Acts of violence based on individual beliefs and against religious minorities are increasing in the present times. That is why the General Assembly adopted the resolution A/RES/73/296, titled “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief,” strongly condemning continuing violence and acts of terrorism targeting individuals, including persons belonging to religious minorities, based on or in the name of religion or belief.

Any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on religion or belief which has the effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis amounts to religious intolerance and discrimination. This was made clear in the 1981 General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

It is observed that violence in the name of religion worldwide is perpetrated by States and non-state groups, leading to discrimination, persecution, arbitrary arrests or detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, and killings of many people based on their religion or belief. Victims have included religious minorities, individuals who are not religious, LGBTI persons, children, and women who face many forms of discrimination and gender-based violence. Such violence threatens the hard-fought progress in securing women’s equality and the rights of LGBTI persons and has a spillover effect in taking back the progress achieved in various SDG goals like goal 3 (good health and well being), goal 10 (reduced inequalities), and goal 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions). Additionally, when faced with religious persecution or discrimination, victims are often also deprived of their right to participate fully in political, economic, and cultural life and their rights to education and health. This can include the desecration and destruction of numerous cultural heritage sites of rich historical and religious value, such as places of worship and cemeteries. 

As populism has become a trend in the political and social arena, it has fostered many forms of hatred against those who are viewed as foreign or simply different. States and religious institutions often resort to the instrumentalization of religions or beliefs to retain their influence or control and achieve other political agendas. Fundamentalism is rising across the world’s major religious traditions, posing a threat to many human rights. Moreover, critical views of religions or beliefs are sometimes mischaracterized as ‘hate speech’ or labeled an offense to the religious feelings of others both by governments and non-state groups. Too often, this is used as a pretext to silence those with critical voices and punish others for not believing. 

Therefore, the celebration of this day is a reminder to us of the cherished values of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief of everyone around us, and it supports us to look forward in the direction of peace and reconciliation and not of violence and segregation. For more information, please click here.

Shristi Banerjee

Lawyer, Jharkhand High Court (India)

Global Representative (India), Roya Institute of Global Justice