The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“Geneva Centre”) has repeatedly addressed issues related to the rise of xenophobia, extremist violence, racism and discrimination with various partners. In this context, the Geneva Centre organized, in 2016, a series of well-attended conferences on themes related to “Islamophobia and the Implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18: Reaching Out”; “De-radicalization or the Roll-Back of Violent Extremism”, and “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”. Notwithstanding the relevance of the topics and the richness of these discussions, some participants pointed out to the Geneva Centre the necessity of broadening the debate to not only include Muslim minorities in Europe, but also to take into account other religious minorities affected by the current environment of tension and incitement to hatred.
In this regard, the Geneva Centre will organize a side-event on 15 March 2017 in relation to the 34th ordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council on the theme of "Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working jointly towards equal citizenship rights". The objective of this event will be to study the alternatives to identify a common strategy that addresses the issues of religious discrimination, fanaticism and xenophobia, which have worsened in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North America.
The decades of violence in the Middle East and Northern Africa, resulting from the proliferation of international and local conflicts, have strained the social fabric that once held peaceful and prosperous Arab societies together. The resulting power vacuum has provided fertile ground for the emergence of terrorists group advocating a distorted view of Islam in an attempt to access power through violence exercised against Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities calling into question the beauty of diversity of religion and creed.
This situation has had a spillover effect affecting also the West and other regions in which the disruptive effects of globalization, and the growing disengagement of political elites from the concerns of ordinary people, have given rise to a populist tidal wave. The emerging populism has a strong xenophobic component. Societies are prey to the growing polarization created through manipulation of religions and beliefs. The rise of far-rightist populist movements goes hand in hand with the political instrumentalisation of religions, which exacerbates divisions and incites hatred and violence. While Islam and Christianity are vectors of peace, their malevolent manipulation seeks to accentuate alleged differences and depict them as incompatible and opposed to one another.
The goal of the Geneva Centre’s initiative will be to highlight the many convergences that exist between Islam and Christianity, to recognize the potential of a "great convergence" between both religions, and to mitigate and to reduce the marginalization of religious minorities, discrimination, xenophobia and the resulting violence. This debate could then be the starting point for a larger conference, which identifies common commitments to dialogue, tolerance and non-discrimination (see the attachment).
Some high-level politicians are trying to oppose Islam and Christianity and express concerns about the plight of minorities affiliated to particular religions. This initiative aims at restoring globality to the debate taking into account the need to empower all minorities so that the very notion of minorities ends up dissolving into the broader and more inclusive concept of equal citizenship rights. It is fortunate that this agenda is bringing together some of the most senior representatives of the body politics, the religious leaders and academics from the Christian and the Muslim regions alike.
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Palais des Nations, United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG). Room XIX.