Atheist groups accused the European Union today of failing to stand up for their rights in the United Nations.

They say millions of non-religious people face persecution in many parts of the world.

Atheist groups spoke as the 47-member UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution drafted by the EU.

The resolution called 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.

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.

The numbers of atheists are reported in recent surveys as growing strongly around the globe.