The UN today attacked Switzerland’s ban on building minarets as “clearly discriminatory” and deeply divisive.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Sunday’s referendum in favour of outlawing new minarets was the product of “anti-foreigner scare-mongering.”
The criticism from Ms Pillay, whose office is based in the Swiss city of Geneva, comes after an outcry from Muslim countries, Switzerland’s neighbours and human rights watchdogs since 57.5% of the Swiss population ratified the ban.
The Swiss government opposed the initiative but has sought to defend it as an action not against Islam or Muslims, but one aimed at improving integration and fighting extremism.
“These are extraordinary claims when the symbol of one religion is targeted,” Ms Pillay said. She said she was saddened to see xenophobic arguments gain such traction with Swiss voters despite their “long-standing support of fundamental human rights.”
The referendum doesn’t affect Switzerland’s four existing minarets, or the ability of Muslims to practice their religion. It only bans the towers used to put out the Islamic call to prayer.
But wealthy Arab tourists might think twice now about spending their money in Geneva and other Swiss cities, and the neutral country’s efforts to mediate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could also suffer.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said the government was worried about the ban.
“We are very concerned with this referendum. The reality of our societies in Europe and throughout the world is that each limitation on the coexistence of different cultures and religions also endangers our security,” she said.
“Provocation risks triggering other provocation and risks inflaming extremism,” she added.
Sunday’s referendum, which was backed by nationalist parties, forced the government to declare illegal the building of any new minarets.