UN human rights chief urges UK authorities to prosecute those responsible after police record 57% rise in hate crime following Brexit vote
Leaders of Britain’s main faith communities have united in condemning intolerance amid mounting reports of xenophobic and racist abuse in the wake of the EU referendum result.
The Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, the chief rabbi and senior imams have all spoken out against division and expressions of hatred.
In Brussels, the United Nations human rights chief said he was deeply concerned about reports of attacks on minority communities and foreigners. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein urged the UK authorities to prosecute those responsible, saying racism and xenophobia were “completely, totally and utterly unacceptable in any circumstances”.
Police recorded a 57% increase in hate crime complaints in the four days following the referendum, in which immigration was a key plank of the leave campaign.
Justin Welby, the leader of the Church of England, said people of “evil will” were using the referendum result as an excuse to vent their hatred.
“The privilege of democracy is to vote, to campaign vigorously, to have robust and firm discussion. It is not a privilege of democracy to express hatred, to use division as an excuse for prejudice and for hate-filled attacks,” the archbishop of Canterbury said at an iftar meal to break the Ramadan fast with the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on Monday.
“We’ve seen a sharp increase in those in the last few days. Somehow people who were already of evil will – and I’m not blaming the leave campaign, I want to be quite clear about that – but people who were of evil will are using this as an excuse, a mere sham, for their hatred to be expressed.”
Welby specifically condemned an attack on a Polish cultural centre in west London at the weekend. “That is an outrageous attack on the representatives of a country that have been friends and allies of Britain for decades, and who we value very greatly,” he said.
A common stand against intolerance, discrimination and hatred was “absolutely crucial for the future of this country, and for rebuilding this country with a new vision of what it means to be outward-looking, generous, hospitable, powerful in doing good, strong in resisting evil”.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, also condemned the attack on the Polish centre and on other communities.
“This upsurge of racism, of hatred towards others, is something we must not tolerate. We have to say this is simply not acceptable in a humane society and it should never be provoked or promoted,” he said.
“We need to grasp again our basic sense of purpose; in living together, creating together and fashioning a society. It is that sense of purpose that we may have lost focus of; believing that the purpose of politics is to manipulate power; the purpose of business is simply to make profit for a few. This challenge has been with us for a while now.”
He added: “The great challenge for those leading the nation now is to speak for everyone. If a victory in a referendum remains a point of division, then we become weaker and weaker as a nation and not play a part in the international scene tackling the world’s problems, which are great and challenging.”
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