Informal Briefing of the Secretary-General on the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard

Austin Smith
Acting U.S. Representative to ECOSOC
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
September 12, 2019


Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. High Representative, Distinguished Delegates,
The United States welcomes the initiative of the Secretary-General to launch the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites, and we appreciate the hard work undertaken by High Representative Moratinos and his team to develop this Plan. We look forward to reviewing it closely in the coming days.

The United States is dismayed by the egregious violations of religious freedom perpetrated by states as well as terrorist groups. Attacks on places of worship are evil acts designed to instill fear during times that should be about prayer and reflection. Places of worship – including synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, shrines of all faiths, and religious heritage sites – are all too vulnerable to attack, and the global community must act.

To that end, Secretary Pompeo has convened two ministerial-level events that brought together civil society representatives, religious leaders, survivors of religious persecution, and representatives of over 100 governments to discuss how we can work together to promote freedom of religion or belief. We welcomed the participation of High Representative Moratinos in this year’s Ministerial and appreciated his discussion of this very topic.

Our first speakers during the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this year were the rabbi from the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, a survivor of the Christchurch mosque shootings, and a Christian activist who ministered to survivors of the Easter church bombings in Sri Lanka. At the conclusion of the Ministerial, we introduced a statement condemning acts of violence against places of worship, which received close to 50 cosigners representing countries from every region of the world.

As member states of the United Nations, our commitment to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” will ring hollow if people are afraid to attend their houses of worship. So we welcome this opportunity, today, to again stand together against attacks on places of worship and to discuss what more can be done.

First, we should assist faith communities under threat by providing assistance where necessary and requested, including police security and community training on security best practices. Second, we should support religious groups and other communities subjected to violence and move swiftly to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. We should also protect the cultural heritage of threatened minority religious communities, particularly in conflict zones, and preserve their heritage sites and traditions.

Finally, we must ensure that survivors, civil society, and all faith communities are central in these efforts. Their voices must be heard and respected. We believe officials at all levels of government should partner with religious communities and civil society organizations to effectively protect places of worship from acts of violence, and when attacks do occur, they must be condemned unequivocally.

In closing, we stand ready to support efforts to protect all places of worship from violence or attack, and we encourage all communities to support one another, in the spirit of solidarity, and to cooperate in preventing attacks against places of worship.