UN calls for eliminating violence against religion

St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo was among 3 churches targeted by suicide bombers on April 21, 2019., in Sri Lanka. (AFP)

The United Nations on Thursday marked the first-ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion and Belief, urging for an end to the persecution of religious groups.

“On this Day, we reaffirm our unwavering support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief. And we demonstrate that support by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable,” said UN Secretary-General, António Guterres in a message for the occasion.

Guterres said the observance was an opportunity to reaffirm support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief.

The annual observance was adopted by the General Assembly on 28 May 2019, in response to an increasing number of attacks against individuals and groups, targeted simply because of their religion or belief, around the world.

Religion under attack

Citing examples, Guterres said, “Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched.”

“Many assaults, like those in New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the United States,” he said, “have specifically targeted places of worship.”  He noted that in “many conflicts around the world, from Syria to the Central African Republic, entire communities have been attacked on the grounds of their faith.”

“The world,” he said, “must step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, the persecution of Christians and other religious groups, and all forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement to violence.”

Replacing hatred with peace

The UN chief pointed out that “all major world religions espouse tolerance and peaceful coexistence in a spirit of shared humanity”.  “We must resist and reject those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred,”  he urged, stressing “there is richness and strength in diversity; it is never a threat.”

Guterres said that the best way to overcome the threat of violence based on religion and belief is by “uniting our voices for good, countering messages of hate with messages of peace, embracing diversity and protecting human rights.”

He urged that as members of the human family, all must nurture mutual understanding. “We all have a responsibility to look out for each other, to respect differences and to promote peaceful coexistence.”