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Intervention delivered by Mrs. Sonali Samarasinghe, Minister, at the Launch of the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites, 12 September 2019

Thursday, 12 September 2019


Sri Lanka Intervention

By Mrs. Sonali Samarasinghe, Minister

Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN

Launch of the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious sites:

In Unity and Solidarity for Safe and Peaceful Worship

Economic and Social Council

12 September 11:00 am - 12:15 pm onwards

Mr. Chairperson

Sri Lanka welcomes the UN Plan of Action to safeguard religious sites and congratulates Secretary-General Mr. António Guterres for this timely initiative. The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), Mr. Miguel Moratinos must be commended for his extraordinary efforts in developing the Action Plan and Sri Lanka supports its implementation to the extent possible.

It was not long after Christchurch that the Easter Sunday attacks occurred in Sri Lanka. I take this opportunity to thank the High Representative for visiting Sri Lanka in its aftermath including other UN officials and member states that visited or expressed support. This was a source of strength and comfort to my government and people.

Sri Lanka will study the plan of action closely and continue to engage with the Secretary General’s initiatives and the work of the UNAOC. It is important to encourage interfaith dialogue and harness religious leaders to act as early warning systems, so that governments could be alerted to radical behavioral patterns in a timely manner. Additionally, it is vital that women, youth, media and the private sector are included in these efforts through outreach and education. To this end Sri Lanka established in 2015 the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation and we look forward to enhancing and enriching its work by incorporating recommendations from this Plan of Action as appropriate.

On a preliminary basis permit me to make some observations on the Plan of Action before u today

  1. Sri Lanka welcomes the principles of Respect, Responsibility, Diversity, Dialogue, Solidarity and Standing and Staying together upon which the Plan of Action is anchored. In a richly diverse world it is surely our common humanity that must serve as the guarantee of a unified response to such despicable acts. 
  1. It is important to change the mind sets and attitudes of children during their formative years through value-based education that focuses on social and emotional learning.  
  1. All attacks on religious sites are particularly debased in their cruelty and in their locations. Terrorists attack soft targets because they are easily accessible, low risk and high impact. It gives such attacks an added dimension of inhumanity. Therefore, Sri Lanka welcomes the recommendation to particularly define religious sites as vulnerable targets.
  1. We look forward to cooperating with UNAOC in developing an online interactive tool for mapping religious sites around the world while we must remain cautious not to provide unsavory actors with information on locations in the process.


Madam President,

It is crucial for the UN and Member States to draw from the UN Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism and the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, among other useful documents and resolutions in addressing this cross-cutting issue. It is worthy to report that Sri Lanka is currently exploring the possibility of drafting a whole of government strategic plan to prevent and counter violent extremism and build community resilience throughout the country.

It is reiterated that media - especially social media platforms - must seek to disseminate the values that will foster a culture of peace rather than hate and bigotry.  It is important to note that the Easter Sunday attacks were not carried out by marginalized members of society but by affluent, foreign educated local actors who were radicalized abroad and on the internet.

Member States must strive to work with the social media industry to limit the negative effects of hate speech and intolerance and tackle their root causes. This could be done by building trust, bringing clarity through the wide dissemination of values and principles that govern technology development and use, being transparent about policy decision-making that impacts other stakeholders, and seeking to address known vulnerabilities in software and data breaches. Furthermore, Governments must invite participation from companies and civil society in discussions on regulation so as to understand the structures that erode trust and find ways to change their perceptions.

Sri Lanka is of the view that Social Media platforms should be subject to a code of conduct to regulate their obligation to tackling intolerance and hate online. In  this regard we encourage an All-of-UN approach to national, regional and global efforts to prevent religious intolerance and hate speech online.

Sri Lanka looks forward to the UNSG’s global conference in 2020 with the participation of all stakeholders including faith-based organizations, media and civil society in spearheading political support, collaboration and partnerships.

Finally, it is crucial that we the international community makes full use of the 75th Anniversary of the UN in 2020 as an opportunity to address these issues and make a global commitment for digital cooperation.


Thank you