The United Nations launches initiative to combat atrocities with the help of religious leaders and actors

UN Secretary-General Guterres, Dr Cheema (standing to the left of Guterres), Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh (first person to the right in the photo) and religious leaders in New York on 14 July 2017 (Copyright: GNNSJ, 2017)

On Friday, 14 July 2017, the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that could lead to Atrocity Crimes was launched at UN Headquarters in New York in the presence of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, UN Under Secretary-General Adama Dieng as well as representatives from Member States, United Nations’ organisations, and international and non-governmental organisations.

The Plan of Action is a significant new UN Initiative, calling on religious leaders and actors, member states, civil society, academia and the media to become active partners of the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect in the implementation and further development of this plan. Implementation of the global Plan of Action and its five regional action plans could contribute to the prevention of atrocity crimes, especially in areas affected by religious and sectarian tensions and violence.

The launch event at UN Headquarters was attended by three invited participants from Birmingham:

Dr Iqtidar Cheema, Honorary Fellow of the Edward Cadbury Centre, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham, who played a significant role in the development of the Plan of Action as a member of its Advisory Committee.

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The members of the Advisory Committee (from left to right): Jillian Abballe (Advocacy Officer at World Council of Churches), Iqtidar Cheema (The Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion), Adama Dieng (United Nations Under Secretary-General/Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide), Mohammed Elsanoussi (Director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers), Azza Karam (Senior Advisor on Culture at the United Nations Population Fund), Burton Visotzky (Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at The Jewish Theological Seminary) and Peter Prove (Director of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs) (Photo credit: Michael Palma).

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Dr Cheema (Photo credit: Michael Palma)

Dr Cheema stressed that the notion of “state religion” should not be used to discriminate against any individual or group and the religious interpretations that appear to perpetuate violence, gender inequality and harmful stereotypes should be revisited. He urged that faith leaders should stand up for the rights of all persons belonging to minorities and publicly denounce all instances of advocacy of hatred that incites to violence, discrimination or hostility. 

Dr Josef Boehle, a Researcher at the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham, who was invited as an expert on inter-religious cooperation and peacebuilding at the United Nations System. 

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Dr Josef Boehle (sitting to the right in the second row) at the launch of the Plan of Action at the United Nations on 14 July 2017 (Copyright: GNNSJ, 2017).

Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh (Chairman and Religious Leader of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha UK), a recipient of a Honorary Doctorate of the University of Birmingham, who was one of the invited panel speakers at the launch event. His panel discussed the role of religious leaders in sustaining peace, preventing incitement to violence and implementing sustainable development goals.

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Panel speakers (from left to right): Reverend Chloe Breyer (Executive Director of The Interfaith Center of New York), Aisha al-Adawiya (Founder of Women in Islam), Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh (Chairman of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, UK), Rabbi Burton Visotzky (Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at The Jewish Theological Seminary),  Imam Yahya Pallavicini (Vice-President of the Italian Islamic Religious Community) (Copyright: GNNSJ, 2017).