Christians at risk Print
By Council of Europe/Franco Serra, Avvenire   
Monday, 31 January 2011

European officials recognize that rising violence in the Middle East could lead to the disappearance of Christian communities across the region.

“Middle East: Christians at risk of extinction”
From the Council of Europe yes to the resolution: “Stop to violence”. Turkey slips off
The Assembly of the Council of Europe voted by a huge margin to condemn violence against Christians in the Middle East and wished specific efforts in their defense. The assembly asked European governments to enforce a list of measures aimed at those countries which “deliberately fail to protect freedom of religion, including freedom to change one’s religion”; urged governments to establish a “permanent watchdog body” and to develop “as a matter of urgency” an actual “strategy” in defense of this essential element of human rights; and encouraged them to take the issue into account with a “democracy clause”, when negotiating and handling agreements of cooperation.
In the assembly formed by members of parliament of the 47 members of the Council – the pan-European body devoted to human rights – the resolution, drafted and put forward by Luca Volontè (Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, UDC), Chairman of the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP/CD), was passed with 125 yeas, 9 nays and 13 abstentions. “It is a result of great satisfaction for the EPP/CD – commented Volontè, citing in particular the awareness of Italian and French MPs – and it is a sign of precise commitments after the recent stance taken by the European Parliament, perhaps less detailed than ours”.
The resolution approved yesterday could obviously influence the position that EU foreign ministers (all the Twenty-seven are members of the Council of Europe) will take on the issue next Monday. Indeed the resolution calls upon governments to bear in mind that “Christian communities risk of disappearing from the Middle East, the region which gave the birth to Christianity, if the problems related to low birth rates and emigration, which, in some places, is fuelled by discrimination and persecution, are not properly addressed”. On the other hand, the text reads: «the loss of Christian communities in the Middle East would also endanger Islam as it would signal the victory of fundamentalism». In recalling that 75% of anti-religious episodes of violence are inflicted to Christians, the resolution cites the massacre of worshippers in the Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad and in a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt as “particularly tragic events”, part of a series of “attacks against Christian communities which are rising all over the world”.
Among the first to react to the vote, UDC president Rocco Buttiglione commented that “we are starting to pass from words to facts” and observed that, thanks to the EPP, Europe has recognized the “centrality of this problem, by urging member states to act concretely”. Declaring themselves representatives of “a large Catholic stream” within the left, Andrea Rigoni and Paolo Giaretta, MPs of the Democratic Party (PD), jointly emphasized that “defense of Christianity must begin in our own country and the Church must be defended not only within institutional assemblies, but especially within civil society” so that “Christianity may be stronger and above all freer, as all the people, men and women, should be everywhere in the world”. For senators Patrizia Bugnano and Giuliana Carlino of Italy of Values (IdV), the importance of the resolution was that «it reaffirms that the development of human rights, democracy and civil liberties should be the common foundation to all international relations”.
During the vote Turkey was the only national delegation not approve the resolution, with seven nays and four abstentions. Also Azerbaijani Fazil Mustafa (a Muslim who sits in the Liberal Group) and Swiss Andreas Gross (Socialist) voted no. Among the abstentions, there were also three Azerbaijanis and single MPs from Russia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Iceland.
The Turkish delegation voted against after having pointlessly tried to remove a paragraph urging Ankara “to clarify fully the circumstances” surrounding the interruption of the celebration of Christmas Masses in Northern Cyprus and to put those responsible for that on trial. “Who knows me knows how much I appreciate the efforts that they are doing in Turkey – commented Volontè – and I am sorry that the Turkish colleagues have voted this way: that paragraph was not an attack, but rather an encouragement to be received positively, alas it was not received so”.
The resolution asks for “concrete initiatives” and urges governments to sanction those countries which “do not protect freedom of religion”.
Source: “Avvenire”, Jan. 28 2011.