AS (2013) CR 14
2013 ORDINARY SESSION
Wednesday 24 April 2013 at 10.00 a.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are reported using the interpretation and are marked with an asterisk.
3. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
4. Corrections should be handed in at Room 1059A not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.
The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the report.
(Ms MAURY PASQUIER, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 10.05 a.m.)
THE PRESIDENT* – The sitting is open.
1. Violence against religious communities
THE PRESIDENT* – The first item of business this morning is the debate on the report, “Violence against religious communities”, Document 13157, presented by Mr Luca Volontč on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. Mr Giacomo Santini will present an opinion on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, Document 13178.
We will aim to finish this debate at 1 p.m. I will therefore interrupt the list of speakers in this debate at about 12.25 p.m. for replies and voting.
I remind members that they have three minutes in which to speak.
I call Mr Volontč. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.
Mr VOLONTČ (Italy)* – I will take only a very few minutes because I would like many colleagues to be able to have their say on this matter calmly and to share with us every point that they want to make.
This is the second time in the past few years that the Council of Europe has dealt with religious freedom and respect for human rights. Violence is daily being directed against religious communities, in breach of a fundamental human right. It is being put in the spotlight by the mass media. I am thinking particularly about what has happened over the past few hours and days to some bishops of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who have been arrested and abused. Only after a mass intervention by the Orthodox Church have they been released. I am also thinking not only about the massacre of Christian priests in Iraq, but about particularly violent attacks on other religious communities. In a dramatic case in Myanmar, Buddhists attacked the Muslim community in Rakhine State a couple of weeks ago.
This is all very topical, but we should not think that these matters of the freedom of religious communities are restricted just to countries in Europe. The report reaffirms the value of a fundamental right both within Council of Europe countries and outside them. I hope that the debate will highlight that and the fact that this is about the affirmation of not just a principle, but a value that everyone should be able to enjoy. That needs to be reiterated by this Assembly and to guide our actions as members of parliament and as the Council of Europe.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Volontč. You still have 10 minutes and 30 seconds to make use of when you reply to the various statements. Mr Santini has the floor and will give the opinion of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.
Mr SANTINI (Italy)* – I speak as chairman of the committee, and I am substituting for our rapporteur, Mr Türkeş, who is dealing with important matters in his country today.
I thank the rapporteur, Mr Volontč – not just as a formality – for the courage and firmness with which he has grasped this nettle and for his lucidity. This is not the first time this Assembly has dealt with this always difficult issue. The opinion of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons takes into account the situations encountered by this category of citizens. Unfortunately, the subject is very topical, as it has been for many years, and I regret that we will probably be dealing with it for many years to come. As the rapporteur said, we are talking about many crises and about religious persecution taking place not only outside the Council of Europe countries, but in some countries within it. The committee proposed three amendments and I thank the rapporteur and the Chair of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy for taking them on board unanimously.
Religious persecution is often seen as a screen for achieving the right to asylum, particularly where the 1951 Geneva Convention is involved. We are not talking about a gracious concession of this or that government or this or that country – we are talking about an acquired right, thanks to the Geneva Convention. Although we are rightly concerned about the many situations that the rapporteur identified, for example, the crisis in the Middle East, we should not neglect the many cases of persecution that occur in Council of Europe countries. We should be preoccupied with the rights of all religions. As my committee deals with migration, it needs to examine the issues faced by migrants in minorities in certain countries who are not always able to enjoy the right to practise their own religion. So we want to propose new ways of embarking on a dialogue between religions that are well rooted in certain countries and migrants to those countries.
We condemn these forms of violence, which are not always physical; other issues include verbal abuse and disguised abuse that seeks to put people in an invidious position. I thank the rapporteur for his courage and I am keen to listen to contributions to see how we can propose shared solutions or those that command a majority in this Assembly.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Santini. We will now begin the general debate. I call Mr Villumsen, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr VILLUMSEN (Denmark) – Normally, we use these occasions to say thank you to the rapporteur, but this time I must be honest and say that this report is not what we had expected. We were waiting for an important report on violence against religious communities, but instead we received a report that insists on putting religious rights above other fundamental rights. That is disappointing and I hope that it will not be a trend that begins to spread among other rapporteurs. Of course freedom of religion should be respected, but it should not stand in the way of the right to lawful service, the right to abortion and equality for all, regardless of their homosexuality or heterosexuality. It should also not stand in the way of the right to critical education for all. Furthermore, this Assembly should of course not put pressure on the European Union to introduce the promotion of religious values in its neighbourhood policies.
With all due respect to Mr Volontč – I have great respect for him – he has simply not produced a good report. On behalf of my group, I will support the amendments, which are a damage-limitation exercise. I know that they have had support in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. If they are not adopted, I will not be able to recommend voting in favour of this report, for the simple reason that it is not the one we asked the rapporteur to produce. I hope that we will be able to pass the amendments and vote in favour of the report.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Villumsen. I call Mr Mendes Bota, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr MENDES BOTA (Portugal) – On behalf of my group, I congratulate Mr Volontč on his excellent report and salute him for the great work he has developed in the past few years. We share his notion of the indivisibility of human rights and upholding them all while being conscious of the hierarchy, which is as follows: the right to life, the right to freedom, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
We might feel comfortable with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, where we may invoke Articles 9 and 10, but we cannot remain indifferent when the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe reports 821 cases of intolerance, discrimination and marginalisation in five years. Similarly, we cannot ignore the denunciations by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and the work of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. We know that there is Islamophobia in Europe, as well as anti-Semitism. We know that other religious communities suffer attacks around the globe, but, as paragraph 45 of the report states, “There is…a general feeling that religious communities, including Muslims, are better protected in Europe than are Christians in Africa, Asia or the Middle East.” That is why the "democracy clause" in European agreements with third countries is so important, and should include religious freedom. When we look at the attacks against the Egyptian Copts and at the Kaduna massacre in a Catholic church, the first thing that is apparent is the sense of impunity and institutionalised coverage from which the criminals benefit. I therefore join Mr Volontč in calling, as he does in the report, on the Council’s member States to push for greater dialogue between communities and religions, and for stronger condemnation where religion-related attacks take place.
Into religion we pour the hopes and expectations, and the fear and primal feelings, that make us human in the first place. Religion is often seen as the ultimate haven, where society offers no hope. The rule of law is powerless here, the political process impotent. Everywhere, man frequently runs to his mosque, his church and his temple to find answers that society does not provide. He seeks the confirmation of his moral virtue, his heritage and his culture – in sum, a sense of communion with something that transcends the secular and immediate of everyday life. That is a human right. Nobody has the right to destroy it.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Mogens Jensen, on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr M. JENSEN (Denmark) – Like my colleague, Mr Villumsen, I have to say that the Socialist Group has many concerns and reservations about this report from Mr Volontč. I would like to shed light on some of the concerns.
The initial motion for a resolution was supposed to target violence against religious communities in non-member States and the promotion of religious dialogue between Europe and third countries. However, the 16 paragraphs of the current resolution clearly encompass challenges to conscience and religion within Council of Europe member States and represent them from a different angle. Paragraphs 8.6, 8.7 and 8.8 could be interpreted as making religion paramount in respect of the law in a country, which is of course contrary to any notion of secularism and to the values of the Council of Europe. Those paragraphs would represent a tremendous challenge to the provision of lawful services such as family planning and to principles and rights such as non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and the fundamental rights of children. They would even allow them to be represented as “violence against religion”.
The resolution also leaves out the persecution of atheists, humanists, secularists and other non-religious people. It also fails to touch on violence within religious communities themselves. That kind of violence particularly affects women and girls who suffer discrimination and experience female genital mutilation, forced marriage and deprivation of the right to self-determination in relation to their own health.
The resolution must of course adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees an absolute right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. However, Article 9.2 states that “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society”. It is also important to stress that human rights treaties and conventions make no distinction between religious beliefs, non-religious beliefs and atheism. All are covered by the phrase “religion or belief”.
Together with representatives of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the Group of the Unified European Left, we put forward major amendments to the resolution. We are, of course, delighted to see that Mr Volontč has recognised them and taken on board those important changes. However, a few still have to be voted through here in the Assembly.
The Socialist Group calls on you to support the resolution in its amended version in order to uphold the values and mandate of our Assembly and decades of progress in human rights.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Ms Acketoft, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Ms ACKETOFT (Sweden) – Mr Mendes Bota said that the rule of law is powerless, and if we vote for this resolution, it will indeed be powerless. The report, or rather the rapporteur, has strayed very far from the motion that was initially tabled. The ALDE group supported Mike Hancock’s attempt yesterday to make the Assembly aware of this and to take the report off the agenda. That would have been the wisest thing to do. Members need to be much more cautious and pro-active during the preparation of reports, to safeguard the intention of the motion during their work.
Here we are now, however, debating something that, if passed, will be in breach of everything this Assembly stands for – human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Voters in each nation decide which parliaments they want, and those elected parliaments pass laws. To me that is the only acceptable procedure.
