Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the launch of the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites, in New York today:
Thank you for joining us as we launch an important new effort to counter hate and violence around the globe. As we are all so tragically aware, our world is facing a surge in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, attacks against Christians, and intolerance targeting other religious groups.
In recent months alone, Jews have been murdered in synagogues, Muslims gunned down in mosques, Christians killed at prayer. I condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms. In the wake of the March massacre at the mosques in Christchurch, I went to the Islamic Centre of New York. Many of you joined me for that solidarity visit. I then made a global call to reaffirm the sanctity of all places of worship and the safety of all worshippers.
I asked the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, to develop an Action Plan for the United Nations to be fully engaged in support of safeguarding religious sites. Since then, he and his team have been reaching out to a wide variety of actors — including Governments, religious leaders, faith-based organizations, civil society, young women and men, local communities, traditional and social media, and the private sector.
Today, we are launching the product of that work — the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites. The Plan provides concrete recommendations to support Member States in their efforts to ensure that religious sites are safe, that worshipers can observe their rituals in peace, and that the values of compassion and tolerance are fostered globally.
The Plan is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and rooted in seven guiding principles:
RESPECT for all peoples;
RESPONSIBILITY to build bridges of mutual understanding and cooperation;
DIVERSITY to accept and respect differences among human beings;
DIALOGUE as a tool to better communicate and engage with one another;
SOLIDARITY to support one another, particularly in times of sorrow or trouble;
STANDING TOGETHER as one to respond with unity to attempts to divide us; and
STAYING TOGETHER as one to ensure that unity in response to attacks against religious sites is sustained and reinforced over time.
This effort is complemented by the Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech that we launched in June. That initiative aims to coordinate efforts across the United Nations system to address the root causes of hate speech and make our response more effective.
Taken together, both plans provide important and mutually reinforcing new tools to combat intolerance and to promote peaceful coexistence.
Religious sites are powerful symbols of our collective consciousness. When people are attacked because of their religion or beliefs, all of society is diminished. Houses of worship around the world must be safe havens for reflection and peace, not sites of bloodshed and terror. People everywhere must be allowed to observe and practise their faiths in peace.
In situations of armed conflict, buildings dedicated to religion are specifically protected by international humanitarian law. Intentional attacks against such buildings is a war crime, and, indeed, the International Criminal Court has already convicted a person for such a crime.
The best way to overcome the threat of violence based on unacceptable forms of manipulation of religion and belief is by uniting our voices for good, countering messages of hate with messages of peace, embracing diversity as a richness not a threat, investing in social cohesion and protecting human rights. Together, we can help prevent attacks against religious sites and do our part to secure the safety of the faithful to worship in peace.
With this Plan of Action, the United Nations is taking an important step to advance that critical goal and address what has emerged as one of the leading global challenges of our era. I count on your support for this Plan, which will be led and monitored by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. In these troubled times, let us keep working together to uphold the values that bind us as a single human family. Thank you.