Committee of Political Affairs and Democracy
Paris, December 10, 2013
«Protection of Religious Minorities»
One of the most unexpected developments of the new millennium, after the relative, and I emphasize the word «relative», calm of the Post World War Two period, has been the explosive rise of religious intolerance, discrimination, and, what is far worse, violence against individuals and entire religious communities, particularly in sections of the Muslim world.
The situation became particularly aggravated since the attacks against the twin towers in New York and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. Religious fundamentalism, and terrorism attempting to justify itself on religious grounds, has been on our TV screens ever since but, tragically, it has been an unbearable reality for many communities, particularly Christian Communities, in the Middle East and beyond.
The fall of Arab authoritarian regimes which, nevertheless, kept religious fundamentalism at bay, and the cruel civil war in Syria have greatly aggravated the situation.
In our own Continent as well, because of the economic crisis in several of our countries; because of the rise of depravity and, above all, unemployment; because of what our citizens see happening to Christians in parts of the Muslim world; and because of the massive influx of immigrants, we have seen a sometimes unexpected and great rise of extremist parties, occasionally targeting citizens of foreign provenance, or immigrants, on the basis of their religion. But this is Europe’s internal matter and should be addressed – and I believe it is on the whole being addressed – by our individual countries and by the collective European political entities to which we belong.
The problem before us today, therefore, concerns Europe’s external relations with the countries where such phenomena not only occur but where religious intolerance, and violence, is on the rise.
The Assembly of the Council of Europe has, on a considerable number of occasions, officially expressed its concern and has vocally condemned these phenomena. It has recommended multifaceted action: in our diplomatic relations with countries where such violations occur; in their educational systems; in their legislation, and so on; it has recalled the countless United Nations, Council of Europe, EU, European Court of Human Rights, International Court etc resolutions and rulings.
I would especially like to recall our own most recent Resolution, 1928 of 2013, for its thoroughness and clarity; Resolution 1957 of 2011 was excellent also. And, if I may be permitted, I would like to recall my own motion for a Resolution, Document 13275 of 2013, in which I drew the attention of the Council of Europe on the highly aggravated situation, particularly in Egypt, and, above all, Syria, following the change of regime in the former and the escalation of the civil war in the latter.
The major issue, of course, is what happens in all these countries where religious intolerance – and violence in particular – has taken such unbearable dimensions particularly against Christians. For all of us who are of the Christian faith, or tradition, this situation is especially intolerable: we know that the Christian faith was born and that it first developed greatly in the Near and Middle East; we know that, until fairly recent times, Christians still constituted a considerable part of the population of the Middle East and that they are now dramatically diminishing in numbers; but, above all, we know that individuals and whole communities of Christians are now the victims of their Muslim co-citizens in Islamic-oriented regimes, or of guerilla Muslim fundamentalist fighters.
The Rapporteur to be appointed will have to address the whole spectrum of our external affairs on these matters with the countries, particularly in the Middle East, where such phenomena not only occur, but have taken on unbearable dimensions recently.
Let me point out, without diminishing the role the Council of Europe has in these issues, that, unless we closely cooperate with the relevant authorities of the European Union, we will not see impressive results practically. Results will occur only if European countries are thoroughly streamlined in a common policy on these matters and if they ALL keep the same line, and pressure, vis-à-vis the countries where these unacceptable phenomena take place. We need to stop a number of countries in the vicinity of Europe, but also beyond, from following these criminal policies of discrimination and violence against various religious beliefs, and particularly Christians.
For that difficult but challenging mission, if you so wish, I avail myself for the position of Rapporteur; being Greek, I come from a country from the immediate vicinity – the core even – of the Muslim world; from a people which has the longest historic ties with the Arab world and who have long co-existed, and had large sections of their compatriots living among Muslims; a country with the two most ancient and venerable Greek-Orthodox Patriarchates, Jerusalem and Alexandria, in the region.
In carrying out this mission, I will use the considerable experience I gained as Greece’s foreign Minister at the time I believe Greece had enormously helped in dealing with the Lebanon crisis, as well as the further experience I gained as Chairperson of the OSCE.
The problem, dear colleagues, has taken tragic dimensions not only for Christians, much as they are the main victims, but also for Muslim sects, and women and children who suffer from inhuman practices as the result of fundamentalist beliefs.
Addressing this problem must now become one of the top priorities of both the Council of Europe and the EU. There is no time to spare.
Thank you for your attention.