Agreed on a code to protect holy sites

Religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe and the Middle East have agreed on a code to protect holy sites. They were gathered in Trondheim in late July to discuss how to protect holy sites from being abused by political leaders in order to spread hatred in war and conflict. The long-term ambition is to make the code a internationally binding document, for example in the form of a UN convention.

“This agreement is a step forward in the efforts to protect the holy sites against abuse and distruction. A lot of work remains before this can be transformed in concrete measures, but this is a promising starting point”, says special adviser Ingrid Vik at the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights.

Contribution to peace efforts
The document that the religious leaders agreed on is called “A Code of Holy Sites”. The code addresses a number of different aspects that could threaten the holy sites, and make them inaccessible for the religious communities they belong to.

The aim is also that this should be a tool to solve and prevent conflicts regarding ownership and access to holy places, and that it should ensure that holy sites are accessible to ordinary people both during and after conflicts.

“This document can be an important contribution to peace efforts. We have seen that the destruction of religious buildings and holy places are effective means to reinforce and deepen the conflict between people. Experience also shows us that the conflicts regarding holy sites hinder peace processes. Jerusalem and Kosovo are examples of this”, says Ingrid Vik.

Support is important
The conference is initiated by the foundation One World in Dialogue and the Oslo Center for peace and human rights. The project started in Trondheim last year, when the participants agreed on a common basis and goals for the further process.

“For the code of holy sites to be followed, it is essential to create support and commitment among religious and political leaders, in addition to the relevant international organizations. This will constitute an important part of the efforts in the following year”, says Ingrid Vik.

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