memorandum by Mr Volontè, rapporteur
1 The recent violent attacks against Christian communities
in Baghdad and Alexandria should be seen in a wider perspective.
Intolerance and violence against Christians is rising sharply: 75%
of the victims of religious violence throughout the world are Christians.
Some 200 million people are persecuted simply because of their faith.
2 From December 2007 to August 2008 some 300 Christian villages
in the Indian state of Orissa were attacked, resulting in the destruction
of churches and private homes, the death of more than 90 Christians
and the displacement of some 11 000 Christian families. In 2009
and 2010, more Christian churches were attacked in at least five
other Indian states and, on 2 January 2011, a Protestant pastor
was severely beaten by Hindu extremists in Davanagere, Karnataka.
Much of the anti-Christian violence in India is fuelled by extremist
3 Violence against Christians is also reported in Pakistan,
where a Christian mother of five was sentenced to death for blasphemy
and the Governor of Punjab was murdered on 4 January 2010 for speaking
against the blasphemy law; in China, in Vietnam, in the Philippines,
where a bomb was set off inside a chapel on 25 December 2010; in
Iran, where more than 100 Christians were arrested last month; in
Gaza, where Christian shops were attacked by bombs, and in Nigeria,
where dozens of civilians, mainly Christians, were killed on Christmas
4 Europe is not free from violence against Christians either:
in Turkey, a Catholic priest was murdered in Trabzon in February
2006 and three Christians were killed in an attack against a Bible-publishing
firm in Malatya in 2007; the celebration of Christmas mass in the
villages of Rizokarpaso and Ayia Triada in the northern part of
Cyprus was interrupted by force on 25 December 2010.
5 The situation in the Middle East is, however, particularly
alarming and the Synod of Bishops convened in October 2010 in Rome
to address “the urgent plight of Christians in the Middle East,
particularly Iraq”. The session gathered almost all the bishops
of the Middle East, representing seven eastern Catholic churches.
The Synod issued an urgent call for peace in the region.
6 Christianity started in the Middle East and Christian
communities have existed there for the last 2 000 years. These are
Coptic (in Egypt); Syriac, including the Church of the East – also
referred to as Assyrian or Nestorian (in Syria, Iran and Iraq),
the Chaldean Church (in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria), the
Syrian Orthodox Church (in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq), the Syrian
Catholic Church (in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt) and the Maronite
Church (mainly in Lebanon); Greek Orthodox (in Lebanon, Israel,
West Bank, Gaza, Syria and Jordan), Melkite (in Syria, the West
Bank, Israel, Jordan and Egypt) and Armenian (in Iran and Syria).
7 These communities are not made up of immigrants, expatriates
or recent converts but of autochthonous people who have lived in
the region throughout the centuries.
8 In the 20th century, however, such communities declined considerably
in number. The decline is due to a combination of low birth rates,
emigration and, in some places, discrimination and persecution.
Christians are fleeing from all over the Middle East.Note
Emigration began in the aftermath
of the First World War and has greatly picked up in the last decade.
Almost half of the 800 000 Christians who lived in Iraq in 2003
have now left. Copts began leaving Egypt in significant numbers
after the 1952 revolution. For the first time in nearly two millennia,
the most identifiably Christian town on earth, Bethlehem, has lost
its Christian majority.
As a Jordanian journalist put it recently: “If the situation
continues, it will not take long to declare the Middle East – the
cradle of Christianity – Christian-free.”Note
11 Relations between Christian communities in the Middle East
and the Muslim majorities have not always been easy. Discrimination
is reported throughout the region and incidents of extreme violence
have sporadically occurred. As regards more particularly Egypt and
Iraq, seven people were killed in an attack against a Coptic church
in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, a year ago, in January 2010; there were 25
bomb attacks on churches in Baghdad between 2004 and 2007; the Archbishop
of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul was kidnapped and killed
in 2007; two priests, three deacons and 10 civilians were also killed
in Mosul and Kirkuk between 2005 and 2008.
12 Public authorities in some Muslim countries do not always
convey the right signals about religious communities existing in
their respective countries. For instance, the massive slaughter
of pigs in 2009 in Egypt was clearly perceived as a measure against
13 In 2007, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on “serious
events which compromise Christian communities’ existence and those
of other religious communities” where it expressed its extreme concern “about
the proliferation of episodes of intolerance and repression directed
against Christian communities, particularly in the countries of
Africa, Asia and the Middle East”.
14 Protection of religious communities in the Middle East should
also involve the Jews, Mandeans, Zoroastrians, Bektashi, Druze,
Yazidi and Baha’i and non-believers too.