The motion aimed to promote the development of human rights in relations with third countries within the framework of political dialogues and to support initiatives aimed at promoting dialogue among religious communities in the Middle East. Instead, 16 out of 25 paragraphs are devoted to the protection of freedom of thought, conscience and religion. That does not respect the European Convention on Human Rights. It would reopen the debate on conscientious objection, which was debated here in 2010 on a motion substantially changed by our members, by, for example, allowing the refusal to provide lawful family planning services, to marry gay couples and to uphold children’s rights to a balanced and objective education.
The rapporteur quotes the Edict of Toleration of the year 313. I wish that he had also studied more recent jurisprudence relevant to the European Convention of Human Rights. The ECHR guarantees an absolute right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. However, it does not allow religion to manifest itself in ways that would put it above or against the law of a country. It says that it is necessary to ensure “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”. With the proposals in the report, however, we would in fact sign off from the protection of women’s reproductive health.
One might argue that it must be up to an individual doctor to decide whether he wants to perform an abortion. Let us take the example of Italy, however. Although abortion in Italy is legally allowed, the Catholic Church holds such a strong grip on the people and society that 70% of doctors refuse to permit an abortion. That is what we would be agreeing to if we were to vote for the resolution. I therefore recommend that you vote for Amendments 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 – I can keep going – and vote against the resolution as it is.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Neill, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Mr NEILL (United Kingdom) – I take a more positive view of this report than some previous speakers. There are some amendments in the name of members of our group, which I hope the rapporteur will accept, but the broad thrust of the report is essentially important and valuable. I do not believe that we should see this debate in terms of religion versus secularism. That is not what it is about. In a mature democracy, it should be possible to respect both the values of secular plurality and of religious freedom, and the report makes a valuable point in stressing the universality of the right to religious freedom and to the expression and practice of religious belief. That is important in some of our dealings with third countries. There is no doubt that there is a real issue, correctly identified in the report, with persecution of Christian minorities in many countries in the Middle East, and there is a real concern internationally that there is a reduction in religious freedom for all religious faiths.
Research that has been commissioned by a respected organisation in the United Kingdom indicates that some 75% of the world’s population now live in countries where the ability to practise their faith freely is being restricted. That is not a satisfactory state of affairs, and no democrat, whatever their own personal belief or lack of belief, should be satisfied with that. It is important to support the draft resolution’s references to international treaties, which provide the framework for that religious freedom and draw attention to the right to change one’s religion and to practise it in public as well as in private. Regrettably, many member States of the United Nations pay at best only lip service to those latter rights and sometimes positively obstruct them. We should use our dialogue with such parties to seek to encourage them to recognise the genuine spirit of those rights. Of course, in some cases, we have the ability to use our contact with some of those countries who are candidates for the status of partnership for democracy. There is much that we, in the Council of Europe, can do to encourage that.
We must not be complacent about problems within Europe, either. Islamophobia is an issue that we in the United Kingdom and many other countries with significant populations from an Islamic culture recognise. It is important, too, never to forget the cancer of anti-Semitism. It is mentioned in the report. I might have made it a little more prominent because we have, regrettably, seen an increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the United Kingdom, France and many other countries. We have to be eternally vigilant to make sure that we do not see a return to a time when religion was used to divide rather than to liberate and enhance.
THE PRESIDENT* – Mr Volontč will be able to reply at the end of the debate, but do you wish to comment at this stage? You have a maximum of four minutes.
Mr VOLONTČ (Italy)* – I thank all the colleagues who have spoken on behalf of the political groups. Some colleagues – Mr Mendes Bota and Mr Neill – spoke in favour of the report, while others – Mr Jensen, Mr Villumsen and Ms Acketoft – spoke with moderate criticism or with prejudice.
I am astounded and disconcerted – I am looking at some of the previous speakers – by some of the things that have been said. We debated the matter in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy more than once, even changing the title of the initial motion. Some colleagues might not have noticed that the committee had already approved some of the amendments yesterday. We had not had the opportunity to discuss the matters before because some of the proponents were not in Rabat.
The report was approved by all political groups in the committee. I want you to look at me as I look at you when I speak. The agreement was unanimous, so I venture to say that the report is based on the Convention on Human Rights, which I have read. Perhaps I have not read it as Ms Acketoft has. You might be a professor at Cambridge on international conventions, but I have looked at the Convention over the years, and not exclusively from a religious point of view.
I hope that the speeches that follow will stick to the report and seek to improve it. I have listened to your speeches without prejudice. I take account of the work done not by myself, but by members of the committee – those who discussed the first draft, those who spent hours in Rabat to discuss and approve the draft recommendation, and those who approved the amendments yesterday. Let us look at the situation positively, and how to use the document in a positive manner to strengthen, not to break down, the spirit of the Council of Europe on this issue and on this report about religious freedom.
Thank you for what you have said, and thank you for what you are going to say.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Volontč. You now have seven minutes left for reply at the end of the debate.
In the debate I call next Ms Schneider-Schneiter. You have three minutes.
Ms SCHNEIDER-SCHNEITER (Switzerland)* – As the report states, the persecution of religious people is increasing throughout the world. While some religions seem to have assiduous advocates who immediately jump on any kind of infringement of religious freedom, other religions, particularly the Christian religion, seem to be defenceless. In our countries, those who have a different religion or do not have any religion are supported by the European Court of Human Rights and can object to the display of Christian symbols in public spaces. However, in many other countries of this world, even praying in the privacy of your own home is forbidden for Christians. Some countries ban the display of Christian symbols or books. In other countries, attacks on Christians are tolerated or even approved of.
In Switzerland, religious discrimination is banned, but in many countries, discrimination against those of a different religion is encouraged. I am talking not about stipulations such as that the Queen of England has to be Anglican, but about banning people from working in certain jobs, marrying, or even owning livestock or property. While we in Switzerland interpret religious freedom as accepting the way people dress or eat – if they want kosher or halal meat – whereas in other countries Christians are not allowed to participate in their religion freely or even to express their opinions.
Some months ago, my party, the Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei, asked whether we should stop providing development aid to governments that tolerate the persecution of religious minorities and do not uphold religious freedom. Why are we in this Assembly always calling for a boycott against countries that do not respect freedoms when no one seems to object to the persecution of religious minorities? If we, as representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly, do not stand up for and defend religious freedom and the rights of religious minorities and of Christians around the world, who will?
I know that some members of this Assembly do not accept that people should be able to express their Christian religion and are actively opposed to it, but why is religious freedom not defended in many States? How can we deny people their human rights? Is it to do with exerting greater power domestically?
We should uphold the European Convention on Human Rights. We demand that religious discrimination against minorities, particularly Christian minorities, is opposed as much as other grounds of discrimination in the Convention. It is good that the Assembly has devoted itself to the topic today.
THE PRESIDENT* – I ask members to respect the speaking time limit. There are a great number of speakers on the list. If we want to allow them all to speak, it is important that the three-minute limit is respected.
In the debate I call next Mr Szabó. You have three minutes.
Mr V. SZABÓ (Hungary)* – I congratulate the rapporteur. I pay tribute to his thorough work and his accurate presentation of the facts. I agree fully with the content and conclusions of the report.
It is clear that freedom of thought, religion and conscience is part of the set of universal human rights in all democratic countries. It is our duty to uphold those rights and to ensure that they are upheld throughout the world.
A positive aspect of the report is that it provides a comprehensive snapshot of the situation today and the main trends in Europe and in the other continents. We have a real picture of the situation, and it is not exactly a rosy one. The balance seems to be more negative than positive. Attacks on the freedom of conscience and religion – physical violence, verbal abuse and restrictive measures against the free activity of churches – are, unfortunately, present in all continents to varying degrees.
We must, in the Council of Europe and the European Union, concentrate first and foremost on our own responsibility. The report lists many negative examples in European countries. Our primary objective should be to put our own house in order. Only then can we look at other countries.
This is true of my own country, Hungary. The report describes us positively, but it does give a negative example. During its European Union presidency, the Hungarian Government held a successful conference in Gödöllő in June 2011, entitled “The Christian-Jewish-Islamic dialogue”, but there are several problems. For example, a law passed by the Hungarian Government on religious freedom and the status of the churches was criticised internationally and the constitutional court abrogated it. The Hungarian Government then enforced the law, ignoring criticism and the constitutional court’s ruling, which is, of course, unacceptable. So it is really important to vote in favour of the report and to implement it.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Fournier.
Mr FOURNIER (France)* – Once again, I thank President Jean-Claude Mignon for placing the question of violence against Christian minorities in the Middle East at the heart of our concerns in 2011. It is regrettable that the Committee of Ministers has not given greater clout to the text that we adopted at that time – in particular, by refusing to establish a permanent unit to monitor governmental and social restrictions on the freedom of religion in member States of the Council of Europe, as well as in the countries of the Middle East. Such a mechanism would have wisely supplemented the activities of our Organisation in support of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in that region. There is no doubt that the situation of religious minorities there, perhaps more than elsewhere, is an excellent benchmark of progress on the fundamental values that we champion.
