UNITED NATIONS, Oct 29 (APP): UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday strongly condemned a knife attack inside a church in the southern French city of Nice, which reportedly left three worshippers dead.
In a statement released by his spokesperson, the UN chief extended his condolences to the families of the victims, and reaffirmed “the solidarity of the United Nations with the people and the Government of France.”
According to reports, a lone attacker armed with a knife entered the Notre Dame Basilica and carried out the attack. A man and a woman died at the scene, while another woman later died from her injuries. The attacker was injured after being shot by police and taken to hospital.
French authorities are treating it as a terrorist incident.
The deadly attack in Nice, was not the only violent incident to take place on Thursday, in the wake of a strong reaction in France, led by President Emmanuel Macron, to the beheading of a teacher near Paris nearly two weeks ago.
That attack was reportedly carried out in response to the re-publication of blasphemous sketches of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him), in the Charlie Hebdo magazine.
A man was shot dead on Thursday near the southern French city of Avignon, after reportedly threatening police with a handgun, and according to news reports, a guard outside the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was attacked and wounded. The suspect was detained.
Following the killings in Nice, French police have launched a murder inquiry, with the national security alert system has been raised to its highest level.
In the wake of the killing of school teacher Samuel Paty, and President Macron’s defence of the publication of the cartoons, there have been big protests in some Muslim nations, including Pakistan, and calls for a boycott of French goods, especially from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In a statement issued in response to the killings in Nice, the senior UN official, who oversees the protection of religious sites and advocates for religious tolerance, Miguel Aìngel Moratinos, strongly condemned the “barbaric attack”, stressing that any attacks targeting civilians, including worshippers, were “intolerable and utterly unjustifiable, whenever, wherever and by whomsoever committed.”
But the High-Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), also noted that such “outrageous crimes should not dissuade us from working together to promote mutual respect and peace globally, as one humanity.”
In an earlier statement released on Wednesday, he said that he was following the fallout from “growing tensions and instances of intolerance” triggered by the publication of the blasphemous caricatures with “deep concern”.
He pointed out that the re-publication of the images had been viewed as “insulting and deeply offensive” by many Muslims.
“The inflammatory caricatures have also provoked acts of violence against innocent civilians who were attacked for their sheer religion, belief or ethnicity.
“The High-Representative stresses that insulting religions and sacred religious symbols, provokes hatred and violent extremism leading to polarization and fragmentation of society”, said the statement. “
He calls for mutual respect of all religions and beliefs and for fostering a culture of fraternity and peace.”
Moratinos noted that “the freedom of religion or belief and the freedom of expression are interdependent, interrelated and mutually re-enforcing rights rooted in the articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), noting that upholding and protecting the fundamental rights was the primary responsibility of member states.
“At the same time, freedom of expression should be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions.”
He said violence was never a justifiable or acceptable response to acts of intolerance on the basis of religion or belief.
The High-Representative is in charge of implementing a UN Plan of Action and Strategy on Hate Speech, a guide to help fight hate speech, racism and discrimination.