UN Chief Launches Effort to Protect Religious Places, Worshippers
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has launched an effort to protect religious sites around the world.
His announcement Thursday follows a rise in attacks on traditional religious centers and other places of worship.
"Religious sites should be places of worship, not places of war," Guterres told reporters.
The effort aims to provide strong ideas on ways to help countries ensure that houses of worship -- and those who attend religious services -- are safe. Another aim is to make sure that the values of kindness and patience are supported worldwide.
In June, the UN leader launched another project to understand the causes of hate speech. Guterres has often warned that hate speech is fueling intolerance around the world. He has been critical of politicians who use language targeting minorities, refugees, migrants and, as he put it, "anyone considered the so-called ‘other.'" He has yet to identify any of those politicians by name.
"When (politicians) add fuel to the wildfire, we are all threatened," Guterres said.
Earlier this year, more than 50 people were killed when a gunman attacked worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Following the attacks, Guterres went to the country to express his sympathy. Since then, he and his high representative for the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations have been reaching out to governments, religious leaders and others to put together a plan to keep religious sites safe.
"When people are attacked because of their religion or beliefs, all of society is diminished," Guterres said.
"My...message to all countries in the world is that religious freedom needs to be respected in all circumstances...all religious sites must be protected," he said.
Human rights groups have often criticized Guterres for not making a strong public statement on the abuses.
I'm Anne Ball