Vatican diplomat criticizes ‘divisive’ UN Human Rights Council report on Islamophobia

Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič | Водник/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

A United Nations Human Rights Council report on Islamophobia risks “polarizing the international community,” according to a Vatican diplomat.

Addressing the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, March 4, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič said that the report could prove to be “divisive” because it focused on one religious group to the exclusion of others.

The report, entitled “Countering Islamophobia/Anti-Muslim Hatred to Eliminate Discrimination and Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief,” was presented to the council by Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Jurkovič, the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the UN in Geneva, expressed dismay at “the narrow scope of the report.”

“The Holy See cannot but lament that the report does not adequately consider the overall context of persecution of all people of faith (or of no faith),” he said.

While the Vatican condemned “all acts of religious hatred, discrimination and persecution ... including against Muslims,” the archbishop said that highlighting just one group appeared to mark “a substantial change” in approach.

“Such a change, rather than reducing the negative-profiling and stigmatization of such groups, presents a real risk of being divisive, of facilitating a ‘we’ vs. ‘them’ mentality, abundantly documented in the report,” he said.

“Indeed, any legislation or practice that would single out a specific group based, at least in part, on religious criteria, represents a subtle form of discrimination, regardless of the intended effects or the real outcome of such laws or practices.”

The report made a series of recommendations “to address and mitigate the impacts of Islamophobia.” They included the adoption of “media guidelines for reporting on Muslims and Islam” and opposition to “essentializing narratives about Muslims and Islam” in civil society, “including faith-based actors.”

Jurkovič gave the address the day before Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq, where he met with the country’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The Human Rights Council is a UN body established in 2006 to promote fundamental rights around the world. It is composed of 47 members, elected for three-year terms. Current members include China, Cuba, Libya, and Russia.

The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the council in 2018. But the Biden administration announced on Feb. 8 that the U.S. would re-engage with the council as an observer, while describing it as “a flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel.”

In a footnote to his addresss, the 68-year-old Slovenian archbishop argued that a 2007 Human Rights Council resolution outlining the special rapporteur’s mandate only made one reference to Islamophobia, which it set alongside anti-Semitism and Christianophobia.

“It is clear from this context that the focus is on the elimination of instances of intolerance and violence against religious groups as a whole, and that individually combatting Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia or discrimination against any other specific group, is not considered in the special rapporteur’s mandate,” he said in the footnote.

Jurkovič concluded: “It is deeply concerning, therefore, that the present report, which should defend the fundamental and universal human right of freedom of religion or belief, has been focused on a single religious group to the exclusion of others with the risk of polarizing the international community and creating more conflict that may further endanger the rights this Council should promote and protect.”

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