In the Middle East – the land of the three religions of the Book – it would be illusory to think that the transformation of an authoritarian regime into a democracy has been successful if religion infuses part of its public actions. Two years after our first intervention, we are compelled to note that the plight of religious minorities in the Middle East has not improved.
Egypt has become a theatre of violence against the Coptic minority. How can we tolerate a situation whereby the funeral of four murdered Copts led to the death of two more people on 7 April? If state neutrality becomes a religious dogma, there is a swing towards culpable indifference that downplays the problem of such hatred. The Egyptian head of State wanted to be a president of all Egyptians and therefore played down his links with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The continuing violence against the Copts invalidates that ambition. It impairs the credibility of his work and his resolve to turn the page after the old regime. Two years after the revolution, it is striking to note that, to combat this endemic evil, the public authorities are still referring to a manifestly unsuitable decree of 2005. That is no way to embody a democratic revolution when the security of the whole population is not guaranteed by public authorities and when people are still being killed for religious reasons.
Egypt is far from an isolated case. We need to reflect on how we support the revolutionaries, or the new authorities, in such countries. We cannot finance regimes that effectively leave or allow to be left by the wayside a part of their population. We cannot support groups that seek to impose a religious vision of the future, thus combating barbarism only to replace it with a different form of dictatorship.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Lord Anderson.
Lord ANDERSON (United Kingdom) – I understand that this is our rapporteur’s parting gift to the Assembly, and I wish him well in the future. Where he sticks to the main theme – violence against religious minorities – I am wholly with him. I am more hesitant about some of the principles, where I believe that he is too absolutist and that a further nuance is needed.
The report properly begins with Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let us accept that the freedom to change one’s religion is often ignored. Those words are clear and bear no other meaning. I draw attention to paragraph 7, which urges member States to put their own house in order if we are to be credible in relation to the representations that we make. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism should have no place in our democracies.
I wish to make three brief points. First, no faith is blameless. For example, in Burma, despite the fact that European Union sanctions have now been withdrawn, Muslims are targeted by Buddists, yet – this is my second point – Christian communities are the most discriminated against in the world. The Pew Forum – the source of reliable statistics – says that Christians are discriminated against in 130 countries. Muslims are the second most discriminated group in 117, but that needs interpretation. Most Christians are persecuted by other Christians, yet of the 49 Muslim States, 17 do not tolerate any other religion. It is fair to say that, in a large proportion of the areas where Muslims are persecuted, they are persecuted by other Muslims: Sunnis against Shias, radicals against moderates, and orthodox against unorthodox – the Ahmadis and Baha’is.
As has been mentioned, there is real concern about the trends in the Middle East, on which we had a resolution in 2011. Christian communities in Iraq and Egypt are faring worse than under Saddam Hussein and Mubarak. Yet there are some signs of hope, and the Islamic Conference has moved somewhat in relation to blasphemy laws.
My final point is that our way – the parliamentary way – is one of promoting dialogue. Yes, we need democracy clauses in our agreement and the ability to monitor. That is why I find the response of the ministers disappointing. Ministers want a quiet life. They do great things, they say, behind closed doors. There should be a permanent capacity to monitor, and the Assembly should keep this issue high on the agenda.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Huseynov.
Mr HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – Religions and beliefs have two distinct qualities; they can unite and they can separate. When not benefiting political or some closed purposes religion becomes a precondition for bringing humans and nations together, as well as for mutual understanding, peace and collaboration. Nevertheless, when investigating certain negative points that emerged in the past or in the contemporary period with respect to various religious communities and whole religions and their sacred persons and symbols, one can easily find some unpleasant political, economic or other interests.
Freedom to choose religious beliefs and views is at the vanguard of fundamental human rights and liberties. Nevertheless, one cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that religious sects sometimes carry out extremist activities in the name of religion, and they sometimes do so for reasons completely unrelated to exercising religious freedom. When various countries take measures necessary for the security of the State and society, some forces try to suggest that those measures are unlawful pressure and disrespect human rights and freedoms.
My country, Azerbaijan, is a successful example of and, to some extent, provides a pattern for religious co-existence in mutual respect and co-operation. Furthermore, that classic pattern has a long history. In the ancient city at the centre of the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, centuries-old religious monuments act as museums or praying places. Zoroastrian temples, Christian churches and Muslim mosques are located 30 or 40 metres from one another and have been for more than 1 000 years. The fact that those praying houses have co-existed peacefully for more than 1 000 years is obvious proof of ongoing interreligious dialogue.
I cite that example because if intercultural or interreligious dialogue is to exist at the desired level and the different religious communities are to survive in a common space, regardless of pressures and pursuits, such a tradition should inevitably dominate in society. One can hardly achieve perfect outcomes in issues of belief and morality just through agitations and appeals. Agitation and appeals are also required, but they should be systematic so that the approach becomes the tradition. Training in that regard should be reflected in manuals and injected into brains from childhood. We should continue on that route until all phobias, hesitations and biased views on religion disappear. That is the eternal and ever-young desire of all global religions and progressive societies.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Ms Gafarova.
Ms GAFAROVA (Azerbaijan) – The issue covered by the report is very important in Europe. It is well known that religious tolerance is one of the main terms of security in the contemporary world. It is one of the most important principles that should be applied in practice by national governments. In a time of global threats, terrorism and tendencies towards religious confrontation, tolerance is the only way to preserve peaceful co-existence. A desire for such co-existence requires a careful and tactful approach and the steps we take now and in the future should not result in our disowning our national, cultural and moral values. Religious and national disparities should not cause discord. We must co-operate with sincerity, respect, love and good will and preserve and protect our common human values without forcibly imposing our faith and beliefs on others.
As my colleague from Azerbaijan has given some information about my country, I want to underline some of his points. Azerbaijan is a country in which representatives of different nations and religions live in a peaceful and friendly way. It is a secular country where religion is separate from the State. Freedom of conscience is declared by article 48 of our constitution. Everyone is free to choose their religion, to practise it individually or as a group or not to follow any religion at all, as well as to express their attitude to it. In history, the Azerbaijani people on the borders and in the country have lived in close proximity to representatives of various nationalities and religions and tolerance has been extended to all of them. Such an attitude could not have been imposed administratively as tolerance is a voluntary recognition and respect of everyone’s way of expressing themselves even if it is in conflict with one’s opinion. That feature is an integral part of our traditional cultural and moral values.
The Christian and Jewish communities in Azerbaijan enjoy and exercise equal rights to the Muslim community that makes up the majority of the population. People have never been mistreated for their religion. Azerbaijan is a country in which a mosque, a church and a synagogue can co-exist in peace. Over the years of independence, the Azerbaijani Government has restored synagogues and churches that were devastated under Soviet rule. In conclusion, let me emphasise my belief that nowadays the ideal pattern of integration is to achieve peaceful co-existence through the development of cultural and religious tolerance.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Muńoz-Alonso.
Mr MUŃOZ-ALONSO (Spain)* – I congratulate Luca Volontč on an exhaustive report that tackles all aspects of the question very reasonably. I agree with it and support it.
The report originated in 2011 and was a reaction to the killing of Coptic Christians on 1 January in Alexandria and other Egyptian cities. That is why it was entitled “Violence against Christians”. It is right that it has been expanded to cover all religious minorities as there is no doubt that there are permanent and ongoing cases in Europe in which other religions are being persecuted. We have talked about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, but Christianity in its variants – this can be seen in many studies, and I am not the only one to say it – is the most persecuted religious community. A British professor recently published a book that used the expression “Christianophobia” as a characteristic of our time.
The situation in the Middle East and East Africa often preoccupies us, but there are also problems in Europe. The report shows that some countries are not fulfilling their obligations vis-ŕ-vis religious minorities, so we must make advances in tolerance. Some 2 000 years ago, the Edict of Milan was published. It was the first document to propose religious tolerance and we must realise that 2 000 years later we are far from having achieved that. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerns people’s rights to practise or not practise a religion. People can change their religion and practise it privately or publicly. It is important to underscore that paragraph 29 of the report talks about the separation of church and State and the autonomy of religious communities and that paragraph 32 states that the Committee of Ministers’ response to Recommendation 1957 is unsatisfactory and that we should make improvements to the Organisation along the lines recommended by the Assembly.
Much of the report shows that violence against religions has increased over the years and we should reflect on that. The rapporteur comments on two archbishops who have since been released. The new Archbishop of Tunis has expressed his concern about aggressive Salafism in his area. That should prompt us to think and better to defend religious freedom.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Biedroń.
Mr BIEDROŃ (Poland) – According to the original motion for a resolution, the report was supposed to address how member States could work to counter violence against Christians in countries outside Europe. It goes far beyond that. It alters the geographical scope and brings in Europe itself. It also brings in issues that have nothing to do with violence, by introducing the notion of psychological violence and using it to cover manifestations of faith in the public sphere that are restricted under international human rights law to protect the rights of others.
Indeed, the report has been turned into a vehicle to promote conservative religious values that were not covered by the original terms of reference. It has even persuaded the Parliamentary Assembly to make recommendations that run contrary to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. In most parliaments, that would be seen as an abuse of procedure. That suggests that the Assembly needs tighter rules in this area.
