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More co-operation between the Council of Europe and its partners in the near Muslim world

The Conference on “Freedom of religion or belief in the Middle East and the Southern Mediterranean: the situation and safety of Christian communities” concluded today in Athens.

Participants included religious leaders, experts, representatives of parliaments of Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, of the National Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, and the Palestinian National Council, as well as representatives from Egypt.

The conference was held in the framework of the activities financed by the “South Programme” agreed between the Council of Europe and the EU, has successfully concluded today in Athens.

The Chairperson of the PACE Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy and Head of the Greek delegation, Dora Bakoyannis (Greece, EPP/CD) underlined that the Council of Europe, as the oldest international organisation in the region, is by nature committed to using all the tools available to promote peace and stability. She also mentioned that we need to establish a well-structured dialogue between the CoE and States of the region, with the aim to eliminate religious intolerance and persecution.

At the opening of the conference, PACE President Anne Brasseur pointed out that interfaith dialogue was the necessary basis for a relationship which unites, rather than divides us. “No religion, no school of thought could replace the Council of Europe’s fundamental values, and even less could it prevail over those values”. She underlined the need to demonstrate sensitivity towards diversity. She added that instead of talking about each other, it is preferable to talk to each other, emphasizing intercultural dialogue.

The Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa Theodoros II, as well as  Monseigneur Youssef Antoine Soueif, the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, followed by many other speakers, further insisted on the fact that religious tolerance was insufficient. Equality of citizens and human rights and fundamental freedoms, which are universal, such as freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, should be institutionally guaranteed and effectively implemented.

All the speakers stressed the fact that fighting poverty and improving living standards, and consequently, educational standards, would strike a definitive blow against religious fanaticism and unbridled conversion.

For that reason, it was agreed that there is a vital need to define a specific framework for co-operation between the CoE and its partners in the near Muslim world, the exact form of which will shortly be defined. PACE, through the tool of ‘partnership for democracy’, has a special role to play in this regard.