Violence against Christians in the Middle East
- Parliamentary Assembly
- Assembly debate on 27 January 2011
(7th Sitting) (see Doc. 12493,
report of the Political Affairs Committee, rapporteur: Mr Volontè). Text adopted by the Assembly on
27 January 2011 (7th Sitting).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly recalls
that Christianity had its beginnings in the Middle East two thousand
years ago and that Christian communities have existed in the area
since that time.
2. These communities, which are made up of autochthonous people,
have been declining in numbers for the last hundred years, mainly
due to a combination of low birth rates and emigration, which, in
some places, have been fuelled by discrimination and persecution.
3. The situation has become more serious since the beginning
of the 21st century and, if not properly addressed, 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.
4. The number of attacks on Christian communities rose worldwide
in 2010, as well as the number of trials and death sentences for
blasphemy, which often affect women (as in the case of Mrs Asia
Bibi in Pakistan).
5. Relations between Christian communities in the Middle East
and the Muslim majorities have not always been easy. Discrimination
is reported throughout the region and extreme violence has occurred
sporadically in several countries. Public authorities in some Muslim countries
have not always conveyed the right signals about religious communities
established in their respective countries.
6. Two recent events were particularly tragic. On 31 October
2010, hostages were taken in the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our
Lady of Salvation in Baghdad and ended in the massacre of worshippers:
58 died and 75 were wounded. 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.
7. The Assembly condemns these attacks in unequivocal terms and
expresses its sincere condolences to the families of the victims,
its sympathy to the wounded and its solidarity with their families.
8. It recalls that freedom of thought, freedom of conscience
and freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion,
are universal human rights, enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which every member state of the United Nations
has committed to guarantee. It wishes also to draw attention to
Article 18 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, to the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination
of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion
and Belief, to the reports of the United Nations Special Rapporteur
on freedom of religion or belief, and in particular the reports
of 21 December 2009, 16 February 2010 and 29 July 2010, to Article
9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5) and to
Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
9. The coexistence of religious groups is a sign of pluralism
and of an environment favourable to the development of democracy
and human rights. The Assembly is convinced that the loss of Christian communities
in the Middle East would also endanger Islam as it would signal
the victory of fundamentalism.
10. It wishes to 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 the cause of present
day terrorism. Education and dialogue are two important tools that
could contribute towards the prevention of such evils.
In the light of the increasing necessity to analyse and understand
the evolution of cultural and religious developments in international
relations and contemporary societies, the Assembly recommends that
the Committee of the Ministers:
a permanent capacity – in co-operation with the Commissioner for
Human Rights and the Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal
Affairs – 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;
11.2 develop, as a matter of urgency, a Council of Europe strategy
to ensure respect for freedom of religion (including the freedom
to change one’s religion) as a human right, including a list of
measures against states which knowingly fail to protect religious
11.3 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 Assembly calls on member states to:
12.1 reaffirm that the development of human rights, democracy
and civil liberties is the common basis on which they build their
relations with third countries and ensure that a “democracy clause”
is included in the agreements between them and third countries;
12.2 take account of the situation of Christian and other religious
communities in their bilateral political dialogue with the countries
12.3 promote a policy, at national and Committee of Ministers’
level, which integrates the question of the respect for the fundamental
rights of Christian minorities in foreign relations;
12.4 produce, promote and distribute educational materials
addressing anti-Christian stereotypes and bias, as well as Christianophobia
12.5 refrain from encouraging the 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;
in the latter cases, member states should take fully into account
the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees in dealing with asylum and return issues and fully comply
with European Court of Human Rights judgments and interim measures
under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court;
12.6 develop a comprehensive policy on asylum based on religious
grounds, which would acknowledge in particular the specific situation
of those who convert to another religion;
12.7 promote policies to help relocate Christian refugees in
their home countries and to support communities offering a local
refuge to the Christian minorities of the Middle East;
12.8 support initiatives aimed at promoting dialogue among
religious communities in the Middle East;
12.9 promote and facilitate relations between the Christian
diasporas and their original communities.
13. Following the adoption by the European Parliament of a resolution
on the situation of Christians in the context of freedom of religion,
on 20 January 2011, the 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
those responsible to justice.
14. 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 Assembly further urges all states in the Middle East to:
15.1 condemn unequivocally not only
deadly attacks on innocent people but also the use of violence in
general, as well as all forms of discrimination and intolerance
based on religion and beliefs;
15.2 promote positive education about religions, including
15.3 support actively initiatives aimed at promoting the inter-religious
dimension of dialogue.
16. The Assembly calls on all religious leaders in Europe to condemn
attacks on Christian communities and other faith groups, and to
accept the basis of equal respect for each denomination.
17. Finally, the Assembly calls on the European Union to enhance
its monitoring of the situation of Christian and other religious
communities in its political dialogue with the countries of the
Middle East and to link its European Neighbourhood Policy, including
financial aid, to the degree of human rights protection and awareness
in those countries.