The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution calling for greater efforts to protect religious sites from acts of violence and has asked for international discussion on the issue.
The resolution “Promoting a Culture of Peace and Tolerance to Safeguard Religious Sites” was adopted January 21. It asks UN Secretary-General António Guterres to bring together UN bodies, the 193 UN member nations, governments, politicians, religious leaders, civil society, the media and other stakeholders in a global conference aimed at protecting religious sites.
The resolution also asks Guterres to discuss the best ways to implement a UN strategy called “The United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites: In Unity and Solidarity For Safe and Peaceful Worship.” The plan, drawn up by the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations at Guterres’ request, was published in September 2019 against the background of what Guterres referred to as “a tragic surge in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, attacks on Christians and violence targeting members of other faiths and traditions.”
“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 emphasizes.
It proposes that solutions to the destruction of cultural heritage around the world must include “both prevention and accountability, focusing on acts by state and non-state actors in both conflict and non-conflict situations, and terrorist acts.”
The resolution also highlights the role of terrorists and outlawed militias in destroying culturally and spiritually important sites as well as illicitly trafficking their artifacts. In addition, the resolution condemns the forcible conversion of any religious sites.
The UN Plan of Action makes pointed references to religious sites as “vulnerable targets” that governments must protect by crafting relevant national strategies that include security, early-warning systems, emergency response and crisis management.
Other proposals in the plan include the development of relationships among government officials and religious leaders aimed at building mutual trust, the facilitation of information sharing, and for law enforcement to train congregants on security measures.
In remarks made January 28 to member states on the UN’s priorities for 2021, Guterres pointed out that the Plan of Action to safeguard religious sites, like similar plans to address human rights and hate speech, was issued before the COVID-19 pandemic turned 2020 into “a year of death, disaster and despair.”
The crisis, he said, has now presented the world with an opportunity for change in 2021: “We can move from an annus horribilis [year of misfortune] to make this an ‘annus possibilitatis’—a year of possibility and hope.”
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