Top UN Human Rights Official Calls Minaret Ban Discriminatory

The U.N. High Commissioner believes this action risks putting Switzerland on a collision course with its international human-rights obligations



U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is condemning the Swiss law banning minarets as clearly discriminatory.  The U.N. official calls the ban deeply divisive and worrisome. 

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, says she regrets Switzerland's ban on building minarets and calls the move a thoroughly unfortunate step for Switzerland. 

Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, says the high commissioner believes this action risks putting the country on a collision course with its international human-rights obligations.  

"The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said she hesitates to condemn a democratic vote," Colville said. "But, she has no hesitation at all in condemning the anti-foreigner scare mongering which has characterized political campaigns in a number of countries including Switzerland, which helps produce results like this."  

A referendum to ban the construction of new minarets in Switzerland was passed by 57.5 percent of the Swiss population.  The result of Sunday's vote has caused an outcry from Muslim countries.

The Swiss government opposed the initiative.  Nevertheless, some politicians are defending the action by claiming the motion was not targeting Islam or Muslims.  Others claim banning minarets would actually improve integration. 

Colville says the High Commissioner regards these claims as extraordinary.

"Politics based on xenophobia or intolerance is extremely disquieting, wherever it occurs," Colville said. "Sometimes it is channeled against adherents of a particular religion, as in this case.  Sometimes it is channeled against people of different racial or ethnic origin.  It is corrosive, and beyond a certain point becomes socially disruptive and even dangerous."  

Pillay said blatantly xenophobic posters used in several recent political campaigns targeting asylum-seekers, migrants or foreigners in general are an extremely worrying trend.

The referendum does not affect Switzerland's four existing minarets, nor does it impede the ability of Muslims to practice their religion. 

But the Swiss government acknowledges its concern as to how the ban will affect the country's image and about its possible economic repercussions.  The government fears wealthy Arab tourists might decide not to come to Switzerland, and it agrees its role as a neutral mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be compromised.

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