Persecution of Christians finally given the attention it deserves
After the European Parliament, it was the turn of the Council of Ministers of the 27 Member States to adopt on 21st February a declaration explicitly condemning violence against Christians.
COMECE welcomed the EU Council’s Conclusions on “intolerance, discrimination and violence on the basis of religion or belief” as a good step in the right direction. The fusion of ‘common sense’ and ‘political will’ has prevailed to secure the strong statement urgently needed to stop the widespread acts of terrorism and sectarianism against Christians worldwide. In paragraph 2 the Council condemns the acts of violence “against Christians and their places of worship, Muslim pilgrims and other religious communities.” Yet the security and survival of Christian communities, especially in the Middle East, requires concrete action.
At its meeting on 31st January, the Council of Ministers failed to reach a conclusion due to internal wrangling among the Ministers over a specific reference to recognizing Christians as the main targets of religious persecution in various countries and territories, such as, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Cyprus, Philippines, Iran, India and Vietnam. This wavering within the Council of Ministers was all the more astonishing as public opinion in Europe had already become aware of the particular situation of Christians in the Middle East after the recent attacks on churches in Iraq and Egypt. Furthermore, the European Parliament (on 20 January) and the Council of Europe (on 27 January) had already paved the way for a specific condemnation of the persecution of Christians by adopting both resolutions explicitly condemning violence against Christians.
The recent attacks against Christians are not isolated cases. Statistics on religious freedom in recent years show that the majority of acts of religious violence are perpetrated against Christians. The situation has become more serious in the Middle East, especially in Iraq where persecution could lead in the coming months to the disappearance of Christian communities. Indeed, the positive agreement reached by the Council on 21st February follows the chorus of disapproval by several EU Member States together with individual MEPs over the negative outcome of the previous meeting.
The Council of Ministers is now expected to translate these words into concrete action in order to guarantee that Christians and other religious minorities all over the world can enjoy the much needed fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of religion, that they are currently deprived of. This echoes the concern of Pope Benedict XVI when on 1st January he said that governments needed to back up their words and make a concrete and constant commitment to bring anti-religious violence to an end.
Freedom of religion has once again been reaffirmed. However, it is to be hoped that the EU will now implement its conclusions in significant political action, and thus help to eradicate the stark sectarian divide, the war of cultures and religions, and the wave of religious-cleansing. Furthermore, Baroness Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, could make provision in the new European External Action Service to have a permanent institutional approach to protect freedom of conscience and religion around the world. In its Conclusions, the Council specifically invites “the High Representative to report on the measures taken and on concrete proposals to further strengthen the EU action in this regard."
The effective commitment to fundamental rights, including religious freedom, is in itself the path to peace. Once fully realised, it would pave the way for peaceful and open societies, where people would live together as good neighbours and where different religions would collaborate in working for greater human freedom.