UN adopts resolution on protecting religious sites

UN adopts resolution on protecting religious sites

United Nations Headquarters in New York. UN PHOTO

By Catholic News Agency

January 26, 2021

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution Jan. 21 calling for greater efforts to protect religious sites from acts of terrorism and asking for a global conference on the subject.

Titled “Promoting a culture of peace and tolerance to safeguard religious sites,” the resolution asks Secretary General Antonio Guterres to launch an international conference to discuss the best means of implementing the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites.

“Religious sites are representative of the history, social fabric and traditions of people in every country and community all over the world and should be fully respected as such,” the resolution says.

The resolution highlights the increasing threats to culturally and spiritually significant sites by terrorists and militias, who have at times destroyed religious property and illicitly trafficked artifacts.

The resolution denounces “all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines … including any deliberate destruction of relics and monuments” and condemns “all acts or threats of violence, destruction, damage or endangerment, directed against religious sites as such, that continue to occur in the world, and denounces any moves to obliterate or forcibly convert any religious sites.”

It calls on the governments to promote these religious sites as vulnerable targets and to implement safeguards to protect them. The resolution states that governments should assess risks and potential targets as well as “ensure that comprehensive measures are in place for the immediate response to an attack.”

The resolution also challenges the United Nations to develop “strategies, educational initiatives, and global communications campaigns and tools” that foster greater multicultural respect and media awareness.

“[We invite] all Member States to enhance education and capacity-building to counter incitement to violence through fostering the messages of unity, solidarity and interreligious and intercultural dialogue,” it said, calling for the promotion of peace and coexistence among different religions and cultures.

Saudi Arabia proposed the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Arab nations including Egypt, Iraq, the UAE, Yemen, Sudan, and Palestine. The resolution was also supported by the United States and the European Union.

“The United States is pleased to join the European Union’s statement concerning this resolution, and recalls that the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression are mutually reinforcing and complementary,” said David Messenger, the advisor for Political Affairs of the U.N. Mission to the United States, in a Jan. 21 statement.

However, Messenger voiced concern that the resolution overemphasizes a condemnation of hate speech, “at times equating speech to acts of violence.” Offensive speech is not necessarily a form of violence, he said, and the resolution should not be used to justify restrictions on free speech.

“Rather than seek restrictions to expression to deal with intolerance or hate speech, the United States advocates for robust protections for speech, as well as the enforcement of appropriate legal regimes that deal with discriminatory acts and hate crimes,” he said.

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