January 24, 2021
US-based Muslim group welcomes the move, says governments all over the world should be held responsible for the safety of places of worship
NEW DELHI — Calling for greater efforts to promote a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution sponsored by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and other Islamic countries condemning offenses against religious sites.
The resolution invited the Secretary General to convene a global conference aimed at advancing the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites, involving Governments, political figures, religious leaders, civil society and the media, among other stakeholders.
Introducing the draft resolution titled, “Promoting a culture of peace and tolerance to safeguard religious sites”, the representative of Saudi Arabia said the text condemns offences or mockery against religious sites and symbols, rejects the use of “violence to express any point of view and aims to develop a culture of peace as a shield against extremism and intolerance”.
Noting that its facilitators worked for months to incorporate the views of all parties, the Saudi representative said its co-sponsors stand united in support of “freedom of belief, opinion and expression”, while also requiring mutual respect and continuous dialogue.
By other terms of the resolution — which the Assembly adopted without a vote — member states denounced any moves to obliterate or forcibly convert religious sites, while strongly deploring violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief.
The speaker for India said that, “as a multicultural state, his country safeguards all religious and cultural rights and protects places of worship”.
“In today’s world, religious and cultural sites remain highly vulnerable to attacks by violent extremists, as was seen recently when a historic Hindu temple was set ablaze in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan, while authorities stood idly by,” the Indian delegate alleged. Warning against the “selective enforcement of laws” against attacks on religious sites, he stressed that, as long as such selectivity exists, “the world will never be able to foster a real culture of peace”.
Indeed, it is ironic that the country where that attack took place, and where minority rights are regularly violated, is one of the text’s co-sponsors. “This resolution cannot be a smokescreen for countries like Pakistan to hide behind,” he stressed.
The resolution came in the wake of a spate of attacks on mosques at Multiple places in Madhya Pradesh by supporters of Hindutva groups during the so-called awareness rallies for fund collection for building a Ram temple in Ayodhya where once a Mughal era mosque stood which was demolished by a Hindu mob in 1992.
The representative of Pakistan, exercising his right of reply, categorically rejected the “unwarranted assertions” made against his country by India’s delegate. He described the strong steps taken by his country in response to the attack on the temple in Khyber.
He said such accusations are often levelled by India against Pakistan, despite the fact that it is India that falsely blames Muslims for spreading COVID-19, incites people against the so-called crime of “love jihad” and commits “extrajudicial killings of innocent Kashmiris”.
The assembly acknowledged and expressed concern that racial and religious intolerance and stereotyping are on the rise.
It condemned any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urged states to take effective measures to combat such incidents. Members further emphasized that freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of association are inter-dependent, inter-related and mutually reinforcing. They called on the United Nations to pursue strategies, educational initiatives and global communications campaigns aimed at strengthening the protection of religious sites and cultural heritage.
The representative of Portugal, speaking in explanation of position on behalf of the European Union and several other countries, underlined those nations’ staunch support of freedom of expression and belief. “These values are at the core of our actions at the United Nations,” he said, citing two Assembly resolutions on those matters — including a recent text which sought to combat negative stereotyping or discrimination, as well as violence against persons based on religion. Noting that the Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) is the right forum to consider such issues, he nevertheless emphasized the importance of free expression and freedom of the media to ensure an engaged citizenry.
The speaker for the United States underscored the core values of justice, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, while rejecting violence. He voiced support for General Assembly resolution 55/254 on the protection of religious sites.
Morocco’s representative was among the speakers who spotlighted multiple recent attacks against mosques, synagogues and temples, noting that such incidents remain “fresh in our memories” and call for a collective global response.
Muslim Peace Coalition Welcomes the Move
Muslim Peace Coalition, a nationwide US alliance of peace and anti-war groups, has welcomed the unanimous UN General Assembly resolution protecting the religious sites of minorities all over the world.
Dr Shaik Ubaid, the co-chair of the Coalition, said on Saturday: “The governments all over the world should be held responsible for the safety of places of worship and cultural centres of religious and other minorities. The UN should make sure that the perpetrators of destruction of such places are brought to justice and those places rebuilt.
“Hundreds of mosques have been targeted in Xinjiang and other provinces in China which has unleashed a genocide of Uighur and other Muslims. The same phenomenon is seen in Burma where the Rohingyas are facing a genocide, and in the Central African Republic.
“In India, too, the rise of a religious supremacist movement, RSS and it’s fronts the VHP and BJP, after it destroyed the historic Babri Mosque , has brought threats to many other historic mosques especially in Kashi and Mathura. Churches destroyed by ISIS and mosques and graveyards by Israel should also be rebuilt.”