Countering religious hatred is critical to restore COVID-worn democracy and security, says OSCE human rights head

WARSAW, 20 August 2021 – Governments need to work harder to protect victims of religious hate crimes, and consistently condemn and prosecute all bias-motivated crimes, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said ahead of the third anniversary of the United Nations International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion.

“Covid-19 has caused untold suffering throughout our societies, but we have been seeing intolerance and hatred increasing specifically against people belonging to religious or belief groups since the outbreak of the pandemic,” said ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci. “Not only does this have a hugely negative impact on individuals and communities, but it also erodes democracy, respect for human rights, and security more broadly. More education and awareness-raising are needed to increase understanding of the right to religious freedom and to counter discrimination and hatred.”

The level of government restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic has varied across the OSCE region, with some communities able to take part in more of their regular activities and others facing direct or indirect discrimination as a result of the measures. Beyond access to places of worship or home gatherings, restrictions to counter the spread of the pandemic have made it more difficult for many communities to mark important stages of life, religious holidays, and in this difficult time, also death.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, many religious communities have found themselves scapegoated and blamed for spreading the virus. These accusations are the new faces of old narratives, compounding long-standing biases that have given rise to increasing levels of online hate speech as well as physical hate crimes. The targeting of individuals based on clothing associated with a specific religion or belief or attendance of religious community meetings has left many wary of displaying their religious or belief identity for fear of attack.

Throughout the pandemic, ODIHR has continued to support countries across the OSCE in their efforts to counter hate crimes that target specific religious or belief communities, examining some of the greatest challenges in its publication OSCE Human Dimension Commitments and State Responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic. As a fundamental human right, freedom of religion or belief encompasses the right of each individual to have, adopt, change or leave a religion or belief. At its core is the understanding that diversity of opinion exists in every society, and that respecting our differences is the only way for us to live together peacefully.

Source: OSCE