented in response to a new reality: the increasing discrimination against Muslims which has manifested itself in recent years.
The EUMC Report 2006 entitled "Muslims in the European Union -Discrimination and Islamophobia" made clear mention of the "disadvantaged position of Muslim minorities, evidence of a rise in Islamophobia" and that the "concern over processes of alienation and radicalisation have triggered an intense debate in the European Union regarding the need for re-examining community cohesion and integration policies." The EU has 15 million Muslims, the second largest religious group in the bloc. Available data shows that European Muslims are often disproportionately represented in areas with poorer housing conditions, while their educational achievement falls below average and their unemployment rates are higher than average.
The Washington based Human Rights First 2007 Report on Islamophobia documented authentic sources which substantiates that Islamophobia is on the rise in most of the Western societies. In its introduction, the report stated anti immigrant and anti Muslim rhetoric by extremist political figures in Europe has contributed to the rise in anti-Muslim discrimination and violence across Europe. Along with this, national security concerns and economic uncertainty has created a political climate in which the Muslims are the object of fear and exclusion.