The burning of a Koran in Sweden prompts the approval of a controversial resolution at the UN | International

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The United Nations Human Rights Council approved this Wednesday, thanks to the votes of member countries with a Muslim majority, a controversial resolution condemning religious hatred motivated by the burning of a Koran in Sweden at the end of June. This act has caused a wave of rejection in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Indonesia or Saudi Arabia and once again underlined the differences on the concept of freedom of expression between the Muslim-majority states and the West. The desire of some Islamic countries for acts such as the burning of their holy book to be legally punishable makes the United States and the EU uncomfortable, which led the opposition to the motion. Both Washington and Brussels believe that some governments in Islamic countries want the West to reinstate abolished blasphemy laws, which remain in force in Muslim states.

On June 28, an Iraqi immigrant, supposedly of Christian confession, burned a Koran in front of a mosque in Stockholm on the same day that Eid al Adha or Feast of Sacrifice, one of the most important Muslim religious festivities, was celebrated. For Muslim-majority states, this protest action is the responsibility of the Swedish state, since the country's police had authorized the protest action on the basis of freedom of expression.

Since that day, government protests and demonstrations against Sweden have swept Muslim countries. While riots have broken out over the burning of the Koran in Arab countries such as Iraq, others, such as Morocco, have adopted a firm diplomatic response without the protest taking to the streets. Since June 29, coinciding with Eid el Adha, the Government of Rabat has kept its ambassador in Stockholm withdrawn "indefinitely", who was called for consultations following the "high instructions" of King Mohamed VI, reports from Rabat Juan Carlos Sanz.

The assimilation between the act of the Iraqi immigrant in Sweden and the Swedish State by the inhabitants and the authorities of various Muslim countries also led the Taliban government in Afghanistan on Tuesday to prohibit in a statement all "Swedish activities in Afghanistan". . Sweden closed its embassy in Kabul after the fundamentalist takeover on August 15, 2021, and the only “Swedish” activities in Afghanistan are the humanitarian assistance programs of Swedish NGOs. One of them, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA), specified that same day that it was not "a government entity." Then he assured that he was trying to find out if the veto affected his projects. In 2022, the health centers of this organization offered medical care to 2.5 million Afghans.

Pakistan, one of the Muslim states that is a member of the UN Human Rights Council - membership rotates and lasts for three years - was in charge of presenting the text of the resolution on behalf of the 57 States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The motion was approved with the votes in favor of 28 of the 47 members and seven abstentions. Of the 12 States that voted against, only one, Costa Rica, is included in the so-called "Global South" (Latin America, Africa and Asia). The rest are the United States and 10 European countries; nine members of the EU and the remainder, Montenegro, a candidate for accession. The approval of the resolution was taken for granted, given that, of the 47 current members of the human rights body, 19 are part of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

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Review the legislation

The text approved this Wednesday denounces the burning of the Koran as an act "offensive, disrespectful and a clear act of provocation" and its objective is for the Human Rights Council to prepare a report and ask States to review their legislation to allow "the persecution of acts and the apology of religious hatred”. "We must see this clearly for what it is: incitement to religious hatred, discrimination and attempts to provoke violence," Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto told a council session on Tuesday. His statements were seconded by ministers from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. "Stop abusing freedom of expression," added Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

Ambassadors of European countries in the UN body condemned the burning of the Koran, but showed their opposition to the text. Germany's representative, Katharina Stasch, called the destruction of the holy book "appalling provocation" and censured it, before clarifying that "freedom of expression sometimes also means enduring opinions that can seem almost unbearable." The French ambassador pointed out that human rights consist in protecting people, not religions and their symbols. In this way, she was responding to the argument defended in the motion for a resolution, which argued that setting fire to a Koran violates those rights. "We do not like the text," settled a Western diplomat in statements to Reuters.

Also at Tuesday's debate, UN human rights chief Volker Türk told the council that acts against Muslims, as well as against other religions or minorities, are "offensive, irresponsible and wrong." However, in his call to respect "everyone else", Türk included "immigrants and LGBTQI people", two groups whose human rights are repeatedly violated in Muslim-majority countries, as various humanitarian organizations have been denouncing for years. .

The burning of the Koran in Stockholm has not only given rise to the controversial resolution in the United Nations. It has also had geopolitical implications outside the human rights body. After the incident, analysts speculated on how such an act could undermine Swedish efforts to overcome Turkey's veto on NATO membership, which Ankara finally promised to withdraw on the eve of the Alliance summit in the Lithuanian capital. Vilnius. In early July, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared in a video with a Koran in his hands, highlighting how Russian law considers acts of desecration of religious symbols “a crime”, unlike in Western countries.

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