THE BLOG

The Global Cooperation Needed To Fight Hate Crime Is Under Threat

07/02/2017 13:37 GMT | Updated 07/02/2017 13:37 GMT

Last week's massacre of Muslim worshippers in a mosque in Quebec, Canada, is the latest in a long line of increasingly deadly anti-Muslim hate crimes. The most recent FBI crime statistics recorded a 67% annual jump in anti-Muslim hate crimes. Europe, too witnessed a surge in anti-Muslim hate crime in recent years.

But hate crimes against religious minorities do not just affect Muslims in the west. They span the persecution of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria and what Amnesty International describe as "crimes against humanity" against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Anti-religious hate and discrimination has gone global. Which means it can only fully be tackled through global cooperation.

A welcome example of that cooperation came in the dying days of the Obama Administration when the United States, Canada, the EU and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the second largest inter-governmental body after the U.N, convened a joint forum to tackle the global rise in anti-Muslim discrimination.

Unfortunately, it now represents a type of multilateral cooperation that could become increasingly rarer with the recent rise in populism and uncompromising nationalism, as reflected by President Trumps' Executive Order against Muslim countries, more commonly known as Trump's 'Muslim ban'.

What is particularly concerning is how this emerging tension between nationalism and multilateralism could potentially undermine years of efforts by the international community to protect religious and racial groups. Efforts, for example, like U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, a multilateral feat designed to combat religious hatred, discrimination and violence in accordance with international human rights law. Itself a product of international cooperation between Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the EU and the United States, the resolution was hailed by then US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton and key human rights organizations as a "landmark achievement", providing a comprehensive action plan to combat incitement to religious discrimination at different levels through the prism of international human rights law.

Despite the subsequent slow progress in implementation, there was something of a breakthrough at the last of a series of meetings in 2015, designed to create a roadmap for implementation (called the 'Istanbul Process' meetings).

There, governmental, inter-governmental and global civil society representatives agreed that full implementation of the resolution at all levels is the best way to address escalating religious intolerance and emphasized the need for stronger political commitment in its implementation.

The meeting also reiterated the need to define hate speech in a way that conforms to high anti-censorship standards. While recalling the importance of preserving and promoting freedom of expression, participants also emphasized the need to protect all victims of religious discrimination and violence on an equal footing.

However, despite the progress made at that meeting, the events of previous weeks demonstrate that since then, the world has changed immeasurably.

Today, instead of doubling down on this spirit of international cooperation, we are witnessing a global political shift in the opposite direction.

Brexit, the rise of Europe's right-wing insurgent parties, triumph of an extreme right wing nationalist party in India with a known prejudice towards minorities and the victory of President Trump and his 'anti-Muslim ban' all indicate a shift towards a more insular narrow focus on the nation-state and a lack of confidence in international frameworks and the multilateralism that underpins them.

Which is ironic given many of the justifications used by those railing against minorities, like uncontrolled refugee movement and terrorism, require multilateralism to be solved. Closing borders cannot solve the realities of the refugee, economic or security crises. Terrorism cannot be addressed unilaterally. These are global problems requiring global solutions. Responding to them by closing borders and shunning refugees never helps in the long-run - it only feeds the divisive "us versus them" narrative that emboldens extremism.

While all of this is far from meaning efforts like the Istanbul Process may come to a halt, it is a worrying trend at a time when multilateral cooperation is needed more than ever; not least because what happens in one corner of the world can increasingly reverberate and influence developments in another.

For the sake of religious minorities everywhere, for multiculturalism and shared peace and prosperity, let's hope that's a message today's governments take heed of - before it's too late.