By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - The top United Nations human rights official called on Thursday for an international campaign to "discredit ISIL", and urged Muslims worldwide to defend their faith against misrepresentation by violent extremists.
Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, denounced murders, torture, mass beheadings and "genocidal" attacks on minorities in Syria, Iraq and Libya by Islamic State, also known as ISIL.
"Any response to extremist violence must be targeted, proportionate and legal," he said. "Military campaigns, financial sanctions and attempts to staunch the inflow of weapons ... may be part of the solution. But other actions are needed to stem the root causes that feed into these conflicts."
Zeid, a former Jordanian ambassador who is the first Arab and Muslim to serve in the U.N. post, was making his first annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
He noted that much media coverage in the West was devoted to Islamic State's abductions or killings of Westerners or Christian minorities.
"The fact that the vast majority of ISIL's victims are fellow Muslims receives far less publicity. A real campaign of ideas to discredit ISIL will need to mobilize such facts," he said.
"It should also seek to infuse fresh courage into the overwhelming majority of peaceful and tolerant Muslims around the world, to encourage them to take a stand and voice the essential nature of their faith."
Zeid said the struggle to combat extremist violence must tackle the visions of injustice that fueled it, as well as humiliation, inequality and discrimination.
And he said decision-makers should not abandon deeper principles. "The fight against terror is a struggle to uphold the values of democracy and human rights – not undermine them."
Counter-terrorism operations that are disproportionate, brutal or lack oversight "risk handing the terrorists a propaganda tool – thus making our societies neither free nor safe", he said.
Referring to a U.S. Senate report last December that revealed the extent of CIA torture of security detainees during the administration of President George W. Bush, he said:
"For a country that believes so strongly in human rights to have swiftly abandoned their fundamentals at a time of crisis is as astonishing as it is deplorable. And yet, few other countries have had the courage to likewise publicly investigate and publicly admit to rights abuses resulting from counter-terror operations – and many should."
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey)