It is too simple to reduce religious motives to mere pretexts for violence – New report

GENEVA (10 March 2012) – Violence committed in the name of religion does not simply ‘erupt’, but is typically caused by contemporary factors and actors that provide the fertile ground for the seeds of hatred, United Nations human rights expert Heiner Bielefeldt said today during the presentation of his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council.

“That kind of violence typically originates from geographic, historical, political, social, economic circumstances as well as communal, local, regional and international ones,” Mr. Bielefeldt noted.

In his study on preventing violence committed in the name of religion, the human rights expert warns that “while it would be wrong to focus on religion in isolation when analysing the problem, it would be equally simplistic to reduce religious motives to mere ‘excuses’ for violent crimes perpetrated in their name.”

In his view, an all-inclusive understanding of the various factors involved in violence committed in the name of religion is needed. “Above all, it is important to overcome fatalistic attitude,” he stressed.

Typical factors, Mr. Bielefeldt notes in his report, are the lack of trust in the rule of law and fair functioning of public institutions; narrow-minded and polarizing interpretations of religious traditions that may bring about societal fragmentation processes with far-reaching negative repercussions on social relations.

He also draws attention to “policies of deliberate exclusion, often in conjunction with narrowly defined national identity politics and other factors; denial and impunity for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

“Violence committed in the name of religion disproportionately targets religious dissidents, members of religious minorities or converts,” the expert highlighted. “People suspected of undermining national cohesion are also frequent targets of intolerant violence.”

“Attacks will also likely increase where there is a recognized ‘official’ or State religion or when a religion is used as a medium to define national identity,” the Special Rapporteur warned.

Mr. Bielefeldt highlighted that violence against women and against LGBT persons is often justified and given legitimacy by discriminatory laws based on religious laws or supported by religious authorities, such as laws criminalizing adultery, homosexuality or cross-dressing.

“Only a full account of the various root causes of the problems can build an awareness of the joint responsibility, which a broad range of actors have in fighting violence committed in the name of religion,” he stated.

The Special Rapporteur also recommended concerted actions of all relevant stakeholders – States, religious communities, interreligious dialogue initiatives, civil society organizations, media representatives, etc. – in order to contain and eliminate eventually the scourge of violence committed in the name of religion.