UNITED NATIONS - A United Nations expert on religious freedom Monday voiced regret at the Swiss vote to ban the construction of new minarets, stating that such a prohibition clearly discriminates against Muslims. But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had no immediate comments on the controversial Swiss move, according to his spokesman. In a statement, Asma Jahangir, a prominent Pakistani lawyers who is UNs Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said, I have deep concerns at the negative consequences that the outcome of the vote will have on the freedom of religion or belief of members of the Muslim community in Switzerland. Indeed, a ban on minarets amounts to an undue restriction of the freedom to manifest ones religion and constitutes a clear discrimination against members of the Muslim community in Switzerland, she added, also noting that the UN Human Rights Committee stated a month ago that such a ban is contrary to the countrys obligations under international human rights law. This vote reminds us that no societies are immune to religious intolerance, stressed Asma, adding that it is therefore more than ever necessary to continue raising awareness and educating people about religious diversity, enabling all societies to adopt an enlightened and progressive attitude towards the beliefs of other communities. Doing so will help to eliminate the grounds for irrational fears towards Muslims, which have been exploited in Switzerland for political purposes, she warned. The Special Rapporteur urged authorities in Switzerland, which has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to take the necessary measures to fully protect the right to freedom of religion or belief for the Muslim community. Asma, who carries out her work in an independent and unpaid capacity, reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. In a dispatch from Geneva, The New York Times said the vote displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the countrys reputation for religious tolerance. The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss Peoples Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum, The Times said. The government must now draft a supporting law on the ban, a process that could take at least a year and could put Switzerland in breach of international conventions on human rights, the Times said. Of 150 mosques or prayer rooms in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets, and only 2 more minarets are planned, the Times said. None conduct the call to prayer. There are about 400,000 Muslims in a population of some 7.5 million people. Close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey, and most do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, said Manon Schick, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Switzerland. Most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote, Farhad Afshar, who runs the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland, was quoted as saying. Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community. That Switzerland, a country with a long tradition of religious tolerance and the provision of refuge to the persecuted, should have accepted such a grotesquely discriminatory proposal is shocking, said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty Internationals deputy programme director for Europe and Central Asia. Muslim leaders have tried to keep out of the spotlight and to avoid internationalising the issue, shunning interviews with most news outlets from Muslim countries, Youssef Ibram, an imam at Genevas main mosque and Islamic Cultural Foundation, was quoted as saying by the Times. In an interview with the Times before the referendum, Ibram said that whatever the outcome of the vote, Muslims would lose out from a campaign that had played on fears of Islam and exposed deep-seated opposition to their community among many Swiss. The Washington Post called the ballot the latest sign of a backlash against Muslim immigrants in Western Europe, where Christian appear increasingly eager to preserve their traditional ways in the face of expanded Muslim populations. Resentment came out ahead, Saida Keller-Messahli, president of the Forum for Progressive Islam, was quoted as saying by the Post. Keller-Messahli predicted that the vote would lead to a long struggle in the courts, despite the cherished Swiss tradition of settling political questions through referendums. Banning minarets, she added, seemed to violate the Swiss constitutions guarantee of freedom of religion. The Swiss Bishops Conference warned that the vote would make it more difficult to foster good relations between Muslims and Christians in Switzerland, whatever the legal situation. The decision of the people represents an obstacle and a big challenge on the path to integration through dialogue and mutual respect, the bishops said in a statement.