Let me illustrate my concerns in a little more detail. Paragraph 8.6 of the draft recommendations calls on member States to “accommodate religious beliefs in the public sphere by guaranteeing freedom of thought in relation to health care, education and the civil service”. There is no reference to respecting the rights of others, so that amounts to a call for persons of faith to be allowed to discriminate in providing public services to others on religious grounds. Only three months ago, the European Court of Human Rights found that such discrimination was unacceptable under the Convention. In one case, a marriage registrar in the United Kingdom refused to officiate at same-sex civil unions on grounds of religious beliefs. In another, a relationships counsellor refused to provide counselling to same-sex couples for similar reasons.
Paragraph 8.8 emphasises the right of parents under Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention to ensure that education is in conformity with their religious views, but the European Court of Human Rights has made it abundantly clear that the right of parents in that respect is subsidiary to the right of children to an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Mota Amaral.
Mr MOTA AMARAL (Portugal) – Our rapporteur on the subject of violence against religious communities, Mr Luca Volontč, deserves congratulations and thanks for his initiative and his comprehensive report, on the basis of which our Assembly can have a timely debate. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right of every human being. It is strongly connected with freedom of thought and freedom of expression, both of which lie in the very foundation of modern societies. All these three forms of freedom are an expression of the human person's dignity. Their recognition by State authorities and by the law has been an achievement of many generations, and the list of the heroes who fought for them – many of whom have suffered all kinds of violence and even death – is unfortunately too long.
Luca Volonté’s report calls our attention to the existence in the present day of violence against religious communities and their leaders and supporters in many parts of the world, including in member countries of the Council of Europe. This situation is totally unacceptable and whenever it derives from the manipulation of religious principles and doctrines, it should be subject to strong repudiation and condemnation. It is indeed blasphemous to invoke the sacred name of God as a pretext to exercise violence against any person professing a different faith.
The history of Europe includes some very dark pages of religious violence and even wars of religion. The great impulse for human dignity which arose after the tremendous tragedies of the Second World War, including the abomination of the Shoah, led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights – the beacon of our Organisation. We Europeans have learnt the lesson and made great progress towards a respectful and even friendly co-existence and dialogue among all religions, especially the ones which have a long historic presence in Europe, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The example that we are now setting should be taken into consideration and replicated not only in our neighbourhood but around the world. The separation between State and churches – the principle of secularism – and between politics and religion is enshrined in many European constitutions and provides an additional guarantee for individual citizens and religious organisations. Freedom of religion includes the right not to have a religion and to change one's religion. Freedom of religion includes the right to practise one’s religion, and privately and publicly to present and defend its doctrines. Freedom of religion co-exists with freedom of speech. That means that religious matters are subject to controversy and criticism and could be the subject of offence and humiliation. An environment of tolerance and mutual understanding among religions should be actively pursued by state and religious authorities.
The draft resolution elaborates on those topics and I hope that it will receive the Assembly’s full approval.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Connarty.
Mr CONNARTY (United Kingdom) – Mr Mogens Jensen spoke to many of the amendments in which I have an interest so I will not dilate on those. However, I have tabled 11 amendments on behalf of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, all of which seek to extend the definition used by Mr Volonté to “religion and other beliefs” and to communities and individuals defined by their religion or their other beliefs. It is important to recognise that the present text is confined entirely to religious communities and ignores the persecution of atheists, humanists, secularists and non-religious people. Such persecution was the subject last year of a substantial report, which I hope people will read, by the International Humanist and Ethical Union.
The current alarming persecution of three atheist bloggers in Bangladesh illustrates the problem. One hundred thousand Islamists marched in Dhaka calling for a new blasphemy law and for the execution of atheist bloggers. Earlier this year a prominent atheist blogger was murdered in a machete attack in his home, raising concerns about the safety of such bloggers even if they are not prosecuted by the State.
Human rights treaties and conventions make no distinction between religious beliefs, non-religious beliefs such as humanism, and atheism, all of which are covered by the phrase “religion or beliefs”. I hope that Mr Volonté will be able to take most of those into account. I may have made a mistake by simply proposing the deletion of the word “religion”, but I would certainly support an amendment that inserted “non-religious beliefs”. Other amendments deal with the reference to “people who have a belief system”, whether that system is personal or any other association that might not be religious. I defend such beliefs and associations and consistently speak in the House of Commons against anyone who persecutes anyone else for expressing their religion or beliefs, and I hope that the Assembly will accept the amendments I have tabled.
(Mr Mignon, President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Ms Maury Pasquier.)
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much, Mr Connarty, for your statement. I call Ms Bakoyannis.
Ms BAKOYANNIS (Greece) – Few subjects are as diverse, rich in literature and factually researched as violence against religious communities and – I must add – individuals. However, action against such violence is fragmented and mostly ineffective. There has been an unprecedented revival against religious communities in our own time – a revival that has also cast shame on Europe. I refer to the tragedy of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, where thousands of people lost their lives mainly – if not only – because of their religion. It was a great shock for a Europe that thought it had permanently overcome religious wars and bloodshed. Then, following the destruction of the twin towers in New York, the situation took a new turn for the worst. Islamophobia grew. Around the world, the past 20 years has been one of the worst periods since the Second World War in terms of religious tolerance.
Europe faces issues of great complexity in this field. We must point them out and eventually formulate a strategy for facing them. In many respects the situation is getting worse and not better. Europe has to deal with a numerically growing and partially radicalised Muslim population, and with the possible problems for security and order that that entails. We have to deal with the growing reaction of far right political groups and parties against Muslims in Europe; with the problems related to maintaining the balance between freedom of religion and freedom of speech – and let us recall as an example the Danish cartoons; and with the problems of aggression against Christians by non-believers. We also have to deal with intra-Christian frictions and violence and increasing anti-Semitism in many countries. The combination of the relatively recent increase in Muslim fundamentalism in the Islamic world, the feeling of “a clash of civilisations”, the on-going wars of the West in predominantly Islamic countries and the increasing violence against Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, creates a most dramatic if not explosive cocktail.
The Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the European Union and other bodies possess an amazing variety of studies and reports on the subjects we are discussing today. I congratulate Luca Volonté on referring to many of those studies in his report, which enables us easily to find the evidence and proposals which we require to deal with this subject. One thing is certain: we need a comprehensive strategy for dealing with violence against religious communities both inside and outside Europe. Inside Europe we must harmonise our theoretical and legal approach to dealing with issues of religious violence. The different legal and practical approaches of the various European States are actually exacerbating the problem. We must also set clear principles as well as legal guidelines in drawing a distinction between freedom of speech and respect of religion. Moreover, the issue must become a coherent component of European foreign policy. Unless all of us in Europe agree on how to deal with violence and violations of religious rights in the Middle East, Africa and Asia in particular, violence, and particularly violence against Christians, will continue to increase.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Xuclŕ. He is not present. I therefore call Mr Recordon.
Mr RECORDON (Switzerland) – I will take the floor to say some nice things and some not-so-nice things. I hope that Mr Volonté will excuse me.
One favourable thing about the report is that it deals with a fundamental issue which has been tackled with guts and appositeness in several respects. What is perhaps less positive is that it suffers from the problem expressed by the saying that he who embraces too much does not embrace enough. The problem with the material scope is that it went too far. The violence referred to in the report’s title should be limited to the definition of violence. We have reached a stage where we have to balance different rights, and that is nothing to do with violence. Clashes of conviction, such as following the caricatures of Mohammed, are not violence, but some deem it emotional violence. We should balance interests and apply proportionality.
With that in mind, I have some problems with the report, such as in paragraph 8.6, which has been mentioned by previous speakers. Amendments are therefore necessary if we want the report properly to reflect the general intention of our Assembly.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Ghiletchi.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – I commend Mr Volontč for a good report and, as always, a passionate presentation of this important issue. I do not know how many more reports Mr Volontč will present before he leaves the Assembly, but I thank him for his hard work and tireless efforts to defend and promote human rights, and, in particular, for defending religious freedom for all regardless of religious affiliation or denomination.
It is our inalienable right as humans to choose what to believe. Living in a globalised, 21st-century society, it is important that governments around the world ensure that everybody is granted the right to think as they please, to believe as their conscience leads them and to live out those beliefs openly, peacefully and without fear. Such rights are important. It is unfortunate that so many countries, especially in central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, still do not grant total religious freedom to their citizens. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, many States in Europe’s vicinity severely violate human rights such as religious freedom. Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are countries of particular concern because so many cases have been registered of Christians, especially Christian leaders and pastors, being persecuted, harassed and even killed. It is therefore vital that the Council of Europe, as well as the European Union, monitors such cases closely and ensures that those countries protect freedom of religion in exchange for foreign aid or any other type of support.
