Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks on the launch of the Fez Plan of Action, in New York today:
Let me begin by thanking you for coming together in this deeply meaningful way — and on such a timely initiative.
I firmly believe in the power of faith leaders to shape our world for good. As High Commissioner for Refugees, I made a special effort to reach out to faith leaders. I did so out of personal conviction. But, I also did so for very practical reasons. After all, to the vast majority of people uprooted from their homes, faith is an anchor in a stormy sea of fear, loss, separation and destitution.
We worked together with religious leaders on a project that focused on the roots of modern refugee law and Islamic law. We did it in close cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and with the support of Nayef University in Riyadh. More broadly, we brought in UNHCR [the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], religious leaders together for a dialogue on faith and protection.
Again and again, I have been struck by the consonance of key precepts and core values between the different faiths. Indeed faith is central to hope and resilience. Yet, around the world, we see how religion is being twisted — cynically manipulated — to justify incitement to violence and discrimination. We see an alarming rise in online and offline hate speech — messages that spread hostility and hatred and encourage populations to commit violence against individuals or communities, often based on their identity.
Hate speech sows the seeds of suspicion, mistrust and intolerance. Over time, it can play an important role in convincing people that violence is logical, justifiable, even necessary. And so, it is no surprise that hate speech is one of the most common warning signs of atrocity crimes — genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Since we know the warning signs, we can also take early action to prevent these crimes. The voice, the authority, and the example of religious leaders are critical. This conviction led to the development of the initiative we launch today. The Fez Plan of Action is the product of two years of consultations, led by my Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. It involved religious leaders representing different faiths around the world, as well as faith-based organizations and many others. I would like to pay tribute to the critical role of many partners, and in particular KAICIID, the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the World Council of Churches.
The Plan is based on a unifying commitment to promote peace, understanding, mutual respect and the fundamental rights of all people. This includes the rights to freedom of religion and belief, opinion and expression, and peaceful association.
The Plan of Action sets out a broad range of ways in which religious leaders can prevent incitement to violence and contribute to peace and stability. It stresses the importance of women and youth in all prevention initiatives. It also contains recommendations for States and the international community.
All religions teach respect for life and recognize human beings as fundamentally equal. These principles summon us to show respect for all human beings, even those with whom we might profoundly disagree or whose cultures might seem alien. I urge the widest possible dissemination and implementation of this Plan of Action. It can help to save lives, reduce suffering and realize our shared vision of a peaceful, inclusive and just societies in which diversity is valued and the rights of all individuals are protected.
Let us work together to prevent and end atrocity crimes and all affronts to human rights and dignity.