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UN Official Urges Leaders to Refrain from Sectarian Rhetoric Regarding Syrian Conflict

The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, is urging religious and political leaders in the Middle East and North Africa to refrain from rhetoric that could exacerbate the violence in Syria and incite crimes against civilians. In a statement released today (external link), Special Adviser Dieng expressed deep concern over the increasing tendency of certain leaders to describe the violence in Syria as a sectarian conflict and to denigrate the religious views of certain parties to the conflict. “History has shown that exploiting religious tensions in the context of a political and armed struggle may incite violence and could lead to large scale atrocities,” Dieng said. In addition to increasing the likelihood of war crimes and crimes against humanity, such rhetoric could ignite sectarian violence in other parts of the region.

Dieng further insisted that all leaders have a responsibility to speak out against incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence. He noted that in 2005, all UN member states committed to protect civilians from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. In addition, he maintained, “States must refrain from contributing to such crimes, including by tolerating hate speech and incitement to violence against particular populations.”

The current conflict in Syria began in March 2011. By the end of last month, it had claimed approximately 100,000 lives, forced over 300,000 Syrians to flee the country, and displaced another 4.5 million within Syria.