UN rights chief sees warnings in religion attacks

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UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Friday condemned recent attacks on religious groups around the world, warning that they served as a "wake up call" to tackle discrimination and intolerance.

In a statement a week after 21 people died in a bomb attack outside a Coptic church in Egypt, Pillay said states should act to promote religious tolerance and reduce such attacks in the long term.

"Recent deadly attacks on religious groups in various countries have been carried out by extremist groups and it is clear that this rise in fanaticism poses particular difficulties for states," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

"Attacks on churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other religious sites around the world, as well as targeted attacks against individuals, should act as a wake-up call to all of us," she added.

Pillay praised widespread condemnation by Egyptian religious and political leaders of the New Year's day bomb attack in Alexandria as well as the "strong reaction of many ordinary Egyptian Muslims" to support Christian congregations.

But she also highlighted repeated sectarian bloodshed involving Christians and Muslims in Nigeria in 2010, despite concerted efforts by religious leaders on both sides, as well attacks on Shi'a, Christian and Ahmadi minorities in Pakistan, and religious-inspired violence in Iraq and Indonesia.

"This is not a challenge limited to one region or religion," Pillay said.

"All States have not only a moral, but also a legal obligation to ensure they are protected.

"The recent attacks are a tragic reminder that protection of minority rights is not only a human rights imperative but also a key element in preventing conflict, before it gets out of hand," she added.

The UN human rights chief said countries must ensure that their educational and legal systems and policies "promote tolerance of different beliefs" and punish hate speech.

© 2011 AFP

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