Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

13 Sep, 2019

UN launches new plan to ‘reaffirm the sanctity’ of religious sites, counter hate and violence

United Nations, 12 September 2019 – In a landmark document that should be must-reading across the entire Travel & Tourism industry, the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) on Thursday launched a new plan of action to “counter hate and violence around the globe”. It goes right to the heart of what this editor has termed “The Other Global Warming”, an issue far more important than climate change and the technological revolution put together.

Travel Impact Newswire was the first travel trade publication to issue an unequivocal warning about this growing scourge and its threat to Travel & Tourism here.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Plan “is a global call to rally around our most basic tenets of humanity and solidarity and to reaffirm the sanctity of all religious sites and the safety of all worshippers who visit houses of worship in a spirit of compassion and respect.”

“Religious sites are powerful symbols of our collective consciousness”, said the UN chief. “When people are attacked because of their religion or beliefs, all of society is diminished”.

Friday prayers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. © John Isaac via the UN News Centre.

Mr. Guterres underscored that houses of worship must be “safe havens for reflection and peace, not sites of bloodshed and terror” and all people “must be allowed to observe and practice their faiths in peace”.

In the aftermath of horrific attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand; the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; three Catholic churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday; and an increasing number of hate-based attacks targeting religious sites worldwide, the UNAOC was asked by the UN chief, to develop Thursday’s Plan of Action.

According to the Secretary-General, this is complemented by the Plan of Action on Hate Speech, which coordinates efforts across the UN system to address the root causes of incendiary language and respond effectively.

“Taken together, both plans provide important and mutually reinforcing new tools to combat intolerance and promote peaceful coexistence”, the UN chief said.

He pointed out that in situations of armed conflict, “buildings dedicated to religion are specifically protected by international humanitarian law” and intentional attacks against them are war crimes.

“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” underscored Mr. Guterres.

He maintained that “together we can help prevent attacks against religious sites and do our part to secure the safety of the faithful to worship in peace”.

Through this Plan of Action, the UN 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”, he asserted.

“In these troubled times, let us keep working together to uphold the values that bind us as a single human family”, concluded the Secretary-General.

‘Role to play’ for all

For his part, UNAOC High Representative Miguel Angel Moratinos explained that the plan was created “mindful of the importance of a comprehensive approach” in which “all relevant actors have a role to play”.

After an inclusive consultative process, he told those gathered that he was “heartened by the overall support” and thankful for the contributions.

Mr. Moratinos elaborated on the input that Member States stressed be included, such as that the Plan was “global in nature”; combatted hate speech, particularly online; had a role for women and youth; had actionable involvement for all key actors; and was framed “in the context of relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions”.

The Plan aims to be “a result-oriented document” to provide” better preparedness and response to possible attacks against religious sites”, he continued, saying its success “will rest on its implementation” and the “sustained commitment” of all to work actively to safeguard of religious sites.

In closing, the High Representative assured that he would “spare no effort to help implement the recommendations contained in the Plan and to continue to work closely with all of you for safe and peaceful worship”.

The plan outlines a wide array of recommendations, such as for the UN to develop a global communications campaign to foster mutual respect and understanding; for States to create multi-disciplinary national plans anchored in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to prevent violent extremism; and for religious leaders to regularly engage in interfaith dialogue.

Quotes from the new Plan:

(+) Effective preventative strategies must identify and address the underlying root causes that lead individuals and groups to commit terrorist attacks against people of other faiths in their places of worship. The full participation and sustained engagement of governments and other relevant stakeholders, including religious leaders, civil society and local communities online service providers and media more broadly, is crucial for the effectiveness and success of preventive actions.

(+) Religious leaders play a crucial role in building trust, fostering dialogue, stressing unity, solidarity, and mutual understanding, and in offering positive and moderate narratives in response to hatred and division. The active and sustained engagement of religious leaders to build and effectively communicate through all available channels a counter- narrative to hatred and violent extremism as and when conducive to terrorism is crucial.

(+) In addition to faith actors, civil society, youth, women, local communities and parliaments can play a crucial role in identifying vulnerabilities and potential threats to religious sites. Moreover, partnerships between these actors and religious leaders operating religious sites can foster community resilience.

(+) Terrorist attacks against religious sites stress the importance of addressing the impact of the dissemination of hate speech by terrorist and radicalized individuals and groups in the mainstream media and on the internet in particular. Recent initiatives by the United Nations, Member States, and online service providers, speak to the urgency to come up with multi-pronged strategies and actions that can provide an effective response to the challenge of hate speech.

For all of the recommendations, see page 14 here.

UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) – The guiding principles for the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites. (September 2019)