Minister Cowen on Ireland's Resolution at UNGA on Elimination of all forms of Religious Intolerance
For nearly 20 years, Ireland has proposed and been the principal sponsor, at both the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on Human Rights, of a resolution on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance. Ireland took on this role because the UN Declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance based on religion or belief was adopted at a time when Ireland held the post of Chair of the Third Committee (Humanitarian and Social Affairs) of the General Assembly; Ireland was instrumental in securing the adoption of the Declaration in the face of considerable opposition.
The resolution aims to address all instances of religious intolerance or discrimination based on religion or belief, irrespective of where they occur or who are the victims. Sadly, instances of religious intolerance are widespread. They can be found all over the world. We are not just talking about discrimination against Moslems, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, other world religions, or even non-believers. Frequently, it is a case of discrimination between different branches of the same religion.
Accordingly, we have over the years received numerous requests to include mention of specific forms of religious intolerance or discrimination. Until this year, we and the other co-sponsors had consistently maintained that, while the instances in question were indeed matters of great concern to us, to include specific references to them – and not to other instances of the problem - would detract from the universal scope of the resolution. This position of principle had in general been accepted.
It has therefore been the Government's firm and consistent view that singling out mention of discrimination against particular faiths – be it Judaism, Islam, Christianity, or any other – should be avoided. We do not recognise a hierarchy in the wrongness of religious intolerance, even though we readily acknowledge that at certain moments of history members of particular faiths have been singled out for the most savage and extreme persecution. Nobody should deny that this has all too often been the fate of those who follow the Jewish faith.
The Government's position regarding anti-semitism is clear; we condemn it in all its manifestations, without reservation. The fact that our draft resolution on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance does not make specific mention of discrimination against members of the Jewish faith or any other faith in no way diminishes our abhorrence of anti-semitism. The suggestion by the representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre that the Government's position is tantamount to an act of anti-semitism is misguided, to say the least, and should be withdrawn. The same goes for their wider insinuations regarding Ireland's position in relation to anti-semitism. These statements are not worthy of further comment by me.
The question of anti-Semitism was addressed at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (held in Durban), which called upon States to recognize the need to counter anti-Semitism, and urged all States to take effective measures to prevent the emergence of movements based on racism. Following on from the World Conference, it is generally considered that anti-Semitism is most appropriately dealt with in UN resolutions dealing with racism. Ireland and our EU partners share this view. Accordingly, we are currently supporting a US proposal to include a reference to anti-Semitism in a resolution on the incompatibility between democracy and racism (which addresses, inter alia, the question of neo-Nazism, neo-Fascism and other ideologies based on racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance).
The resolution sponsored by Ireland on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance has for many years been adopted by consensus in the general assembly. It has also succeeded in attracting a large number of States to co-sponsor it. These two elements – consensus and a wide level of co-sponsorship – have been important factors in enabling us secure the adoption of a valuable resolution on the sensitive subject of religious freedom.
However, earlier this year at the Commission on Human Rights, we agreed after objections and with considerable reluctance, to accept a US amendment to our draft resolution inserting specific reference to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Both the amendment and the resolution itself were subsequently forced to a vote and the traditional consensus on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance was lost. In bringing the issue to the General Assembly, the Government has, therefore, decided to stand by its long-held position of resisting the singling out of discrimination against members of particular faiths.
I am of the view that our long-standing policy of approaching the question of religious freedom from a universal perspective is the appropriate one, and one which is widely shared among the member States of the United Nations. If it transpires in the course of the forthcoming debate in the General Assembly that the Assembly would prefer a resolution which does single out discrimination against members of some faiths over discrimination against members of all faiths or none, then we will consider yielding Ireland's traditional position as principal sponsor of this resolution to a member of the UN which is convinced of the correctness of such an approach.