Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks during his visit to the Muslim community in Christchurch, New Zealand, today:
As salam alaikum. I thank this community very much for their welcome, particularly during this holy month of Ramadan. Every Ramadan I make a visit of solidarity somewhere around the world. Last year, it was in Mali, the year before that, in Afghanistan. This year, because of the terrible terrorist attack against your community, I wanted to be here with you.
Ramadan is a season of reflection, remembrance and renewal. I am here to express my deepest condolences, my profound respect and the fullest measure of my solidarity to you, your families and the community. I know there are no words to relieve the hurt and sorrow and pain. But, I wanted to come here personally to transmit love, support and total and complete admiration.
Like so many around the world, I was so moved by the poignant stories of compassion and grace from Christchurch. But, in many ways, I was not surprised. This community reflected a spirit that I have always known to be deeply embedded in Islam — a faith of love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. As United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, I saw during 10 years the generosity of Muslim countries, always opening their borders to people in distress in a world where, unfortunately, so many other borders are closed.
This is in line with what I regard as the most beautiful prescription for refugee protection in world history. It is found in the Surah al-Tawbah of the Holy Qu’ran: “And if anyone seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he can hear the words of Allah. Then escort him where he can be secure.” And protection to be granted to believers and non-believers in a fantastic demonstration of tolerance 14 centuries ago.
This was revealed to the Prophet, may peace be upon Him, more than 14 centuries before the 1951 Convention on the Protection of Refugees. Last month, I visited Al-Azhar Mosque and University in Cairo, where I was struck once again by the incredible contribution of the Islamic world to global civilization. During my visit, I was honoured to meet the Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, and thanked him for his recent interfaith meeting with Pope Francis in the United Arab Emirates.
The declaration signed by the two leaders on “human fraternity for world peace and living together” is a testimony of mutual respect, tolerance, compassion and peace. It calls on people of faith to recognize and respect one another and work together for the good of humanity.
We must stand together in this period of difficulties. Hate speech is spreading and public discourse is being coarsened. Social media is being exploited as a platform for bigotry. We must all show solidarity in response to this dangerous upsurge in hatred.
I have already set in motion two initiatives — to protect holy sites and to address hate speech. I have asked the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, to develop an Action Plan for the UN to be fully engaged in support of safeguarding religious sites. I have also asked my Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to bring together a United Nations team to scale up our response to hate speech and present a global plan of action. Hate speech is spreading like wildfire on social media. We must extinguish it. There is no room for hate speech — online or offline.
As we move forward, I take inspiration from the reminder in the Holy Qu’ran (Surah Al-Hujurat 49:13): “We […] made you into races and tribes so that you may know one another.” I want to thank you for doing what you’re doing to help us better know each other — and see our shared humanity. In these trying times, I am here to say with a full heart: You are not alone. The world is with you. The United Nations is with you. I am with you. Thank you.