Advocacy statements

On nationalism and the scapegoating of minorities

  • Date / 2016
  • Location / India
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 9: Follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 31st Session (29th February – 24th March 2016)

General Debate on Item 9

The High Commissioner has noted that when the UN Charter was drafted, it was partly done so in response to a world that had been thrown “violently into imbalance” by “feral nationalisms.”[1]

That was 70 years ago. Yet, we live in a time again when leaders [as observed by the High Commissioner] “are pandering to a simplistic nationalism,” mirroring the “simplified and destructive ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mind-set of the extremists”, and fanning “a rising wind of prejudice and fear.”[2]

Notable is the rise we have seen in European political parties with ideologies grounded in nationalism and populism, and their response to the migration crisis.

State-led aggressive nationalism has been particularly stark in India and Russia. In both instances, we have witnessed a dangerous hijacking of religion to create an exclusionary and discriminatory nationalist identity and a destructive use of nationalism to suppress speech and dissent.

A rise in Hindu nationalism in India under the presidency of Narendra Modi has been a continuation in the increase of attacks on religious minorities[3]. Statistics on inter-communal violence show a 30% increase in the first half of 2015 with a total of 330 attacks, of which 51 were fatal. This violence has happened against a backdrop of a number of BJP politicians making deeply derogatory remarks about minorities.[4]

The colonial charge of ‘sedition’ has even been imposed recently, in response to the union of students at the JNU University critiquing government policies.

In Russia, a government derived nationalism tightly interlinking state and Orthodox Church – and selectively limiting free speech – has been instrumental in whipping up anti-migrant sentiment, and fuelling the often extremely violent intolerance of religious minorities, such as Muslims from the Caucasus, and LGBTI minorities.

The Durban Declaration is clear in its condemnation of “violent nationalist ideologies based on racial or national prejudice.”[5] On International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we call on the Council to do more to combat the harmful and exclusionary ideology of populist nationalism, particularly in the two aforementioned member states.



[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/peopleandpower/2015/10/indias-hindu-fundamentalists 151008073418225.html

[4] A_HRC_31_NGO_141

[5] Para 84

Suggested academic reference

'On nationalism and the scapegoating of minorities', Humanists International

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