High Representative’s Remarks
Consultation with Religious Leaders and Faith-based Organizations
on the Implementation of the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites
3 December 2019
Dear members of the Multi-Faith Advisory Council,
Dear colleagues and friends,
First, let me thank the members of the Multi-Faith Advisory Council present today for accepting the invitation to join us. The diversity of faiths, regions and approaches that you bring to the discussion is highly appreciated and I look forward to hearing from you individually in the second part of this meeting.
I would also like to take the opportunity to reiterate my appreciation for the continued support that some of you have provided in the process leading up to the Plan of Action to safeguard religious sites, including KAICIID, Religions for Peace, Search for Common Ground, and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers. I also appreciate Rabbi Schneier’s engagement in his capacity as President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. Unfortunately, he cannot be with us today but we will continue to engage with him on the
As you know, the United Nations Plan of Action to safeguard religious sites, is an initiative of the Secretary-General in the aftermath of the attacks against mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
I had the honor to receive the mandate from the Secretary-General to develop the Plan, which is the result of an extensive process of consultation with all relevant stakeholders, and was officially launched by the Secretary-General on 12 September.
If I had to summarize in few words what the Plan is all about, I would say that it is first and foremost a framework for action containing concrete recommendations addressed to the United Nations, Member States, religious leaders, civil society and online providers, to work individually and jointly to better prevent, prepare and respond to possible attacks.
The Plan is not an endpoint. It is a tool that will only prove useful if it is tested and implemented in religious sites around the world. This is where your role becomes very important and that is why I convened this meeting with you today. This is your Plan now and I would like to invite you to study its recommendations and see how your organizations can help advance this important cause of better safeguard religious sites.
In this implementation phase, and in accordance with the mandate given to me by the Secretary-General to lead in all efforts in this regard, one the one hand, I intend to spearhead initiatives and actions that the Plan calls upon the UN to implement, and on the other hand, I will remain closely engaged with all the stakeholders that I previously mentioned, to encourage and support all of you in the implementation of those recommendations addressed to you with the final goal of better preventing, preparing and responding to attacks against religious sites, which, as we well know, spare no country and no faith.
In this context, allow me first to update you on what is happening in relation to the recommendations addressed to the United Nations regarding prevention of attacks against religious sites.
Secondly, I would like to open the floor for your feedback and comments on the implementation of the Plan, particularly regarding the recommendations addressed to religious leaders.
More in particular, one concrete recommendation is to dedicate the 2020 session of the annual World Interfaith Week to the protection of religious sites and it would be very helpful if, in the course of this meeting or later on, those of you directly involved in this issue can take this recommendation on board.
Let me now provide you with an update of what is happening on the UN side since the launch of the Plan in September:
- Mapping of religious sites. As you know, one of the recommendations in the Plan is to develop a mapping of religious sites around the world as an online tool to capture the universality of religious sites and contribute to fostering respect and understanding of their profound significance. I am actively engaged with UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) in the development of a detailed work plan over a period of three years, which is the time span required for the completion of this ambitious endeavor. The mapping will include data collection and agreed-upon and safe sharing of information, both existing and new. UNAOC will work closely with UNOSAT, UNESCO and other partners which can provide technical expertise in the development of the mapping.
- Global communications campaign. UNAOC will lead on a global communications campaign that will celebrate the universality of religious sites as symbols of our shared humanity and emphasize the role of individuals in safeguarding religious sites, regardless of religions or belief. The campaign, which will span a period of twelve months, will primarily target young people who are active on social media.
- 2020 Global conference. As stated in the Plan, the Secretary-General will convene a global conference with relevant UN entities, Member States, political figures, religious leaders, faith-based organizations, media and civil society to spearhead political support that will translate into action to implement the Plan. We are still working with the Secretary-General’s Office on possible dates and the inclination is to have the conference in the second half of next year.
At this stage, I would like to turn the floor over to you so you can share with us your feedback on the Plan, and suggest possible ideas to move forward its recommendations.
First, I will give the floor to Sharon Rosen, Global Director for Religious Engagement at Search for Common Ground, who is joining us via VTC from Jerusalem.
Before passing the floor to her, I would like to say that, after the launching of the Plan, the UN Alliance of Civilizations and Search for Common Ground have been working on reviewing the Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites, an initiative that Search for Common led on with other organizations some years ago. The reviewed version of the Code intends to enlarge the scope of this document beyond the focus on conflict situations; it incorporates elements related to preparedness and response and contains a reference to the UN Plan of Action to safeguard religious sites.
You have the revised version of the Code in your folders and I will be very grateful if you can take a close look at it and see if this is a document that could be helpful for your work and that your respective organizations would like to endorse eventually.
I will now turn to Sharon to give her the chance to elaborate on the Code if she wishes to do so, and I will also very much welcome her feedback on the recommendations contained in the Plan. Over to you, Sharon.