At the same time, it is unfortunate that the situation in some places in Europe is not significantly better. Genuine religious freedom goes much deeper than simply the right to choose what to believe. It extends well beyond the right to private devotion in one’s home or place of worship. Authentic religious freedom incorporates the right to act according to one’s moral principles and beliefs and the right to live one’s faith freely and in public. Freedom of religion goes hand in hand with freedom of expression, and it is crucial that the two are balanced. According to the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, there has been a tendency lately to discriminate against Christians, mainly through hate speech legislation. By invoking political correctness so often, Christians’ freedom of expression has been significantly diminished. It is crucial that religious groups are allowed freely to express their thoughts on moral matters such as, but not limited to, family life, same-sex marriage and abortion, in particular when it comes to parents educating kids or churches educating disciples.
Let us support this resolution. By doing so, the Parliamentary Assembly will show that it cares for one of the most fundamental human rights: the freedom of conscience and religion.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Ameur, Partner for Democracy.
Mr AMEUR (Morocco)* – I support the work of the rapporteur and congratulate him on the relevance of the recommendations and the accuracy of the analysis.
The attention that the Assembly is now paying to violence against religious communities in Europe and in other parts of the world, in particular Africa and the Middle East, is warranted in several respects. In many countries, violence against individuals based on religion is beginning to take on worrying dimensions. The violence is not only physical, as stressed by the report, but psychological and verbal. In recent years, such violence has become prominent in the political discourse of certain populist and extremist circles. In Europe, violence and discrimination affect primarily minority communities, especially Muslim migrants, as shown in the atrocities of recent years. The economic and social crisis seriously afflicting certain countries could whip up feelings of hatred, which would have effects for religious communities.
Violence against such communities contributes to social break-up and is a threat to social cohesion. Many studies have pointed out the damage wrought among young people by such violence. It hampers their harmonious integration and their taking root in new societies, which is generating extremist feelings. Europe has waged a long struggle for freedom of thought, religion and belief and for respect for each and every individual. Its future, like our common future, is contingent on its ability to promote human rights, mutual understanding and respect for cultural and religious diversity. Inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue may help to enhance that diversity while maintaining social cohesion. Morocco, a country of tremendous cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity, has throughout its history sought to ensure that people of different religions, be they Muslim, Jewish or Christian, can coexist in peace. The constitution of 2011 enshrined that de facto situation in law by consecrating the principle of guaranteeing the freedom of worship for all.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Gaudi Nagy.
Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary) – I commend the rapporteur for this comprehensive report that highlights the issue of physical and psychological violence against people and communities based on their religion.
Freedom of conscience and of religion is defended by international conventions and by national legislation, but member States are the guarantors. I agree with the rapporteur that guaranteeing religious freedom means that member States have an obligation to avoid any kind of discrimination in this field, to combat and prevent violent attacks and to bring justice to perpetrators. The problem is global, but Europe must also improve.
I want to present to the Assembly some examples of violence and discrimination, combined with ethical intolerance, against religious communities. Religious communities of Hungarians living outside the country in the Carpathian Basin are facing violence and discrimination. As a consequence of unjust peace treaties, 3 million Hungarians are living outside Hungary and are deprived of the right to self-determination. After the treaties were signed, oppressive actions that affected religious life were initiated against those people, such as the assets of churches linked to Hungarians being largely confiscated during the communist period. Romania, home to 2 million Hungarians, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its accession to the Council of Europe. In Opinion 176 (1993), the Parliamentary Assembly called on the Romanian Government to return all property to churches, but that request has not yet been fulfilled with the majority of claims remaining unsolved and only 3% of confiscated assets returned. Romania has been condemned many times by the European Court of Human Rights and it is high time for it to fulfil its obligation to return church property without delay.
In Serbia, which wants to be a member of the European Union, and where 300 000 Hungarians live, Roman Catholic Hungarians were attacked after Christmas midnight mass. Roman Catholic churches and cemeteries are targeted with graffiti such as “death to Hungarians”, and buildings are being demolished. Hungarian-speaking believers are often attacked. Typically, the perpetrators are not brought to justice.
In the Carpathian region of Ukraine a few weeks ago a group of young Hungarians was attacked by Ukrainian nationalists – Svoboda activists – and intimidated. National symbols were torn off their clothing and they were verbally and physically attacked. No effective action is known to have been taken by the Ukrainian State. At the same time, a violent attack was carried out against religious Hungarians who took part in a national commemoration.
These are the reasons the Council of Europe must ensure that member States are the real guarantors of religious freedom.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Kalmár.
Mr KALMÁR (Hungary) – I congratulate our colleague Mr Luca Volonté and his team for this excellent work. This is not the first report on the different aspects of religious freedom, and unfortunately it will probably not be the last, given that such problems still exist. The issue still remains, despite the resolutions adopted by international organisations such as ours, and by other international bodies.
In paragraph 6 of the draft resolution, the rapporteur underlines and condemns the manipulation of religious beliefs which in many cases has led to terrorism. It is very important that this issue was discussed in the report and is part of the resolution.
Paragraph 8.6 of the draft resolution urges member States to accommodate religious beliefs in public spheres such as health and education. In health care, the most disputed issue is abortion. Doctors and other health care staff should not be persecuted or ridiculed in any way because they do not want to perform acts that are against their religious beliefs.
Another important possible source of conflict occurs in the field of education. It is not acceptable to force teachers to educate children in a way that is against their faith or the position adopted by their religious communities.
In some of the former communist bloc countries, the restitution of church property has yet to be completed. This issue is on the agenda in the Romanian Parliament because the restitution process has resulted in more than 3 000 cases coming before the European Court of Human Rights. The new draft regulation is intended to solve the problems and speed up the process, but there are concerns and criticisms. The credibility of the process needs be regained, following cases such as that involving the Szekely Miko College, which was attacked after being restituted to the Reformed Church. That draconian approach was condemned severely in the law courts.
I welcome the fact that the resolution urges Council of Europe member States to call for the protection of religious communities when dealing with third countries. This is especially true in the case of protecting Christians, since our European culture is based on Christianity. The roots of our European identity are Christian, so who else should assume this responsibility if not Europe?
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Ms Blanco.
Ms BLANCO (Spain)* – I thank Mr Volontč for this very interesting report on religious freedom. May I respectfully say that in my view – I am speaking in my capacity as a parliamentarian, not as a socialist – it is not very balanced, because it underscores one of the three monotheistic religions: Christianity. However, as I have only three minutes I want briefly to recall what is happening in Egypt. The report does not mention the fact that Muslim women who do not belong to the Wahhabist current in Egypt are being persecuted daily by State and non-State elements hailing from the Wahhabist Muslim Brotherhood, the hard line of Salafism. These women, who have been submitted to virginity tests and all manner of violence, are not protected. As has been mentioned, our obligation is to protect religious freedom in third countries and not just member countries of the Council of Europe.
There is a doubt that is always in my mind. I am Spanish and my country has no official religion, although it is not a secular State, according to our constitution. Specific mention is made of the Catholic Church within Christianity, and Catholicism is thus submitted to the hierarchy of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, which constantly refers, under all Governments, to the reforms that it considers the State must undertake. One example is the reform of abortion legislation. This constitutes interference. Religious freedom requires separation of church and State. According to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Declaration of Human Rights, church and State should be separated.
Thank you, Mr Volontč, and I wish you all the best.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Hancock.
Mr HANCOCK (United Kingdom) – I wish Mr Volontč well in whatever he does after he leaves this Assembly. I have enjoyed crossing swords with him during his many years here and have enjoyed his friendship, but I have to say on reading his report that I would probably have had more success decoding the da Vinci code. I am delighted to say, however, that the “Volontč code” was unravelled thanks to the amendments that he graciously accepted at the end of this process. Without them, I am convinced that the Assembly would have had to reject the report, and it would have been sad if Mr Volontč had left with that stain on the reputation he has built here over the years.
Those who were involved in the report and were present at yesterday’s meeting of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy will know that Mr Volontč agreed to amendments that have made the report far more acceptable to the wider Assembly and, more importantly, to a wider Europe, in order fundamentally to get to grips with the issues he deals with in the report. I draw members’ attention to four amendments in particular: 15, 16, 18 and 20, which get to the heart of the issues that many members have discussed today. This Assembly has clear responsibilities that are enshrined in the articles that set it up 60-odd years ago. It has to be a beacon of light, and to ensure that that light shines as brightly as possible on three important issues: common decency, forbearance, and above all general tolerance for people’s beliefs, religious or otherwise. Fundamentally, that is what the report should have protected. However, the rapporteur went far wider than his original brief, which is why the report has caused so much furore among various groups in the Assembly. I am delighted that for once some of the groups in the Council of Europe were able to come together and fundamentally change a report for the better. We should appreciate the efforts of all those who tabled amendments, including Mr Connarty, my colleague from the United Kingdom, who powerfully put the case for humanism. But most of all we should appreciate Mr Volontč for having the good grace to accept the amendments.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Sidyakin.
Mr SIDYAKIN (Russian Federation)* – Ms Blanco, who spoke some minutes ago, said that one of the problems with the report was that it was not balanced and did not take into account the confessional majority with respect to the minority. I think the opposite; I consider that the report takes into account the interests of the traditional confessions and the interests of religious minorities. I think the report would be worth adopting even without the amendments. However, I would change the word “fundamentalism” in paragraph 6 of the draft resolution in favour of the word “intolerance”, which would better reflect the philosophical meaning of the report.
