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Discrimination against religious beliefs is unacceptable – Guterres

UNITED Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says it is totally unacceptable in the 21st century for people to face discrimination and intimidation for their beliefs.

In his remarks to the event on religious freedom at the UN on Monday, Guterres said the persecution of religious minorities is utterly intolerable.

“In 2001, under my initiative as prime minister of Portugal, my country enshrined religious freedom into the nation’s law with the objective at the time to equalise the benefits that the Catholic Church traditionally had in Portugal and to extend them to all religions in the country,” he said.

Guterres said the measure declared that no one can be privileged or persecuted on account of their religion – and that “the State shall not discriminate against any…religious community in relation to others.”

“Looking around the world, we tragically know that this is not a reality for millions of people. It is totally unacceptable in the 21st century for people to face discrimination and intimidation for their beliefs. The persecution of religious minorities is utterly intolerable,” he said.

Guterres said the full scope of their human rights was guaranteed, and States have an obligation to implement policies that ensure their identities are respected and that they feel fully part of the society as a whole.

“Earlier this year, His Holiness Pope Francis, along with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, His Eminence Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, signed a moving testament for mutual respect. It stated that the diversity of religions is willed by the Creator. ‘This divine wisdom,’ they wrote, ‘is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derive.’ It breaks my heart to see increasing numbers of individuals publicly humiliated, harassed and attacked simply because of their religion or beliefs,” he said.

Guterres said Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized while Christians are killed at prayer and their churches torched.

“And in many hotspots around the world, entire communities have been targeted because of their faith – including in places where those communities have existed for centuries, if not millennia. We must do all we can to avoid religious cleansing of societies,” he urged.

Guterres said there was need to reject those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, to fuel division, to spread fear and hatred.

“And we must be vigilant about attempts to instrumentalise religion and identity to restrict the full enjoyment of rights by others, and to perpetuate or justify inequalities,” he said.

Guterres said there was richness and strength in diversity.

“It is never a threat,” he said.

Guterres said profiting from that diversity requires a strong investment in social cohesion policies.

“We have much wisdom to guide us on our way. All major religions espouse mutual respect and peaceful coexistence in a spirit of shared humanity. And our shared foundational text, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirms everyone’s ‘right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.’ Simply put: the best way to promote international religious freedom is by uniting our voices for good, countering messages of hate with messages of peace, embracing diversity and protecting human rights everywhere,” Guterres said.

He said the UN was stepping up action through two new initiatives that he had launched in recent weeks.

“First, through a strategy on hate speech to coordinate efforts across the UN system, addressing the root causes and making our response more effective against hate speech. Second, an action plan for the UN to be fully engaged in efforts to support safeguard religious sites and ensure the safety of houses of worship,” Guterres said.

“Holy sites should be places of worship, not places of war. Taken together, these efforts seek to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our world today. We have a collective responsibility to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, the persecution of Christians and other religious groups, and all forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement to violence.”

Guterres said hatred was a threat to everyone and so it must be a job for everyone.

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