Action Plan for Religious Leaders, Actors on Preventing Incitement to Violence
15 July 2017


15 July 2017

UNIC/PRESS RELEASE/079-2017

FROM THE UN SECRETARY-GENERAL

Action Plan for Religious Leaders, Actors on Preventing Incitement to Violence

In a meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York, UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched the first-ever action plan designed specifically to enable religious leaders to prevent incitement to violence — the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.

The Plan of Action was developed over two years of intensive global and regional consultations organized by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, with the support of the International Dialogue Centre, the World Council of Churches and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

A total of 232 religious leaders and actors from 77 countries took part in the consultations.  Participants included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs from different groups and denominations, as well as representatives of various religious minorities, including the Baha’i, Candomblé, Kakai, Yazidi and humanists.  Women made up at least 30 per cent of participants in all meetings.

The Action Plan was developed in response to an alarming spike in hate speech and incitement to violence in recent years against individuals or communities, on the basis of their identity.  Incitement to violence, in public discourse and in the media, is both a common warning sign and a precursor of atrocity crimes.  The Action Plan is the first document to focus on the role of religious leaders and actors in preventing incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes, and the first to develop context-specific regional strategies with that objective in mind.

Implementation of the Plan of Action will contribute to the prevention of atrocity crimes, especially in areas affected by religious and sectarian tensions and violence, and enhance respect for, as well as protection and promotion of, human rights, including the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief, and of peaceful assembly.

Secretary-General Guterres said: “All religions teach respect for life and recognize human beings as fundamentally equal.  These principles summon us to show respect for all human beings, even those with whom we might profoundly disagree or whose cultures might seem alien.”  He added: “I urge the widest possible dissemination and implementation of this Plan of Action.  It can help to save lives, reduce suffering and realize our shared vision of peaceful, inclusive and just societies in which diversity is valued and the rights of all individuals are protected.”

Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said: “States are primarily responsible for protecting their populations from atrocity crimes, as well as incitement to violence.  But religious leaders can be particularly influential here, as they can influence the behaviour of those who follow them and share their beliefs.  Since religion has repeatedly been misused to justify incitement to violence, it is vital that religious leaders from all faiths show leadership in this matter.”

Faisal Bin Muaammar, Secretary-General of the International Dialogue Centre, said: “In our work with leaders of religious communities, we have seen an alarming spike in recent times of incitement to violence against people based on their religion, and in the misuse of religion to justify violence.  Religious leaders are keen to work together to find solutions to these pressing challenges.  Attempts to find solutions to these challenges have tended to exclude religious leaders.  A 360-degree approach which brings religious leaders, policymakers, and civil society to the dialogue table is the only way to build solutions that work.”

Isabel Apawo Phiri, Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), stated: “The WCC is honoured to be working with the United Nations and the other partners in this important project, which engages a critical and often previously ignored constituency for a more peaceful world.  We live in a time when some groups boldly and shamelessly advance religious justifications for the inhuman violence they perpetrate.  While acknowledging the need for each of us to interrogate our own traditions and interpretations for sources of violence against others, it is of vital importance that the much vaster religious resources for peace and justice do not remain untapped.”

Antti Pentikainen, Executive Director and Convener of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, noted that “this unprecedented United Nations initiative has placed religious and traditional peacemakers at the centre of the innovative Plan of Action to engage religious leaders and actors around the world in grassroots peacebuilding”.  He added: “The strategic inclusive engagement of these individuals constitutes a new and timely dimension in United Nations activities that aims to reach stakeholders working on the ground to promote peace among their friends, neighbours and follow community members.  The Network is pleased to partner with the Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, and we look forward to continuing this partnership to implement the Plan of Action as it falls within the parameters of our mandate.”

The Plan of Action is a pioneering document both in its focus on religious leaders and actors, and in the wide range of organizations and stakeholders that contributed to its development.  It contains concrete recommendations on preventing incitement to violence, strengthening communities’ resistance to incitement and building mechanisms for a united response.

While intended primarily for use by religious leaders and actors, the Plan also includes detailed recommendations for others, including States and State institutions, secular civil society organizations, and new and traditional media.  Preventing atrocity crimes and their incitement is a multi-layered endeavour that is most likely to succeed when different actors are working collaboratively for the same objective.

At the launch meeting, religious leaders and actors, the United Nations, Member States, and civil society will begin discussing strategies for implementation of the Plan of Action and for coordination between religious leaders and implementing agencies.  Important next steps include the Plan’s dissemination among Member States, relevant United Nations agencies and other stakeholders.

Read the Plan of Action at: www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/Plan%20of%20Action%20Advanced%20Copy.pdf.


Secretary-General:  Authority of Religious Leaders Critical to Preventing Incitement of Violence

 Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks on the launch of the Fez Plan of Action, in New York on 14 July:

Let me begin by thanking you for coming together in this deeply meaningful way — and on such a timely initiative.

I firmly believe in the power of faith leaders to shape our world for good.  As High Commissioner for Refugees, I made a special effort to reach out to faith leaders.  I did so out of personal conviction.  But, I also did so for very practical reasons.  After all, to the vast majority of people uprooted from their homes, faith is an anchor in a stormy sea of fear, loss, separation and destitution.

We worked together with religious leaders on a project that focused on the roots of modern refugee law and Islamic law.  We did it in close cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and with the support of Nayef University in Riyadh.  More broadly, we brought in UNHCR [the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], religious leaders together for a dialogue on faith and protection.

Again and again, I have been struck by the consonance of key precepts and core values between the different faiths.  Indeed faith is central to hope and resilience.  Yet, around the world, we see how religion is being twisted — cynically manipulated — to justify incitement to violence and discrimination.  We see an alarming rise in online and offline hate speech — messages that spread hostility and hatred and encourage populations to commit violence against individuals or communities, often based on their identity.

Hate speech sows the seeds of suspicion, mistrust and intolerance.  Over time, it can play an important role in convincing people that violence is logical, justifiable, even necessary.  And so, it is no surprise that hate speech is one of the most common warning signs of atrocity crimes — genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Since we know the warning signs, we can also take early action to prevent these crimes.  The voice, the authority, and the example of religious leaders are critical.  This conviction led to the development of the initiative we launch today.  The Fez Plan of Action is the product of two years of consultations, led by my Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  It involved religious leaders representing different faiths around the world, as well as faith-based organizations and many others.  I would like to pay tribute to the critical role of many partners, and in particular KAICIID, the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the World Council of Churches.

The Plan is based on a unifying commitment to promote peace, understanding, mutual respect and the fundamental rights of all people.  This includes the rights to freedom of religion and belief, opinion and expression, and peaceful association.

The Plan of Action sets out a broad range of ways in which religious leaders can prevent incitement to violence and contribute to peace and stability.  It stresses the importance of women and youth in all prevention initiatives.  It also contains recommendations for States and the international community.

All religions teach respect for life and recognize human beings as fundamentally equal.  These principles summon us to show respect for all human beings, even those with whom we might profoundly disagree or whose cultures might seem alien.  I urge the widest possible dissemination and implementation of this Plan of Action.  It can help to save lives, reduce suffering and realize our shared vision of a peaceful, inclusive and just societies in which diversity is valued and the rights of all individuals are protected.

Let us work together to prevent and end atrocity crimes and all affronts to human rights and dignity.