The United Nations Alliance of Civilisation (UNAOC) High Representative Miguel Ángel Moratinos is following with deep concern the growing tensions and instances of intolerance triggered by the publication of satirical caricatures depicting the Prophet Mohamed, which Muslims consider insulting and deeply offensive, calling for mutual respect, read a UNAOC statement on Wednesday.
“The inflammatory caricatures have also provoked acts of violence against innocent civilians who were attacked for their sheer religion, belief or ethnicity.”
Moratinos stressed that insulting religions and sacred religious symbols provoke hatred and violent extremism, leading to polarisation and the fragmentation of the society.
Moratinos called for "mutual respect of all religions and beliefs and fostering a culture of fraternity and peace.”
"The freedom of religion or belief and the freedom of expression are interdependent, interrelated and mutually re-enforcing rights rooted in articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," the statement added.
The UNAOC said that upholding and protecting these fundamental rights is the primary responsibility of member states.
“At the same time, freedom of expression should be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions.”
Moratinos added that that acts of violence cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group.
“At the same time, violence can and should never be justifiable or acceptable response to acts of intolerance on the basis of religion or belief.
“The high representative strongly encourages interfaith and intercultural dialogue and the debate of ideas at the local, national and international levels which can be a powerful tool against religious intolerance, prejudices and stereotyping,” the statement added.
Moratinos referred to the UN Plan of Action and Strategy on Hate Speech which provides guidance on fighting hate speech, racism and discrimination.
He stressed that addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech but it means keeping hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, which are prohibited under international law.
Moratinos also recalled the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites that is anchored in a set of principles, including mutual respect for all peoples, regardless of their faith, culture of history, responsibility to build bridges of mutual understanding and cooperation, and diversity to accept and respect the differences among human beings.
He noted that all major world religions espouse tolerance and peaceful coexistence in a spirit of shared humanity.
Moratinos emphasised that the public should reject and stand up against those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to score political gains, create misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred.
He reiterated UNAOC's readiness to support efforts that promote continued dialogue and foster mutual respect and understanding.
UNAOC was created 15 years ago to serve as a soft power tool for conflict prevention through the promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue and building bridges of understanding between different cultures and religions.
Moratinos' comments come amid a worldwide Muslim uproar and condemnation of comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on Islam as well as calls to boycott French products after Macron defended Charlie Hebdo's cartoons deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohamed.
They also come after a Muslim student beheaded earlier this month a French teacher for conducting a classroom discussion on the cartoons, an act which was strongly condemned by Egypt, Al-Azhar, the world's leading Sunni institution, and Muslims worldwide.
Al-Azhar has also condemned the French president's charges that Islam encourages "separatism and isolationism".
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called on Wednesday for the world to respect the beliefs of 1.5 billion Muslims, while stressing his categorical rejection of all forms of violence and extremism from any group.