It may be recalled that, only a few months ago, in its Resolution 1743
on Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe, the Parliamentary
Assembly invited “Muslims, their religious communities and their religious
leaders to combat any form of extremism under the cover of Islam.
Islam is a religion which upholds peace. Muslims should be the first
to react with dismay and opposition when terrorists or political
extremists use Islam for their own power struggle and thus disrespect
the fundamental value of human life and other values enshrined in
In its Resolution
(2008) on European Muslim communities confronted
with extremism, the Assembly called on “European Muslim organisations,
leaders and opinion-makers to act with a high sense of responsibility
in their public statements and condemn terrorism and extremism unequivocally”.
Finally, in its Recommendation
(2005) on education and religion, the Assembly underlined
that “Education is essential for combating ignorance, stereotypes
and misunderstanding of religions. Governments should also do more
to guarantee freedom of conscience and of religious expression,
to foster education on religions, to encourage dialogue with and
between religions and to promote the cultural and social expression of
3 Recent events
18 On 31 October 2010, a hostage taking in the Syriac
Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad ended in
the massacre of worshippers, 58 of whom died and 75 of whom were
wounded. The attack was claimed by a Sunni extremist group linked
to Al-Qaeda and condemned by many Muslims.
19 A suicide bombing in a Coptic church in Alexandria killed
21 people and wounded 79 as worshippers were leaving midnight mass
on 1 January 2011. The attack was not claimed but the Egyptian police
believe that it was perpetrated by isolated terrorists inspired
by Al-Qaeda. The bomb was packed with nuts, bolts, nails and other
metal objects and was designed to cause maximum harm.
4 Reactions of the
20 Both attacks have been strongly condemned.
21 Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said the Baghdad attack
was an “attempt to reignite sectarian strife in Iraq and to drive
more Christians out of the country”. The Kurdistan Regional Government
condemned the attack in a statement saying “We strongly condemn
this terrorist attack on our Christian brethren in Baghdad. We send
our condolences to the families of the victims and wish a speedy
recovery for the wounded.”
22 Iraq’s top Catholic prelate, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly,
encouraged an already dwindled Christian population not to leave,
while he also condemned the attack by declaring: “We have never
seen anything like it, militants attacking God’s house with worshippers
praying for peace.”
23 About three dozen survivors of the attack have found refuge
in France, where they have been given temporary status as asylum
seekers. The French Immigration Minister, Eric Besson, said France
was offering refuge to 150 victims of the attack as a gesture of
friendship and support to Christians who face hardships.
24 The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle
East and the Danish Ministry for Foreign Affairs organised an emergency
summit of Iraqi Christian and Muslim religious leaders from 12 to
14 January 2011 in Copenhagen to look into ways of “ending the spiral
25 The Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, said the Alexandria
attack bore the hallmark of “foreign hands” seeking to destabilise
Egypt. Egypt’s top Muslim leaders expressed their condolences and
called for unity.
26 In condemning the Alexandria attack, the President of the
Assembly, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, expressed his deep shock and extended
his sincere condolences to the families of the dead as well as to
the authorities of Egypt. In his view, terrorism remains the greatest
threat to the universal values of human rights. He recalled that
the Assembly stated recently that “the manipulation of religious
beliefs for political reasons violates human rights and democratic
values”. He also referred to the Council of Europe, which “defines
as a priority the work for freedom of religion, while combating
religious intolerance and discrimination as well as religiously
disguised attacks against the values it upholds”.
27 German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the 1 January 2011
bombing as “barbaric”, while French Prime Minister François Fillon
prayed for the victims at a church in the southern Egyptian city
of Aswan, where he was on a private visit. Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi of Italy and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France – and
other European leaders – also condemned both attacks very strongly.
28 On 12 November 2010, the Assembly’s Standing Committee held
a current affairs debate on “Recent violent attacks against Christians
and other religious communities in Iraq” introduced by Mr Jean-Claude Mignon
(France, EPP/CD). In December 2010, the Bureau referred the matter
to the Political Affairs Committee. Meanwhile, the Group of the
European People’s Party requested a debate under urgent procedure on
“the religious cleansing of Christians in Iraq and other regions
of the World”. In January 2011, the Group proposed to change the
title to “Recent violence against Christians in the Middle East”.
29 With a view to the Foreign Affairs Council of 31 January 2011,
several Ministers for Foreign Affairs of European Union member states
have approached Lady Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign
Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union,for a concerted action by European
Union member states.
30 Pope Benedict XVI, who had condemned the Iraqi attack as “absurd
and ferocious violence”, called the Alexandria attack a “vile gesture”.
