UN Headquarters

12 September 2019

Opening remarks at press encounter on the Launching of the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites

António Guterres

Good morning. 
 
Today we are launching an important new effort to tackle hate and violence around the globe. 
 
It is called the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites.
 
We are doing so for a reason that is both deeply unfortunate and absolutely necessary. 
 
Our world is plagued with a surge in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, attacks against Christians, and other religious groups.  
 
In recent months alone, Jews have been murdered in synagogues, Muslims gunned down in mosques, Christians killed at prayer.
 
I once again condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms. 
 
Religious sites should be places of worship, not places of war. 
 
In the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacre, I went to the Islamic Centre here in New York and made a global call to reaffirm the sanctity of all places of worship and the safety of all worshippers.
 
I then asked the High Representative of 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. 
 
Since then, he and his team have been reaching out far and wide – to governments and religious leaders, to faith-based organizations and civil society, to young people, to traditional and social media, the private sector and beyond.  
 
The Plan of Action is the product of that work.
 
It is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and grounded in a core understanding:  religious sites are powerful symbols of our collective consciousness.
 
When they are attacked, so, too, are the very pillars of society.
 
The Plan offers concrete recommendations to support countries in promoting safety of holy sites, ensuring that worshipers can observe their rituals in peace, and fostering the values of compassion and tolerance.
 
Unfortunately, religious sites have increasingly been targeted in situations of armed conflict. 
 
Let me emphasize that buildings dedicated to religion are specifically protected by international humanitarian law, and intentionally attacking them could be a war crime.
 
Beyond the targeting of religious sites, loathsome rhetoric is also spreading like wildfire. 

This includes hate speech targeting not only religious groups but also migrants, minorities and refugees; assertions of white supremacy; a resurgence of neo-Nazi ideology; venom directed at anyone considered the so-called “other”.

When people are attacked because of their religion or beliefs, we are all diminished. 
 
When political figures add fuel to the wildfire, we are all threatened. 
 
This is why the Plan of Action we release today is complemented by the Strategy on Hate Speech that we launched in June.

Taken together, these plans provide mutually reinforcing new tools to combat intolerance and promote peaceful coexistence. 
 
People everywhere must be allowed to observe and practice their faiths in peace.
 
With this Plan of Action, the United Nations is taking an important step to advance that fundamental goal.
 
Hatred is a threat to everyone – and so this must be a job for everyone.
 
The world must step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, persecution of Christians and all other forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement. 

Thank you.