Being the kind of communities that we are gives us a huge advantage in terms of cultural exchanges and social issues, but even a tiny germ of intolerance undermines everything else. Obviously, we will be wrong if we go along with the whipping up of religious hatred. Christianity and Islam, for all their differences, have the same values – mercy, kindness, justice, respect for the old and family values. But those are also ideals for those without religion, who should also be defended in this Assembly.
Paragraph 9.3 of the draft resolution says we must “promote correct and objective education about religions, including those of minorities”. If the State does not carry out that task and we let the Church deliver such education, we will take ourselves straight back to the days of the Crusades and religious bloodshed.
I call on everybody to adopt the report. Luca Volontč has done a huge amount of useful work. Some today have said that Christians are the most persecuted – that every five minutes somewhere in the world a Christian is murdered. In that respect, Mr Volontč’s report aims to defend not only the rights of minorities – and I do not mean only in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and so on, but in countries that are now democracies such as Libya. Look at Syria – recently one of the sheikhs called on people to rape Christians, and we should remember the massacre of 50 000 people in Homs. That is what intolerance leads to.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you Mr Sidyakin. I call Mr O’Reilly.
Mr O’REILLY (Ireland) – I welcome the report and congratulate Mr Volontč on his great contributions to the work of the Assembly and its many committees. I salute him.
We cannot repeat often enough that every individual has the right to religious belief and its practice. Although this most fundamental of human rights is protected by Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, I am sad to say that it is not sufficiently honoured.
Religious freedom, of its nature, must also include the right of parents to educate their children according to their faith, philosophies and values. Such freedom also includes the right to practise faith openly. It is up to the elected government of a country to legislate for what it perceives to be the common good, and part of democratic debate in any civilised country should include the views of different faith communities on legislation and so on.
I should like to put it on the record that conscientious objection should be allowed in the fundamental case of abortion. Medical people who are not comfortable with abortion should have a right to conscientious objection. A true expression of rights and the dignity of the person would support that.
We must condemn violence against Christians in the Middle East, Africa and central Asia. The report gives well documented examples of violence against Coptic Christians, and it is a pity that the Arab Spring has not yielded better results. Our Council of Ministers should take a more active role in being visibly and actively against examples of violence. One could not be consistent without also condemning Islamophobia and anti-Semitism wherever they manifest themselves. One consequence of 9/11 and what happened recently in Boston could be an increase in Islamophobia. We have to guard against that. We need to guard against discrimination against any faith community. As Mr Connarty rightly said, the right not to believe should also exist in a civilised society.
This timely report goes to the core of our value system and what we are about in this prestigious Assembly. We need to repeat our values and insist that our Committee of Ministers gives expression to them on all possible occasions.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr O’Reilly. Mr Hood now has the floor.
Mr HOOD (United Kingdom) – I thank the rapporteurs – particularly those of the Migration Committee, on which I sit – for their report. I welcome the debate and many of the amendments, which will improve the report.
All religions face persecution around the world in direct and indirect ways. It is sad that we have had to discuss the issue yet again, but unfortunately we have to live with the reality. As global policy makers, we need to work together to ensure that Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is upheld.
The report is specifically about violence against religious communities. I would like to acknowledge that persecution comes in all forms. Violence is often the last in a series of discriminatory acts, so by preventing violence we should be preventing persecution in all its forms and promoting tolerance of all religions in practising their faith.
As a committee, we are also focusing on migrants and refugees specifically. Many of those people are either fleeing persecution or even facing it when arriving in a new country. We must not forget that millions of people of all religions face persecution, and even violence, on a day-to-day basis in their home countries. We must work to protect all those people, rather than only those who have had the opportunity to leave or have been unable to stay in their countries because of the severity of persecution against them.
As I said, persecution happens in all religious communities, but I want to speak about the persecution of Christians. Much has been said about that this morning. Last November, Angela Merkel declared, rather controversially, that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. We see this across the globe, particularly in States where Islamist extremists are filling power vacuums, but also where these extremists are in countries with increasing civil unrest. It is a topical and serious issue.
Between November 2011 and October 2012, Open Doors recorded 1 200 killings of Christians worldwide and 2 000 attacks. There are extreme numbers in Nigeria, where 791 Christians were killed. In Iraq, 161 were killed. However, violence is not the only issue; persecution comes in many forms. To prevent violence, we need to take a stand immediately. Nigeria is a good example of this. Christian villagers have been denied access to water wells in north Nigeria. This and other persecutions are well documented. In Eritrea, all religious groups other than Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and Islamic groups have been banned, with others being persecuted. About 2 000 Christians are imprisoned in Eritrea, and 31 have been killed. Around the world between October 2011 and November 2012, 280 churches or other Christian buildings were burned or destroyed. All these acts can lead to violence if left unchecked. Any attempt to ban or restrict religious freedom is a concern for us all. I call for more to be done to combat persecution on a day-to-day basis.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Omtzigt.
Mr OMTZIGT (Netherlands) – I thank Mr Volontč for an excellent report on a topic that we all hoped would not be discussed as much in the 21st century as it is. After a horrible 20th century, with a number of genocides taking place in Europe, also on a religious basis, we were hoping that they would not take place in the 21st century, yet violence is on the increase.
I am very proud of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives everyone the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom for someone to change their religion or belief. That is truly exceptional, because other treaties, such as the Cairo Declaration, do not include that right. It includes the freedom, either alone or in community with others, in public or in private, for someone to manifest their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. This does not mean that they can do it only in their own house, but also in public. It can also have an effect on the positions that they take in their life regarding education and health care, as long as it does not infringe the freedom of others too much.
I am truly worried about what is happening in the Middle East. In Syria and in Egypt, 2 million Christians in each of those countries are being driven out. As we speak, two bishops who were travelling from Turkey to Aleppo in Syria – John Ibrahim from the Syrian Orthodox Church and Boulos Yazigi from the Greek Orthodox Church – were kidnapped and still are not free. That is not an ordinary kidnapping; it is a way of making sure that 2 million Christians are driven out of Syria. I do not like that because the simple fact is that it means the end of religious freedom over there. I do not use the words “Arab Spring” any more. The spring has become the winter – a cold, harsh winter for numerous minorities. We regret the day when there will be a military victory over there and the victors will drive out Christians, probably Alevis, and other minorities.
Let us make this a focal point of the attention of the Council of Europe in all the contacts we have in the weeks, months and years ahead. We have to look at our own religious freedom, but it needs to play a far more important role in our foreign policy.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Bockel.
Mr BOCKEL (France)* – For two years this Assembly has been following the dramatic situation of religious minorities in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab Spring may have become a bloody winter for religious minorities in certain countries. Tyrannies have been followed not by the triumph of freedom but often by authoritarian republics haloed by the prestige of a revolution that they hardly joined and to which they wish to give a conservative profile. In over-celebrating the fall of the Satraps, we Europeans neglected the consequences of these upheavals. I am not trying to query all the hopes raised during the Arab Spring, and the story is not over, but, like others, I can see the religious dimension contained in these revolts.
Under dictatorships, radical Islam has sometimes been for some a form of refuge or even implicit power-sharing. We should think of Egypt and the power of the Muslim Brotherhood in the social field. The radicalisation of religious speech at the time responded to increasingly corrupt, even dictatorial and bloody power. The more moderate, secular opponents were perforce distant from local realities because they were in exile. Tyrannies could prohibit their parties and imprison their leaders, but they could not destroy mosques. It is therefore not illogical that these Islamist or Salafist movements won the first elections. Some might say that we cannot do much with such a development in an open world such as ours at a time when partnerships are being established between the countries and regions of our continent through the Council of Europe and the European Union. I cannot share such an analysis. I do not think that these parties are all illegitimate, but we should have made our support conditional on the implementation of guarantee mechanisms for the freedom of expression of religious minorities. It is possible in Morocco, as we heard, so it should also be possible elsewhere. However, we did not do that, to the detriment of these communities.
In this context, as underscored by the rapporteur, the reaction of the Committee of Ministers to the recommendation we adopted in 2011 can be criticised. Our Organisation should be at the forefront of the defence of all freedoms. In refusing to implement in a permanent capacity proposals on governmental and societal restrictions on freedom of religion, the Committee of Ministers has contributed to placing violence under a bushel and concealing it for reasons that I fail to understand. We have to draw lessons from this lack of courage and anticipation when faced with the crisis in Syria, because sooner or later we will be confronted with a post-Assad regime. A point that is dear to my heart is that we Europeans have to sweep our front doorstep and remain exemplary. As several colleagues have said, we must support this report. It is a balanced report and the amendments will make it even more so. It is very good that we have had this debate today.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I now call Ms Erkel Kara.
Ms ERKAL KARA (Turkey)* – I thank the rapporteur for the efforts that have led to a detailed and precise report.
