UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' remarks have come in the wake of a series of attacks against mosques, synagogues and other places of worship in the recent past, including the Easter Sunday bombings.
The world is seeing a “groundswell of intolerance” and hate-based violence against people of various faiths, and this “venom” is directed at anyone considered “the other”, the UN chief has said, warning that parts of the internet were becoming “hothouses of hate”. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ remarks have come in the wake of a series of attacks against mosques, synagogues and other places of worship in the recent past, including the Easter Sunday bombings targeting three churches in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people.
A gunman armed with a semiautomatic rifle on Sunday entered a synagogue in Poway in California, some 40 kilometres north of San Diego, yelling anti-Semitic slurs and opened fire, killing one woman, and wounding the rabbi and two others. Six people, including a pastor, were killed in an attack on a church in Burkina Faso on Sunday.
Last month, 50 worshippers were gunned down at two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand. “Around the world, we are seeing a disturbing groundswell of intolerance and hate-based violence targeting worshippers of many faiths. In recent days alone, a synagogue in the United States and a church in Burkina Faso have come under attack,” the UN Chief said on Monday.
“Such incidents have become all-too-familiar: Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalised, Jews murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas, Christians killed at prayer, their churches often torched. Houses of worship, instead of the safe havens they should be, have become targets,” Guterres said. He said apart from the murders of innocent people, there was “loathsome rhetoric” and xenophobia aimed not only at religious groups but also at migrants, minorities and refugees.
“Assertions of white supremacy, a resurgence of neo-Nazi ideology, venom directed at anyone considered the other,” he said. Guterres warned that parts of the internet were becoming “hothouses of hate”, as “like-minded bigots” find each other on-line, and platforms serve to inflame and enable hate to go viral. “As crime feeds on crime, and as vile views move from the fringes to the mainstream, I am profoundly concerned that we are nearing a pivotal moment in battling hatred and extremism,” he said.
The UN chief has set two “urgent initiatives” in motion – the drawing up of UN plan of action to “fully mobilise” the system to tackle hate speech, led by Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng, and an effort being led by the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Miguel Moratinos to help ensure the safety of religious sanctuaries.
“The world must step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, persecution of Christians and all other forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement,” Guterres said. Hatred is a threat to everyone and therefore it is a “job for everyone”, he said. “Political and religious leaders have a special responsibility to promote peaceful coexistence. I will count on the strong support of Governments, civil society and other partners in working together to uphold the values that bind us a single human family,” Guterres said.
Earlier on Monday, at the UN in Geneva, a major summit to counter hate speech got underway, co-hosted by Dieng. Warning against a “revival” of ultra-nationalist groups and parties, the UN official said that they “legitimised violations” by portraying minorities as a threat to their culture and identity. “These groups are spreading their incendiary language into mainstream political discourse. We see this in too many countries,” he said at the event co-hosted with the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (AIDLR).
“We need to collectively and actively stop these dynamics and counter them with messages of openness and inclusion,” Dieng said. Last month, Dieng also expressed concern about spiralling intercommunal violence in central Mali which claimed 134 villagers’ lives in one single attack, including women and children.