– As delivered –

Remarks by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly

17 March 2021

Excellencies,

Distinguished delegates,

I thank His Excellency, Dr. Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, Secretary-General of the OIC and the Chair of the OIC Group in New York, His Excellency, Ambassador Abdou Abarry, Permanent Representative of Niger for convening this timely event.

As we contend with the global challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic,

leaders around the world and here in the United Nations are championing the principle of solidarity, reiterating the fact that we will only emerge from this crisis if we ‘weather the storm together’.

Yet we are seeing a rise of hate speech, stigma, stereotyping and ‘othering’ at a time when the biggest threat we face – the coronavirus – does not discriminate at all.

Any form of discrimination, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and any discrimination based on religion or belief , is a deeply personal attack, often made worse for minority groups who may not receive protection, support, or empathy in the wake of incidents or attacks.

In a recent report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, noted that Islamophobia has manifested through violent attacks against Muslims across the globe, both in person and online, with the majority of the human rights violations often gaining little media attention.  The Special Rapporteur asserted that Islamophobia is a function of structural discrimination stemming from negative stereotypes, which tends to affect Muslim women more than men.

Furthermore, he found that harmful stereotypes related to Muslims and Islam are reinforced by mainstream media, political leaders, popular culture, the media, and in academic discourse.

Each of us has an individual responsibility to: be vigilant; call out any injustice we witness and defend democracy; and condemn intolerance, incitement, harassment based on ethnic origin or religious belief. Inertia is not an option.

Volkan Bozkir

President of the UN General Assembly

Excellencies,

We must take all measures necessary to combat direct and indirect forms of discrimination and attacks against places of worship, and persons on the basis of their religion or belief.

I call on all Member States to re-commit to the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, and all human rights instruments. I trust that these instruments will become the foundation for national legislation to end hate speech and hate crimes, and will be supported by disaggregated data on hate crimes and discrimination against Muslims.

Today our conversation is focused on Islamophobia, but the source of this scourge is a source that imperils us all.  The answer is solidarity, equality, and respect  for the equal dignity and entitlement to fundamental human rights of every individual.

Keeping people safe from extremism requires a global strategy that includes defeating all forms of violent ideologies.

We therefore need to build resilience to discriminatory, exclusionary, and intolerant teachings; and develop respect for the religious and cultural practices of others.

I also call for tolerance. Tolerance for the people we serve in all of their diversity.

For we can never allow hate to take hold of society.

People are not hard-wired to hate another. Fears are exploited, prejudices are re-enforced, and disinformation perpetuated, until ‘othering’ of minorities becomes accepted.

Each of us has an individual responsibility to: be vigilant; call out any injustice we witness and defend democracy; and condemn intolerance, incitement, harassment based on ethnic origin or religious belief. Inertia is not an option.

Young people are the leaders and upstanders of tomorrow – and it is our duty to teach them that every individual is entitled to equal dignity and inalienable human rights.

Beyond formal education, we must instil within them a moral compass to help them navigate difficult situations. I applaud the work of the UN Alliance of Civilizations for their programming which promotes interfaith and intercultural dialogue for young people. I believe this is critical to the progress of humanity.

Excellencies,

Allow me for a moment to reflect upon the history of the United Nations itself. The UN came into exist at a time of great destruction and distrust between nations, and peoples. Hatred and anti-Semitism fractured an already precarious political landscape.

Yet, in the aftermath of atrocity, world leaders realised that we have more in common than that which divides us, and thus sought to work together to create a more equal, just, and safer world underpinned by fundamental, inalienable, human rights.

We must do everything in our power to protect ‘we the peoples’ who entrusted us to uphold their rights.

I thank you. I wish all the best to the panellists and Ministers who are going to be with us today.