MRG ‘deeply concerned’ by Swiss ban on minarets

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A Swiss referendum which bans Muslims from building new minarets could lead to marginalisation and discrimination of Muslim minorities in the country, and may place Switzerland in violation of its international legal obligations, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

"Whilst MRG respects democratic processes, we are deeply concerned about the infringement of religious freedom that the ban on minarets supposes for the Muslim community in Switzerland", says Carl Soderbergh, MRG's Director of Policy and Communications.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief has emphasized that Switzerland, which has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, must protect and ensure respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

"We urge the Swiss authorities to abide by its obligations under international law and protect its population's freedom to practice their religion and be free from discrimination", added Soderbergh.

As recently as October 2009 the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concerns about the initiative to ban new minarets, and the discriminatory advertising campaign which accompanied it, depicting a burka-clad woman against a background of threatening missile-like minarets.

The federal initiative of the far-right Swiss People's Party was backed by a sizeable majority of the country's cantons, despite the government's opposition to the curb on religious freedom.

Switzerland's Justice Minister has stated that the ban on the construction of new minarets has the effect of restricting the freedom to display the Muslim faith to the outside world by erecting a minaret.

The country's 400, 000 strong population of Muslims are mainly from Turkey or the Balkans. Switzerland currently has only four mosques with minarets.

Since the ban also contradicts the freedom of religion and the ban on discrimination, as guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights to which the Swiss government is party, it also lays open the possibility of a future appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

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