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USCIRF alarmed by attacks on religious sites during armed conflict

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USCIRF (03.11.2023) – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed alarm over an increase in the destruction of religious sites.

In both peacetime and times of armed conflict, governments and non-state actors are obligated by international law to protect these sites. However, recent attacks have targeted religious sites including cemeteries and houses of worship including churches, mosques, and a synagogue.

“USCIRF abhors the burning and destruction of the El Hamma synagogue in Tunisia. This attack is linked directly to rising global antisemitism and explicit threats against Jews, including antisemitic chants at protests and the tagging of Jewish homes with Star of David graffiti,” said USCIRF Commissioner Susie Gelman “We also condemn several recent attacks on mosques and the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric globally. All governments have an obligation to protect houses of worship and the people who use them for worship and religious observance.”

“We are concerned by the uptick of attacks on churches in Sudan and Nigeria, and the targeting of Christian churches and cemeteries in Jerusalem,” said USCIRF Commissioner Frank Wolf. “We urge the United States to do everything it can to ensure that these religious sites are protected.”

“International humanitarian law protects human dignity and institutions that serve civilians, including houses of worship, during times of armed conflict,” said USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel. “It is unlawful to direct attacks at religious sites, or to use houses of worship in support of a military effort. The U.S. government must continue to insist in public and private engagements that all parties to the current conflicts respect these crucial tenets of international law.”

In 2019, USCIRF issued a factsheet on international law protecting houses of worship and holy sites. Last month, USCIRF expressed concern over rising religious hatred as a result of the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza.

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