The space for peace in the world will be taken a notch higher when high-level religious leaders, policy and security experts alongside other relevant stakeholders crack their heads at a two-day National Conference on the Protection of Holy Sites scheduled to take place Monday, June 12 – 13th, 2017 in Abuja, Nigeria. They would be doing so with a view to drawing lessons from experiences on the Protection of Holy Sites. The principle that Holy Sites should be safeguarded as havens for peace and reconciliation rather than targets of desecration and/or destruction during violent conflicts has yet to become an article of faith for peaceful co-existence in pluralistic societies. But a lot of progress has been made on making it so, including the development of a Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites among religious leaders.
The target is to have a world body such at the U.N. to not only adopt the articles of the Code as a convention but also set up a universal monitoring mechanism to legally protect holy sites, regardless of religion. Developed in consultation with religious leaders and experts from the world’s major faiths, the Universal Code on Holy Sites is the product of joint work by One World in Dialogue, Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, Religions for Peace and Search for Common Ground. As such, whenever the Universal Code on Holy Sites is achieved, it would be additional to the list of such interventions that have made Global Civil Society a force in international peace and security in the post Cold War. These would include the coming into being of the World Fair Trade Organization, (WFTO), the International Criminal Court; the World Commission on Dams and the treaty against antipersonnel landmines.
According to a statement by Fatima Abubakar Madaki of Search for Common Ground – Nigeria, the international Non-Governmental Organisation implementing the 12-month project, the national conference is expected to highlight the results and outcomes of the project, promote the universal code and share the zonal strategies for protection of holy sites that have been developed under this project in the earlier phase.
Funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the conference would equally aim at developing a policy brief, complemented by what the organisers call consensus-based statement with recommendations and strategies on the protection of holy sites. By implication, the world is working towards the situation whereby Christians who run to a Mosque or Muslims who run for safety to a Church are guaranteed protection because a universal code exists to that effect. When the world attains that level of civilisation, it means that the military barracks would not be the only sanctuaries or safe heavens in moments of murderous rage in a country such as Nigeria.
Although Universal Code on Holy Sites is a work in progress, the clarity of the logic has its own stirring impact as in the idea of “Holy sites are places of profound significance and sacred religious attachment whose special character and integrity are to be preserved and protected against all violence and desecration”. Defined broadly as places of worship, cemeteries and shrines, incorporating their immediate surroundings if such is integral to the site, holy sites are understood as places of religious significance to particular religious communities.
So far, no less than ten leaders of religious and faith-based organisations have endorsed the code, among them the Religions for Peace Executive Committee and World Council, World Sikh Leadership, World Council of Religious Leaders (WCORL) and President of the All India Imam Organization. Others are European Council of Religious Leaders, Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate; The Bishops Conference of The Church of Norway; President of the Interfaith Harmony Foundation of India and Imam Maulina Wahiduddin Khan of India.