Guterres said he is committing the United Nations to help...

Guterres said he is committing the United Nations to help curb attacks on houses of worship . Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Parker Song

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the world to step up the fight against religious and ethnic intolerance in the wake of the fatal shooting in a California synagogue and in a church in Africa, the latest examples of hate-fueled deadly violence on a mass scale.

Guterres said Monday in a written statement that he is committing the UN to help curb a disturbing trend in which people are attacking houses of worship with lethal weapons worldwide, with the attacks on worshippers in a synagogue in Poway, California, and a church in Burkina Faso the most recent incidents where people were slaughtered as they practiced their faiths.

“Such incidents have become all too familiar,” Guterres said. “Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; 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.”

In California, one woman was killed and three others were injured on Saturday.  In Burkina Faso, six people, including a pastor, were killed during an attack on a church on Sunday.

The shootings come just over a week after more than 250 people were killed in bombings at three churches in Sri Lanka, a month after attacks by an alleged white supremacist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and six months since a gunman sprayed with gunfire the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people.

“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. 

Guterres cited a recent "groundswell of intolerance” producing “loathsome rhetoric: 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 he would assign his Special Representative on Genocide Prevention, Adama Dieng, to establish a plan of action to respond to hate speech and would require Miguel Ángel Moratinos, his High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, to explore how the UN can help safeguard houses of worship.

“Parts of the Internet are becoming hothouses of hate, as like-minded bigots find each other online, and platforms serve to inflame and enable hate to go viral,” said Stephane Dujarric, Guterres' spokesman, quoting Guterres as he spoke to journalists Monday in Manhattan. 

“As crime feeds on crime, and as vile views move from the fringes to the mainstream, the Secretary-General is profoundly concerned that we are nearing a pivotal moment in battling hatred and extremism,” Dujarric said.

Guterres said leaders of every type have a special role to play.

“Hatred is a threat to everyone – and so this 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.”

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