UN chief calls for plan to protect religious sites globally

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres coices concern that “hate speech is spreading like wildfire”

APP March 24, 2019
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was speaking on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during a visit on Friday to a New York Islamic Centre one week after the deadly shooting at two mosques in New Zealand, called for an international action plan to help protect religious sites worldwide.

Addressing the Friday congregation, he announced that an action plan would be developed under which all UN bodies would help safeguard religious sites. He elaborated that he had asked Spanish diplomat Miguel Moratinos to draft the action plan.

Moratinos heads the UN Alliance of Civilisations, a group led by Spain and Turkey that seeks to foster better understanding among cultures and societies. The group will reach out to governments, religious leaders and organisations to explore actions to prevent attacks such as the Christchurch shooting that left 50 people dead.

He also told reporters outside the Islamic Centre that "hate speech is spreading like wildfire”. The secretary-general named Mian Naeem Rashid of Pakistan among the heroes who had lost their lives trying to save others. Rashid and his son Talha were killed trying to confront the white supremacist who attacked their mosque in Christchurch.

The UN chief spoke, with a "heavy and full heart", of the grief of the families of the victims and the sympathy being extended to them, as well as the moving displays of "leadership, love and community from the people of New Zealand”.

Among the diplomats present in the mosque during the secretary-general's visit was Pakistan's Ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi.

Meeting with the people at the Islamic Cultural Centre’s mosque, Guterres told them that mosques and all places of prayer and contemplation should be safe havens, not sites of terror and emphasised that worshippers must feel safe to worship.

He also expressed "solidarity with the Muslim community from New York to New Zealand and beyond”, telling the Muslim community and all others feeling targeted "you are not alone, the world is with you, the United Nations is with you, I'm with you”.

Guterres termed the attack in New Zealand "utterly appalling" but "perhaps not utterly surprising", citing the rise of anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism and bigotry.

The secretary-general contended that social media was being used to spread bigotry while many political movements either openly admitted to being neo-Nazi or were "lip syncing their words".

Citing a US academic study, the UN chief highlighted the important role of the media in the representation of Muslims and Islam, noting that, over the last decade, attacks by Muslims in the United States received 357 per cent more coverage than attacks carried out by others.

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