GENEVA Atheist groups, who say millions of non-religious people face persecution in many parts of the world, accused the European Union on Friday of failing to stand up for their rights in the United Nations.
They spoke as the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council approved a resolution drafted by the EU calling for an end to religious intolerance and violence and for all governments to observe freedom of religion and belief.
But the campaigners, who had earlier given the council a report on abuse of atheists, mainly in Muslim countries, had sought a text making clear its injunctions included them.
"The wording of this resolution shows how the world, even the secular West, ignores the plight of atheists and other non-believers in many countries," said Sonja Eggericks, president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.
"Many people who recognize no supernatural being are suffering and even dying for trying to exercise their right to hold and profess their views," she said in a statement sent to Reuters from Brussels.
Elizabeth O'Casey of the U.S.-based Centre for Inquiry said the EU refusal to include a direct reference to non-believers as needing protection alongside religious minorities "fails many millions of people across the globe".
But officials from the 27-member EU said they believed it was clear that the resolution - passed by consensus in the council where in the past there have been fierce struggles over religious freedom - covered believers and non-believers.
Introducing the non-binding resolution to the council, the EU described it as condemning "all forms of violence against, intolerance towards and discrimination of people on the basis of their religious or non-religious identity."
Diplomats said the EU had omitted a specific reference to the need for protection for atheists, whose numbers are reported in recent surveys as growing strongly around the globe, in a deal with Islamic countries.
Under that alleged deal, member states of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on the council would accept the EU resolution in return for EU approval of their own resolution condemning religious intolerance.
The Islamic bloc's resolution is seen by some human rights and free speech campaigners as a continuation under another guise of its 10-year drive, suspended in 2011, to get a U.N. agreement banning "defamation of religion."
(Reported by Robert Evans; Editing by Alistair Lyon)