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UN Human Rights Council condemns burning of the Koran

Volker Turk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights   -  
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The UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday adopted a resolution condemning Koran burning and other acts of religious hatred, although several countries warned that the text encroaches on freedom of expression.

The resolution was adopted following an urgent debate requested by Pakistan on behalf of several Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries in the wake of the burning of a Koran in Sweden.

It was approved by 28 of the Council's 47 members, including China, Ukraine and most African countries. Seven members abstained and twelve voted against, including France, Germany, the UK, the USA and Costa Rica.

The text includes a condemnation of "all advocacy and manifestations of religious hatred, including recent public and premeditated acts that have desecrated the Koran" and a call for countries to adopt laws enabling them to bring to justice those responsible for such acts.

The UN is asked to identify countries without such legislation, and to organize a round table of experts to examine the issue.

Pakistan's ambassador, Khalil Hashmi, described the text as balanced, without pointing the finger at any state.

"Islamophobia is on the rise. Incidents involving the desecration of the Koran occur again and again in some countries", said Chinese ambassador Chen Xu, lending his support to the resolution.

"We regret having to vote against this unbalanced text, but it contradicts positions we have long held on freedom of expression", said US ambassador Michèle Taylor.

A number of Latin American countries abstained, including Mexico and Honduras, believing - as did Western countries - that more time was needed to negotiate and reach a consensus.

Mexico asserted on Thursday before the vote that "any expression critical of religions does not in itself constitute incitement to violence and discrimination".

On June 28, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden burned a few pages of a copy of the Koran in front of Stockholm's largest mosque, during the Eid al-Adha holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world.

Swedish police had authorized the gathering, during which pages of the Koran were burned, but subsequently opened an investigation for "agitation against an ethnic group", on the grounds that the self-da-fé took place in front of a mosque.

The incident triggered a series of reactions throughout the Muslim world.

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