However, the Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, criticised the Pope’s
call to world leaders to defend Christians as “unacceptable interference
in Egypt’s affairs”. On 20 January al-Azhar announced that it was
suspending its twice-yearly meetings with the Vatican.
31 The White House press secretary said of the Baghdad attack:
“The United States strongly condemns this senseless act of hostage
taking and violence by terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda in Iraq that
occurred Sunday in Baghdad killing so many innocent Iraqis.” Several
US Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
calling for the Obama Administration to develop a comprehensive
policy for the protection of indigenous religious communities in
Iraq. They also offered condolences to the victims and their families. President
Barack Obama described the Alexandria attack as a “heinous act”.
32 The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, condemned
the deadly church attacks. According to his spokesperson, the United
Nations Secretary-General was appalled by the terrorist attack at
the al-Qiddissin Coptic Church in Alexandria during the New Year’s
Eve festivities. He also called for the Egyptian authorities to
act swiftly and bring to justice those responsible for the terror
bombing. In addition, he conveyed his sincere condolences to the
families of the victims.
33 The Muslim Brotherhood also strongly condemned the crime.
The group stated that this crime is not accepted by any religion,
and that Islam calls for the protection of the rights of non-Muslims
and Muslims alike.
34 On 19 January 2011, the European Parliament held a debate
on the “Situation of Christians in the context of freedom of religion”
and adopted a resolution on this issue on 20 January, in which it
“expresses its grave concerns about the abuse of religion by the
perpetrators of terrorist acts in several areas of the world [and]
denounces the instrumentalisation of religion in various political
35 On 20 January 2011, the Committee of Ministers of the Council
of Europe adopted a declaration strongly condemning the recent tragic
events and calling for respect for freedom of thought, conscience
36 Freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom
of religion are universal human rights, enshrined in Article 18
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the members
of the United Nations have the obligation to guarantee under the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 18
of the Declaration states that “Everyone has the right to freedom
of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom
to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in
community with others and in public or private, to manifest his
religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.
37 Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights states
that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience
and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion
or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others
and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in
worship, teaching, practice and observance.” It goes on: “Freedom
to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such
limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic
society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of
public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights
and freedoms of others.”
38 The Assembly should condemn in unequivocal terms not only
deadly attacks on innocent people such as those in Baghdad and in
Alexandria but also all forms of discrimination and intolerance
based on religion and beliefs, which violate freedom of religion
and freedom of conscience.
39 The Assembly should call 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.
It should also call on the authorities of Azerbaijan to repeal the
laws that punish the religious gatherings and community prayer of
40 The co-existence of religious groups is a sign of pluralism
and of an environment favourable to the development of democracy
and human rights.
41 The disappearance of Christian communities in the Middle East
would also endanger Islam as it would signal the victory of fundamentalism.
42 Therefore, the member states of the Council of Europe should
not encourage members of the Christian communities in the Middle
East to seek refuge in Europe, except in cases where the survival
of such communities becomes impossible. As the Archbishop of the
Greek Orthodox Church in Palestine and Jerusalem put it: “Thank
you for your support but when we need protection we will ask our
Muslim brothers to protect us.”
43 According to the High Commissioner for Refugees, some 1 000
families have arrived in the Kurdistan region of Iraq since the
beginning of November 2010. In addition, UNHCR offices in Syria,
Jordan and the Lebanon report a growing number of Iraqi Christians
arriving and contacting UNHCR for registration and help. Churches
and non-governmental organisations are warning the refugee agency
to expect more people fleeing in the coming weeks. UNHCR strongly
reiterated its call on countries to refrain from deporting Iraqis
who originate from the most perilous parts of the country: asylum
seekers who originate from Iraq’s governorates of Baghdad, Diyala,
Ninewa and Salah-al-Din, as well as from Kirkuk province, should
not be returned and should benefit from international protection,
whether in the form of refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention
or a complementary form of protection.
44 The Assembly should raise awareness about the need to combat
all forms of religious fundamentalism and the manipulation of religious
beliefs for political reasons, which are so often at the basis of
present-day terrorism. Education and dialogue are two important
tools that could contribute towards the prevention of such evils.
In this respect, the Assembly will hold a debate on the religious
dimension of intercultural dialogue at its April 2011 part-session.
45 In the light of these conclusions, the Assembly should recommend
that the Committee of Ministers take a certain number of measures
concerning the state of freedom of religion and related rights.
46 Finally, the Assembly should voice its strong commitment to
intercultural dialogue and reject allegations of a so-called “clash