I should like to draw your attention to the situation of the Muslims in Myanmar, which does not feature in the report despite the gravity of the attacks that have occurred there. There have been recent attacks against the Rohingya Muslims aimed at fully integrated Myanmmar citizens. Inter-community violence that is limited to a part of Myanmar might spread to the remainder of the country. Even if the situation appears to be under control now, it is none the less worth making an effort to avoid future violent attacks and the propagation of hate between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar. In that context, it is important to bring the guilty to justice to show that such acts of violence shall not remain unpunished.
Furthermore, thousands of Muslims in Meiktila have lost their homes and need shelter. It is crucial to guarantee the return of these people to their homes so that this situation does not repeat itself and so that they do not become permanently displaced persons within their own country. Furthermore, the Myanmar Government should guarantee the arrival of international aid to the displaced citizens who were removed from their homes.
Following the recent violent events, it is essential that the members of the international community should act with determination to issue a unified message to the Myanmar Government. The events show us that extremism has no religion and that the international community should raise its voice against all forms of violence, because in the absence of the right to life, all other rights would be deprived of any meaning. I thank members of the Assembly for their attention.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Ms Erkal Kara. I call Ms Gündeş Bakir.
Ms GÜNDEŞ BAKIR (Turkey) – I congratulate the rapporteur on his excellent report. This Assembly urges everyone totally to reject and condemn all violence against religious communities. I restate my firm belief that all religions advocate peace – for instance, the word “Islam” has its root in the Arabic term “slim”, which means peace. All religions are, thus, compatible with modern European life, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Distorted marginal groups or people who distort religion, kill innocent people, torture civilians, commit crimes, harass and oppress women or exclude girls from education available to boys are misusing and perverting religion. Distorted or inaccurate accounts of religious beliefs or practices cannot be accepted as representing that religion. We completely reject and condemn the misuse of religions. We are committed to standing in solidarity with all religious communities, to protecting them without exception and to ensuring full religious freedoms in our countries. The Koran clearly says that religion cannot be forced on anyone. One of its verses says “There is no compulsion in religion”.
In the second part of my speech, I wish to draw the attention of members to another delicate issue. Just as freedom of thought, conscience and religion are fundamental rights – and everyone has the right to “manifest” his or her “religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice”, as outlined in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights – so, too, is freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 10. As the second paragraph of that article makes clear, there is a fine balance between those two freedoms. Their exercise carries with it duties and responsibilities, so it “may be subject to such…conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others”.
Caricatures and films ridiculing or insulting a religion do not represent freedom of expression – quite the contrary, they indicate intolerance and xenophobia. The aim behind them is to provoke the believers of that religion. Such acts do not contribute to world peace or to the world’s intellectual heritage, and do not add anything positive to society; they just add segregation and hurt. I call on all member States to ensure respect for all religious and sacred symbols, religious figures, holy books, prophets and God, as the opposite deeply hurts devout believers of a religion. They can believe that their identity and community is being victimised if their religion or its sacred symbols are subjected to public ridicule or vilification. I call on the Assembly to consider such offences as hate crimes.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Ms Gündeş Bakir. I call Mr Clappison.
Mr CLAPPISON (United Kingdom) – I congratulate Mr Volontč on an excellent report and on all the work he has done over the years to protect Christian minority communities, especially those in the Middle East. He was right to remind us that religious freedom is a principle that we should affirm for all. I agree with everything that Ms Erkal Kara said about the recent persecution of the Muslim minority in Burma, and our governments should do whatever they can to bring it to an end.
Regrettably, in parts of this debate we have been deflected from the main thrust of the report by a discussion of issues that should be for another day. It is a mistake to juxtapose those issues and the violation of religious freedom. Let us remember that we are talking about: people being persecuted for their faith; lives being lost; places of worship being attacked; and women and girls being abducted because of their faith. Yesterday, we also heard about the sad case of bishops being kidnapped as they worked for peace in a very troubled area.
I strongly support the report’s call for our governments to take account of the situation of Christians and other religious communities in their bilateral dialogue with other governments, especially those in the Middle East. For example, the new Government in Egypt and President Morsi are now responsible for the safety of the Coptic Christian community in their country. We know that there have been problems in the past, but no matter what happened then, they are now responsible for the safety of that community in respect of their bilateral relations with our member States.
I echo Lord Anderson’s call for the Committee of Ministers to take this issue seriously and for European governments to put their own house in order before we take it up with other countries – we must do that first. Mr Biedroń reminded us of certain recent cases involving the United Kingdom that have come before the European Court of Human Rights. One such case involved the right of an individual to wear a cross. I am sad that there should be such an issue in the United Kingdom today about someone’s right to wear a modest symbol of their faith, be it a cross or a symbol of another faith. Given my country’s history, I am sad that it has come to that.
I shall make two final points. I agree with my colleague Mr Neill that we should not lose sight of the problem of anti-Semitism, which, despite all the terrible experience of the last century, continues to raise its head in Europe from time to time. I also agree with the call that was made by Lord Anderson and Mr Omtzigt, and which has been implicit in many other speeches, that this issue should figure highly in this Assembly’s priorities. As has been said, the Assembly should expect action from the Committee of Ministers and the governments of our member States on this issue.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Clappison. I call Mr Ariev.
Mr ARIEV (Ukraine) – The question we are discussing is sensitive and sometimes dangerous, and I need not explain its importance further. Respecting faith and handling all religious topics carefully could help to avoid more than half the existing conflicts in the world.
Last year, I observed that attacks against religious groups, and offensive slogans and jokes about faith and holy names – even in the mass media – had become widespread. Some caricatures provoked the Muslim community, and there were many offensive expressions against Christians, Jewish people and others. Freedom in speech was in conflict with freedom of conscience, and that is a concern. Faith and religion must be respected by those who are not very religious or not religious at all, so this resolution on religious aspects is timely and important.
I also draw the Assembly’s attention to the problems of the interference of State authorities in religious activities and one-sided support in inter-religious or inter-confessional conflicts. The State authorities in Ukraine support the Christian Orthodox Church of the Moscow patriarchate in any conflicts with other Christian confessions. One community in the Poltava region decided to move from the Moscow patriarchate to the Kiev patriarchate. When the community representatives presented the documents for its registration as a Kiev patriarchate community, the regional authorities replied that they needed three months to review the documents. At the same time, a local district court, in a response to the priest of the Moscow patriarchate, ruled that the community was dismissed and that all its property had to go to the Moscow Church. So the believers have no possibility of praying in their church, even at Christmas, and the problem persists. That is one of the clearest examples, but such violations in Ukraine are numerous.
In his first year as President, Viktor Yanukovych did not meet any religious leaders, except Moscow patriarchate representatives. The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations has existed for more than 15 years, yet State dialogue with the other confessions began only a year ago, after international pressure.
A very dangerous situation still exists in Crimea, where the local authorities support Slavic extremists who attack the mosques of the Crimean Tartars. The local councils always deny or delay replies to requests by the Muslim community to build new mosques. There are many known cases of the state school administrations in Crimean towns forcing Muslim children to take part in Orthodox religious ceremonies. One evening school rejects Muslims from the madrassah, preventing them from getting a basic secular education. I have many examples of vandalism committed against Muslims in Crimea. The behaviour of the Crimean authorities could ignite a new conflict in Crimea; it is just a question of who will light the first match.
It is essential that we adopt the resolution. In these difficult and tense times we can take a step to eliminate an unnecessary source of tension.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I now call Mr Sabella from Palestine, Partner for Democracy.
Mr SABELLA (Palestine) – On behalf of the Palestinian delegation, I would like to laud the Parliamentary Assembly for its position in this timely debate. The fact that some abuse religion to exclude others, rather than to open up to them, should not lead us to stereotype and generalise about whole religious groups based on the transgressions of a few.
We in Palestine pride ourselves on being the land of the three monotheistic religions. While some, in all three religions, prefer to use religion to advance ideological and political agendas, the overwhelming majority of our people subscribe to respect for the different religious traditions. In fact, we often refer to our experience across religions as “the dialogue of life”, wherein citizens work, study and participate together, irrespective of religion.
While human rights are indeed paramount. I must remind your esteemed Assembly that in other parts of the world religion and religious rights are important components in establishing harmonious inter-communal relations that can contribute to the adoption of and respect for universal human rights.
We look with some concern at the effects of the transitions taking place in Arab and Middle Eastern societies not simply on religious and ethnic communities but on the whole fabric of society. Certainly the concern shown by the Parliamentary Assembly on this topic, through Mr Volontč’s report and draft resolution, should send a clear message not only to southern neighbours but to the member States of the Council of Europe on the need for an education about the other and respect for the rights that accrue to the citizen, irrespective of their religious, national, ethnic or other background.
Indigenous Church leaders in Palestine, many of whom are Arab in nationality, and throughout the Middle East keep reminding their faithful and society as a whole of the reality that Christian communities in the Middle East are an integral part of their societies, and as such they should work side by side with other components and groups in society to ensure a future of good citizenship for all. The migration of Christians out of the Middle East gives rise to fear, not only among Christians but throughout the society, that such a phenomenon can rob society of a vital pluralistic dimension needed for a future of stability and prosperity. In societies where religion is a defining parameter for personal and family identity, and sometimes for a whole national group, it is very important to respect that and, at the same time, teach knowledge and understanding of others and respect for their rights as citizens in the context of universal human rights declarations and conventions.
