PRESS RELEASE

GENEVA, Nov. 30 — A Geneva-based human rights monitoring group said that Switzerland’s new prohibition against minarets constitutes a breach of the country’s commitment under international human rights treaties to respect equality and freedom of religion. “Singling out Muslims for differential and discriminatory treatment is bigotry, plain and simple, and may irreparably harm Switzerland’s historic reputation as a haven of religious liberty and tolerance,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

“The Swiss ban will almost certainly undermine efforts by the U.S., the EU and other democracies to counter the successful campaign at the United Nations, led by countries like Pakistan, Algeria and Egypt, to prohibit any criticism of Islam as a form of ‘defamation’ and ‘racism’,” said Neuer. The General Assembly is soon to vote on a “defamation of religion” resolution, while in Geneva an Algerian-led committee is seeking to amend the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“At a time when Saudi Arabia is being asked to finally end its ban on churches — where some 1.5 million Christians, many of them Filipino workers, are not allowed to worship publicly — Switzerland’s act of xenophobia marks a setback for the credibility of all international voices calling for tolerance.”

“The appropriate response, however, must come in the form of legal challenges and other peaceful efforts. Political and religious leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere must act responsibly to prevent extremists from resorting to the kind of inexcusable violence we saw after the 2005 publication of Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.”

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