UN, EU criticize Swiss minaret vote as negative sign

GENEVA, Nov. 30 (Saba) – The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief at the Office of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) Asma Jahangir voiced shock on Monday at the outcome of the vote on the initiative to prohibit the construction of minarets in Switzerland, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported on Monday.

"I have deep concerns at the negative consequences that the outcome of the vote will have on the freedom of religion or belief of members of the Muslim community in Switzerland. "Indeed, a ban on minarets amounts to an undue restriction of the freedom to manifest one’s religion and constitutes a clear discrimination against the Muslim community in Switzerland," said Jahangir.

As also stated by OHCHR’s Human Rights Committee a month ago, such a ban runs counter to Switzerland’s obligations under international human rights law, she added.

"This vote reminds us that no societies are immune to religious intolerance. It is therefore necessary more than ever to continue raising awareness and educating people about religious diversity, and enabling all societies to adopt an enlightened and progressive attitude towards the beliefs of other communities," said Jahangir.

Jahangir stressed that doing so will help to eliminate the grounds for irrational fears towards Muslims.
Unfortunately, these fears have been largely exploited in Switzerland for political purposes, she noted.
The Special Rapporteur emphasized that Switzerland, which has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, must protect and ensure respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

"I therefore urge the Swiss authorities to abide by all their international obligations and to take the necessary measures to fully protect the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of the Muslim community," she concluded.

The current Swedish EU Presidency criticized here Monday the referendum held in Switzerland yesterday to ban minarets from mosques in the country.

"The result of the vote is a negative sign. The freedom of religion is a basic freedom no matter what belief you belong to," Tobias Billstrom Swedish minister of migration and visa policy told a press conference here after a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers.

"We are also running a certain risk because you might be building on the different contradictions of views that we have today and that is not what we are aiming for today in Europe," he said.
Billstrom said he personally believes that it is always better that decisions on architecture etc, should be taken by official bodies and institutions instead of taking a vote on it.
The outcome of Sunday’s referendum, sponsored by the anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party was backed by almost 58 percent of voters.

On his part, EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot told the joint press conference that the EU’s executive body does not have to take a position on the issue as Switzerland is not a member of the EU.
"We are talking about a democratic process which led to the taking of this decision," he said.
Barrot said the Swiss minister of Justice Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf who is in Brussels today fully explained that the federal Swiss government is not in favour of the result of this vote and which will not prevent Muslim citizens from having places of prayers and mosques.
The question only concerns minarets here, noted Barrot.

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