The United Nations Human Rights Council is heading towards a divisive vote on Wednesday on religious hatred following recent Quran burnings, with some Western nations reluctant on the draft resolution due to so-called concerns over free speech.
Pakistan and other Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries secured an urgent debate at the UN's top rights body on Tuesday after a copy of Islam's holy book was burnt outside Stockholm's main mosque, triggering a diplomatic backlash across the Islamic world.
"We must see this clearly for what it is: incitement to religious hatred, discrimination and attempts to provoke violence," Pakistan's Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari told the Geneva council on Tuesday via video.
He said such acts occurred under "government sanction and with the sense of impunity".
His remarks were echoed by ministers from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia with the latter calling it an act of "Islamophobia".
"Stop abusing freedom of expression," said Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. "Silence means complicity."
The motion, brought by Pakistan in response to last month's incident, seeks a report from the UN rights chief on the topic and calls on states to review their laws and plug gaps that may "impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred".
'Offensive, irresponsible and wrong'
Desecration of the Quran appear tailor-made to inflame anger and divide communities, the UN human rights chief Volker Turk said as he opened the debate at the UN's top rights body in Geneva.
"Speech and inflammatory acts against Muslims; Islamophobia; anti-Semitism; and actions and speech that target Christians — or minority groups such as Ahmadis, Baha'is or Yazidis — are manifestations of utter disrespect. They are offensive, irresponsible and wrong," said Turk.
He said hate speech needed to be combated through dialogue, education, raising awareness and inter-faith engagement.
Expressing concern about the motion's alleged implications for freedom of expression, some Western nations on the 47-member council were holding out for revised wording that would allow them all to reach a consensus.
But with Pakistan submitting its resolution, the European Union countries, the United States, and Britain — while condemning Quran burnings — resigned themselves to a vote instead, with London and Washington saying they would vote against the draft resolution.
After four hours of debate, the council in Geneva was on the brink of voting on Tuesday. However, it narrowly ran out of time, meaning they will return at 0800 GMT on Wednesday.