UN Chief Launches Effort to Protect Religious Places, Worshippers


14 September, 2019

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.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, walks with at Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda, right, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Tuesday, May 14, 2019.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, walks with at Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda, right, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

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.

Asked if he had a message for China on the detention and mistreatment of 1 million Uighur Muslims, the U.N. chief did not criticize the Chinese government.

"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.

VOA's Margaret Basheer reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words In This Story

site – n. a place where something is located

intoleranceadj. not accepting those who are different

migrant – n. a person who moves from place to place, usually for economic reasons

mosque – n. an Islamic religious center

diminish – v. to lessen

circumstance – n. an event or condition that exists