UNITED NATIONS : Chief urges world to stamp out religious persecution in all its forms and manifestations.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the world on the first international day to remember the victims of religious persecution to ''step-up to stomp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, the prosecution of Christians and other religious groups.''

The UN chief on Thursday cited a rise in the attacks against individuals and groups around the world, saying ''Jews have been murdered in Synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas, Muslims gunned down in Mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayers their Churches torched.''

Guterres said the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion and Belief was an opportunity to show support for doing ''all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible be held accountable.''

He urged people everywhere to  resist and reject those who ''falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred.''

Fifteen UN Human Rights experts marked the day with a call on all countries to ensure that religions and beliefs are not used to violate human rights - and to combat religious extremism.

The independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council said in a joint statement that  ''the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief is is misunderstood as protecting religions and belief instead of the people with the belief and those without.''

The experts, om issues ranging from freedom of religion to minorities to violence against women, emphasized the words of the General Assembly resolution sponsored by Poland and adopted in June that established the International day on Aug 22.

It said that  ''terrorism and violent extremism in all is forms and manifestations cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group.''

At an informal UN Security Council meeting marking the day, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, said by video from Geneva that ''despite, much progress, I am deeply alarmed by the worldwide rise of xenophobia, racism, religious intolerance that is menacing to our lives,'' as well as to democracy, social instability, and peace.

''If we can't accept diversity, there shall be no peace in the world,'' she said.

Bachelet said a key to trying to combat religious persecution is to look for ''early warning signs'' like discrimination and words of intolerance and take early action.

Samuel Brownback, the US Ambassador at large for religious freedom. told the council that according to the Pew Forum : ''83% of the global community live in countries with  high or very high restrictions on the free practice of faith - and its getting worse and not better.''  [Agencies]


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