Council of Europe Calls for Defense of Christians

Recommends Monitoring Religious Freedom in Member States

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STRASBOURG, France, JAN. 27, 2011 ( The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe today adopted a Recommendation in 17 points on “Violence against Christians in the Middle East.” 

The Recommendation and its explanatory memorandum were drafted by Italian Member of Parliament Luca Volontè. It was adopted by 125 votes in favor, with nine voting against and 13 abstentions. 

The document notes that Christians have been present in the Middle East since Christianity began there, but that for the last century, the communities have been dwindling. 

“The situation has become more serious since the beginning of the 21st century and, if it is not properly addressed, it could lead to the disappearance — in the short term — of Christian communities from the Middle East, which would entail the loss of a significant part of the religious heritage of the countries concerned,” the council document declares. 

The Council of Europe specifically condemned two recent episodes of anti-Christian violence: the Oct. 31 attack on a church in Baghdad, Iraq, and the Jan. 1 bombing of a church in Alexandria, Egypt. It further mentions a Christmas episode in Cyprus. 

“[T]he Assembly calls on Turkey to clarify fully the circumstances surrounding the interruption of the celebration of Christmas Mass in the villages of Rizokarpaso and Ayia Triada in the northern part of Cyprus on 25 December 2010 and to bring to justice those responsible,” the document states. “The Assembly urges Iraq and Egypt to be transparent and determined in their attempts to bring the culprits of the attacks in Baghdad and in Alexandria to justice as rapidly as possible.” 

The Recommendation also affirms that “freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion, are universal human rights.” 

Different problem 

A statement from the European Centre for Law and Justice welcoming the vote noted some Members of the Assembly also observed that negating the role of Christianity in European culture is “also a kind of violence” against Christians. 

Referring to anti-Christian persecution by communist regimes and by Islamic fundamentalists, the ECLJ statement asserted that “the secularist ideology also discriminates against religions, at a different level.” 

In this regard, “Europeans should be consistent,” it added. 

Down to work 

The center hailed a “list of clear and precise political actions” as the “best achievement of this Recommendation.” 

These include the call to “develop a permanent capacity to monitor the situation of governmental and societal restrictions on religious freedom and related rights in Council of Europe member states and in states in the Middle East, and report periodically to the assembly” and to “pay increased attention to the subject of freedom of religion or belief and to the situation of religious communities, including Christians, in its co-operation with third countries as well as in human rights reports.” 

The Recommendation also requests a comprehensive policy of asylum based on religion, and promotion of policies to help relocate Christian refugees in their home countries and support communities offering a local refuge to the Christian minorities of the Middle East. 

This Recommendation follows the adoption a week ago of a resolution by the European Parliament. It will be further followed by a discussion within the European Council (Brussels) next Monday, at the initiative of the governments of Italy, Hungary and Poland.

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