On September 20, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations hosted a Ministerial Side Event entitled “Upholding the Responsibility to Protect: The Role of Religious Leaders in Preventing Atrocity Crimes,” along with the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, whose family immigrated to New Zealand due to the violence in Northern Ireland during his childhood, explained the Responsibility to Protect is a promise that heads of State and Government made through a 2005 resolution to defend all populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
“Despite a near universal acceptance of the Responsibility to Protect, in many conflict situations, religious intolerance is still used to divide the human family and to foment violence,” Adams said, noting the atrocities and genocide ISIS is committing against Yazidis, Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State to His Holiness Pope Francis, said in his keynote address that the major world religions are peaceful and are not the cause of atrocity crimes.
“There is a risk of falling into the temptation of misunderstanding or hiding the real cause of these despicable actions by attributing the cause to religion,” he said. “Religions are not the cause of these ills, which result instead from some political, geopolitical and economic interests, and from the desire for power and domination.”
Cardinal Parolin called religious leaders to uphold the Responsibility to Protect by engaging in interreligious dialogue and promoting peace in their communities.
“Their vocation is to carry out and inspire actions aimed at helping the building of societies based on respect for life and human dignity, charity, fraternity, which goes far beyond tolerance, and solidarity,” he said.
Adama Dieng, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, quoting Pope Francis, said “Killing in the name of God is Satanic,” and condemned the many forms of hate speech that encourage people to commit violence against certain groups.
“Religion is being misused and manipulated by parties with vested interest in fueling hostility and hatred between people of different faiths,” he said.
Bani Dugal, the Director of Baha’i International, said religious leaders have a social and spiritual duty to counter prejudice in all forms.
“The power of religious figures to advance the common good is well recognized,” she said. “Their urging holds the authority to move multitudes into positive constructive action.”
Imam Yahya Pallavicini of the Italian Religious Islamic Community said killing the innocent is against the core teachings of Islam and called for better education and dialogue among religious institutions and communities.
“From the Muslim perspective, humanity is a universe characterized by the divine gift of life and the dignity of spiritual presence,” he said. “A universe based on religions, cultures and citizenships that contribute to the common good.”
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and Senior Rabbi of New York City’s Park East Synagogue, spoke to what can happen when the Responsibility to Protect is not exercised. A survivor of the Holocaust, he lived in Vienna, Austria in during the Nazi Occupation and saw his synagogue burned down on Kristallnacht in 1938.
“What started with the burning of synagogues, led to the burning of human beings, including my family whose graveyard is Auschwitz,” he said. “Even as a child I was waiting for the Responsibility to Protect,” but at the time there was tragically “no protection.”
Rabbi Schneier shed light on the “hero diplomats” who risked their own lives to protect the vulnerable during the Holocaust and called present-day diplomats to imitate those heroic actions.
István Mikola, Minister of State for Security Policy and International Cooperation of Hungary, made an intervention, saying that religious leaders and organizers play an integral role in preventing atrocity crimes. He also said Hungary is especially troubled by the atrocities committed by ISIS.
“The systematic targeting of other ethnic and religious groups not only threatens peace and security but the mere existence of these minorities in the Middle East,” he said.
Belen Alfaro, Spain’s Ambassador-at-large for the Alliance of Civilization and Interreligious Dialogue, concurring with Cardinal Parolin, said blaming religion for causing conflict often hides the root problem which are political or social religion, but said religious leaders have the capacity to build peace.
“They can have a tremendous impact when they call to end to hostility and violence, and when they publicly denounce and condemn violence,” she said.
To watch the event in its entirety, click here.