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Religions: action plan for religious leaders to prevent “incitement to violence” and “atrocity crimes” presented at the UN

An “action plan aimed at religious leaders to prevent incitement to violence and atrocity crimes” was presented at the UN headquarters in New York on 15 July by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The plan, divided into 177 objectives grouped in three recommendations, aims to prevent crimes and atrocities while strengthening and developing strategies of coexistence not just in “risk areas” of the world, but also in all those contexts where there is a need to work on countering violent extremism and conflicts. Mainly aimed at religious leaders, the document also provides detailed information to States, to civil society organisations and to new and traditional media, since “preventing crimes and guaranteeing freedom of expression, religion, belief and peaceful assembly is the fruit of a multilevel action to which everyone is called to contribute”. The project was developed with the cooperation of 232 religious leaders and peacemakers from 77 countries and took two years of work. Buddhists, Christians, Indus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs from various groups and denominations contributed to the drafting alongside representatives of several religious minorities including Baha’i, Candomblé, Kakai, and Yazidi: 30% of the contributors were women. Representing Italy were the representatives of COREIS (Italian Islamic Religious Community); the Sant’Egidio Community; the Italian Buddhist Union; the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation; the Al-Wahid Mosque in Milan; and of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights.

Speaking on behalf of the Holy See, Nuncio Bernardito Auza quoted Pope Francis who suggested seeing “religions as part of the solution to the problem”, and stressed the need for religious leaders to attend “significant interreligious meetings”. He also encouraged the use of the good practices suggested in the plan to discourage from hatred and violence “those who act on pseudo-religious motives and are not dissuaded by secular and economic arguments, but instead need real religious arguments that can prove that the interpretation justifying violence betrays the Sacred Text and the God whom extremists claim to serve”. Finally, he appealed to the States and their responsibility in ending genocides and atrocities, for “religious leaders can contribute to preventing crimes, but then they do not have the instruments to stop them, and this is a task for the States, their agencies and the armed forces”. During the debate on the implementation strategies, Secretary-General Guterres pointed out that the plan can help to “save lives, reduce suffering, and realize our shared vision of a peaceful, inclusive and just society in which diversity is valued and the rights of all individuals are protected”.

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