Holy sites shall be preserved for present and future generations, with dignity, integrity and respect for their name and identity. - The Universal Code, Article 2

Holy sites are of crucial spiritual and cultural significance to billions of people across the globe. Yet, history demonstrates again and again how easy it is for sacred places to become inextricably caught up in political, territorial and religious disputes, becoming pawns of conflict themselves. Harm to holy sites has an impact on the core of people’s identities, reinforces community trauma, and adds a deep symbolic dimension to conflict. Attacks on places of worship frequently fuel the escalation of violence as well.


The result of all this is that too often, in the minds of many, religion becomes a synonym of violence, losing its potential to be a force for peace, justice and reconciliation. The Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites is a new, cutting-edge strategy to mitigate interreligious conflict and build peace across the globe.



Creating the Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites


In 2009, The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, One World in Dialogue, Religions for Peace and Search for Common Ground launched efforts to establish a Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites (Universal Code). In July 2009, religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe and the Middle East gathered together with politicians and civil society leaders in Trondheim, Norway, to discuss how to protect holy sites from violence and abuse. In 2011, after a three-year development process, the Universal Code was finally launched. To date, it has been endorsed by thousands of religious leaders and interfaith networks. The Universal Code’s long-term goal is to better protect holy sites through cooperation between leaders of diverse religions and relevant state authorities. To this end, efforts are underway to create a UN General Assembly Resolution based on the Universal Code. Click here for more information



Vision and Purpose of the Universal Code


Sharing the vision of a world where holy sites are universally acknowledged as sacred to their respective religions or faith traditions, and where the attachment of persons and communities to their holy sites is respected by everyone, regardless of their belief - The Universal Code, Preamble


The overarching vision of the Universal Code is that of a world in which adherents of all religions are able to practice their faiths at their holy sites, freely and without fear. Within this vision, religious leaders have the responsibility of cooperating across religious boundaries, not only for the good of their own communities but also to serve the best interests of people worldwide.

The Universal Code maps out a practical code of conduct and policy for sacred places across the globe. Its main purposes are the preservation of holy sites for present and future generations, the safety of believers, and the promotion of interreligious cooperation. Holy sites include, but are not limited to, places of worship, cemeteries, and shrines, incorporating surroundings where these form an integral part of the site.

The Universal Code aims for


  • mutual respect by religious leaders of the spiritual and cultural significance of the holy sites of every faith;

  • improved collaborative actions across faiths on issues relating to holy sites;

  • and support of a UN General Assembly Resolution in its spirit.


The Universal Code also provides a solid foundation for improving relationships between ethnic and religious groups. In this way, it can be used as a tool for reconciliation and conflict prevention.


We believe that field projects are the best way to test the viability of the Universal Code. They can be based on all or parts of it, and adapted as needed to local contexts. In many areas of the world, we have already obtained visible positive change with initiatives based on the Universal Code. These successes are likely to set an example and model further acts of cooperation. Click here for more information


The Universal Code, first written in English, has been translated into 13 languages (Arabic, Bosnian, Croatian, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu).



Endorsements of the Universal Code


The Universal Code has been endorsed by interfaith networks, religious communities and leaders worldwide. These include:


  1. Bishops Conference of The Church of Norway

  2. Council of Heads of Religions in Israel

  3. Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land

  4. Dr. Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed , President of the Interfaith Harmony Foundation of India

  5. Elijah Institute

  6. European Women of Faith Network

  7. Hindu Forum of Europe

  8. Imam Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, Founder of the Al Risala Islamic Centre.

  9. Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, President of the All India Imam Organization

  10. Monastic Interreligious Dialogue

  11. Muslim Council of Britain

  12. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, President of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh

  13. Religions for Peace - European Council of Religious Leaders

  14. Religions for Peace - The Executive Committee of the African Council of Religious Leaders

  15. Religions for Peace Executive Committee and World Council

  16. Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate

  17. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder and Spiritual Leader, The Art of Living Foundation

  18. Swami Madhavpriyadas, President, SGVP and Member of Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha

  19. Trondheim Conference on Holy Sites 2009

  20. World Council of Churches (WCC)

  21. World Council of Religious Leaders (WCORL)

  22. World Sikh Leadership

Additional Resources