U.N. Investigator Urges End to Religious Violence

A U.N. freedom of religion investigator urged Israel and the Palestinian authorities to condemn all violence done in the name of religion, the United Nations said Monday.

"Any violence committed in the name of religion, where violent acts by zealous (Israeli) settlers or, even worse, in the form of suicide bombings by militant Islamists, should be denounced, investigated and sanctioned," said Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani human rights activist, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Jahangir made the remark Sunday in Jerusalem after a weeklong visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. She met with Israeli and Palestinian officials and visited several cities, but not Gaza.

She criticized Israel for banning non-religious people from marrying in the state, condemned the mistreatment of women, and the "intolerance" of Christians in the Gaza Strip.

The U.N. special rapporteur on Freedom of Religion said women are in a "particularly vulnerable situation" and "bear the brunt of religious zeal." Some women in Gaza have been forced to cover their heads due to fear rather than religious conviction, she said pointing to reports. She also heard of "honor killings" performed with impunity in the name of religion.

Jahangir also spoke about the plight of the small Christian community living in the Palestinian territory that is facing increasing intolerance. The murder of Rami Ayyad, 32, was given as example of the growing attacks against Christians.

Ayyad, the manager of a Christian bookstore, was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Gaza last October. Muslim extremists accused him of carrying out missionary activities and sent him several death threats before his murder.

"The question whether he was engaging in missionary activities or not is entirely irrelevant," Jahangir argued. "This was a hideous crime and also a violation of his right to manifest his religion or belief.

It is reported that hundreds of Christians in Gaza fled the territory after Ayyad's death out of fear of rising violence targeted at Christians. There are about 75,000 Palestinian Christians but only about 3,000 were living in Gaza, which has a Muslim population of 1.5 million, prior to Ayyad's death.

Jahangir ended her report by noting that any measures taken to combat terrorism must observe international law, "including freedom of religion or belief."

The Pakistani human rights activist has faced punishment under the order of her own government for her outspoken advocacy. She was briefly detained last year by the Pakistan government for criticizing it, and is also often attacked by Islamic radicals for what they consider her liberal stance on religion.