Once again the Parliamentary Assembly is sending a timely and highly relevant message: we are called on to use the power and influence of religion to bring people together rather than to drive them apart.
THE PRESIDENT* – Mr Nikoloski and Mr Japaridze are not here, so I call Ms Zimmermann.
Ms ZIMMERMANN (France)* – Tolerance is a cardinal virtue in a democratic State. However, rising intolerance is a reality and constitutes a danger for our old democracies and an even greater one for States in transition, such as those in the near and Middle East. Belonging to a religion, which should pertain to the private sphere, is increasingly a part of the public sphere, including in secular countries such as France, and that creates tensions. We see a progressive sliding towards public manifestations of religious convictions and to the affirmation of religious conduct. Religious identities become lethal, as has been pointed out, when certain communities are designated as scapegoats by extremists in the name of the so-called “clash of civilisations”.
In the Arab Spring countries the State confers, albeit not de facto, the same rights on religious minorities and gives them administrative channels to exercise their right to religion and personal status in cases of mixed marriages. However, men and women are treated as second-class citizens. I say that to my colleagues who are Partners for Democracy or candidates for such a status. Wherever they be, any individual should enjoy the same legal status, the same rights and, above all, the same protection, whatever his or her religion. That is what respecting the values of the Council of Europe means.
Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, Patriarch of the Maronite Church, recently recalled that in the Arab Spring countries there can only be a shared inclusive national identity which includes all cultural contributions and can guarantee the basis for genuinely living together. But, rapporteur, while it is true that the violence experienced by Christians every day in the East is terrible, we should not forget that the enemy of democracy is not the other, but intolerance. As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, how can we not interrogate ourselves about the recurrence of anti-Semitic and racist acts in Europe, such as the desecration of Jewish, Christian and Muslim cemeteries, which has increased of late, including here in Alsace? Those odious acts are grave breaches of the rules for living together. They not only tarnish the memory of the dead but express a message of hate towards the living.
The focus on these tensions by extremist parties or movements should alert us to the importance of not stigmatising such and such a religious community. In amalgamating tensions they create a terrain favourable to physical violence and racist or anti-Semitic aggressions. The freedom to believe is not contrary to democracy, but to deny others the freedom of thought, and to think differently, is.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. The next speaker is Ms Postanjyan.
Ms POSTANJYAN (Armenia) – The report expresses concern about the increase in violent attacks against religious communities. It notes that there is not only physical, but psychological violence against persons and communities because of their religion, and it condemns such violence.
Today I represent Armenians who have been victims of violence, and that violence continues. In 1912, according to official Turkish data, there were more than 2 000 functioning Armenian churches and monasteries in the Ottoman Empire. They have been illegally appropriated by the Republic of Turkey and today remain under the ownership of the Turkish Government. They should be returned to their rightful owners. We should ask the question: what happened to the Armenians who built those churches? I stand in this Chamber wearing a special T-shirt to urge you, once again, to heed the requirements not only of Armenians but of the humane world community.
For the past few decades now, 24 April has served as one of the major dates on the calendar, and not only for the Armenian people. Protests will be held in various places around the world today, including in Istanbul, where, for several years now, groups of Turks and Armenians have gathered to commemorate the genocide and to demand recognition by the Turkish Government. One of the main aims of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire was to promote Islamisation, which continues in Turkey today.
In the Armenian world, the date began as a day for requiems and remembrance, gradually developing into a day of righteous indignation and for demanding justice through the recognition of the Armenian genocide. Nevertheless, 24 April is a day of loss – a day dedicated to acknowledging the greatest of loss. We were dispossessed of our land; it was the great Armenian dispossession.
Since justice has not been restored and the Council of Europe has a monument only for the Holocaust, I call on you to remember and honour the memory of the victims of the Armenian genocide and of other nations in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire by placing flowers and candles at the monument to the Holocaust outside this building, as a monument that remembers the crime of genocide.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Leigh. You have three minutes.
Mr LEIGH (United Kingdom) – The report is an important one, and I hope that it is adopted. We in Europe ourselves do not have a good record historically on religious tolerance. I speak as a member of a religious minority myself – a Catholic in Great Britain. For 300 years, we were not allowed to practise our faith. That, you might say, is a long time ago, and we are proud in Europe of our record on religious tolerance, but in the century in which all of us were born there were appalling acts of genocide and intolerance in western Europe.
The reason this report is important, and what we should focus on, is the appalling acts of intolerance taking place on our very doorstep – in the Middle East. A number of speakers have mentioned that, but it is important to keep repeating it and to keep putting pressure on our governments to raise such issues with friendly nations in the Middle East.
I was in Bethlehem and Jerusalem only last week. I visited a hospital in Bethlehem run by the Knights of Malta, of which I am a member. The deputy director of that hospital, a Palestinian Christian working and living in Bethlehem, is not allowed to travel the few miles to Jerusalem by the Israeli Government. As we have heard, there is no overt persecution of Christians or anyone else on the grounds of religion in Palestine, but conditions are being made so intolerable that the Christians in Palestine are leaving. The Christian population in Israel and Palestine is now less than 1% of the whole population. Christians are leaving the cradle of Christianity because their lives are becoming intolerable.
I have mentioned in this Assembly before the intolerable situation of Christians in Iraq. Many of them fled to Syria, where their lives are under increasing pressure. Mention has been made of the appalling acts of violence against the Copts, the original population of Egypt. Twenty five people were killed before Christmas, and another four last month. We have also heard of the kidnapping of bishops and the pressure on churches in India, Indonesia and Iran.
We should not let go of this subject, and we should continue to speak out about it. We must, as we have heard today, say that extremism does not have a religion; it is not a religion. We must fight against it all over the world.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. In the debate I call next Mr Farina. You have three minutes.
Mr R. FARINA (Italy)* – Mr Volentč’s report is excellent. It is a useful compendium, because it promotes, in the context of human rights and the founding values of Europe, religious freedom for all, including for those who do not have a religion. Religious freedom was included in a resolution in the Italian parliament in January, which was adopted practically unanimously. Religious freedom is the mother of all liberties, because it involves our essence as human beings – the freedom to seek the truth without any oppression, conditioning or constriction by majorities of minorities, including the freedom of those who do not want any religion.
Today, fighting for religious freedom can risk one’s life. What is Europe doing about that? It is doing very little, because we reaffirm the principle of realpolitik with impressive speed. We seek to obtain political stabilisation of regions and States on a mono-religious basis. In Iraq, Christians are being compelled to emigrate. The same thing is increasingly happening with the Copts in Egypt. The Arab Spring has become a pretext for a religious clean-up. The persecution of Christians in Tunisia and Libya is, tragically, kept in silence. Every Sunday, we hear the cries of Christians in Nigeria, but we accept that that is normal.
Basically, we are prepared to tolerate major migrations of people, provided they are not our own and that our oil supplies are not threatened. That is an erroneous calculation, even under the angle of realpolitik. If the current expulsion of Christians from the Middle East, which started in the early decades of the last century, were to continue, strategic countries of prime importance to European interests could be destabilised. Think of what is happening in Syria as we speak. We are returning to the Peace of Augsburg, with its famous principle of “cuius regio, eius religio”. We cannot move forward in that way.
Is there a similar risk in Europe? Discrimination may not be as violent, but there is none the less a risk. What is the dominant religion? It is the religion of not having a religion – in other words, the fundamentalist hegemony of bad State secularity, or secularity that becomes the State religion. We must build a different view of secularism, in which the States stimulate reciprocal contributions, as the secular philosopher Habermas said, from the lay and religious visions of the world, where one may clarify the other. The anniversary of the Edict of Milan can be a tremendous occasion to promote religious freedom.
The issue is not just about permission to practise a religion or tolerance, but about recognising religion as a source of growth for all. Religious freedom should be promoted and protected because the future of humanity and of all our rights is implied in it.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I call Mr Flanagan. You have three minutes.
Mr FLANAGAN (Ireland) – I congratulate my EPP colleague, Luca Volontč, on his fine report. Being from the Republic of Ireland, I am glad to report to the Assembly that there is, thankfully, peace in the north of Ireland. It was a black spot for more than 30 years, with violence between communities, particularly between two religions. Too many lives were lost over too many years.
Like other colleagues, I am concerned about the increase in violence against religious communities. Religious freedom should be allowed by all countries, as stated explicitly in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What recently went on in Syria is disgraceful. Two Christian bishops were held against their will, but thankfully they have now been released. The bishops were on a mission to negotiate the release of two priests taken two months earlier, when their car was stopped and their driver killed. Over the two years of the Syrian conflict, both Muslim and Christian religious figures have been kidnapped or killed. It is unfortunate that kidnappings have become increasingly prevalent, as law and order clearly broke down in Syria. Sadly, religious fundamentalism has led to unnecessary violence in parts of the world, such as the 9/11 attacks and the Boston bombings in America.
Education and dialogue are the keys to combating that negative trend, as stated in the report. