At their recent meeting in Brussels on January 31st, the EU Foreign Ministers rejected a draft resolution condemning the atrocities against Christian minorities in Egypt and Iraq. Although preceded by an unequivocal resolution of the European Parliament (EP) on January 20th and an equally explicit recommendation by the Council of Europe (CoE) on January 27th condemning emphatically the increase of attacks on Christian minorities in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the Council of Ministers could not agree on the mention of the word ‘Christian’ in their draft statement about the same issue.
Despite the fact that the majority of acts of religious violence in recent years are perpetrated against Christians, EU High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton claimed that it would be politically incorrect to explicitly name one religion. Her refusal to make reference to Christians in a document that was supposed to condemn persecution and violence against Christians following the clear statements of the EP and the CoE was endorsed and supported five Foreign Ministers: Luís Amado (Portugal), Trinidad Jiménez (Spain), Jean Asselborn (Luxemburg), Brian Cowen (Ireland) and Markos Kyprianou (Cyprus).
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters that “the final text didn’t include any mention of Christians, as if we were talking of something else, so I asked the text to be withdrawn, so in fact it has been withdrawn”. Frattini had advocated for a clear political message of the European Foreign Ministers to support and protect persecuted Christians all over the world. After the meeting, he spoke of an “excess of secularism”. Besides Italy, France, Hungary and Poland supported the need to include clear references to Christians.
The discussion in the Foreign Minister’s meeting took place at call of the European Parliament that had explicitly “invite[d] the forthcoming External Affairs Council on 31 January 2011 to discuss the question of the persecution of Christians and respect for religious freedom […]” in its resolution voted on January 20th. The adopted text of the Parliament lists numerous recent attacks, murders and persecutions against Christians, among them in Alexandria (1 Jan 2011), North Cyprus (25 Dec 2010), Iraq (1, 22, 10 Nov, 27, 30 Dec 2010), Philippines (25 Dec 2010), Nigeria (24 and 25 Dec 2010, 11 Jan 2011), and “strongly condemns all acts of violence against Christians and other religious communities”.
The CoE recommendation Violence against Christians in the Middle East mentions that “the situation has become more serious since the beginning of the 21st century and, if it is not properly addressed, it could lead to the disappearance – in the short term – of Christian communities form the Middle East”. Furthermore, the documents includes a call for clear and concrete obligations of States, such as the establishment of a monitoring body for religious persecution, the development of a comprehensive policy of asylum based on religious grounds with a particular attention of those who convert to another religion and the promotion of policies to help relocate Christian refugees in their home countries.
The rapporteur of the recommendation and President of the EPP Group of the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE, Italian MP Luca Volontè, expressed his disappointment of the refusal to make a reference to Christians by Lady Ashton and the five mentioned Foreign Ministers. “The incapability to stand up as one European voice against the atrocities inflicted recently upon Christians in large parts of the worlds is absolutely incomprehensible, especially after the two unequivocal texts adopted by the Parliament and the Council of Europe”, he told European Dignity Watch.
Maltese MEP David Casa has reacted with anger and incredulity. He said “How is it possible to properly condemn these atrocities without any mention of the targets? If we intend spending tax payer's money to draft pieces of paper stating that people should not be blown up in general we should all just pack up and go home. Perhaps our High Representative should be better informed as to who she is representing? We have become incapable of condemning attacks on our fellow Christians - What a sad day for Europe!"
European Dignity Watch, a non-denominational organization based in Brussels, regrets the disagreement among the Foreign Ministers on this issue. The unwillingness to take a clear stand on the blatant persecution of Christians goes far beyond the concerns of the Christian communities. It is a distressing testimony of the loss of awareness and valuation of Europe’s Christian roots, which are the basis for freedom, democracy and the protection of the inherent dignity of every person. Even though violent physical persecution of Christians happens mainly outside the EU, it must be a primary concern of Europe to preserve, defend and act for freedom of religion as a condition for civilization and development. This position has been laid down in countless international treaties and declarations, among them Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 9 of the European Convention on Hu man Rights, Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Article 3(5) of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and Article 17 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The hesitation to apply these unambiguous and solid international agreements on the protection of religious freedom to the current situation of Christian persecution is deplorable and should be reconsidered.
The subject will be discussed in the Council of Ministers again of February 21.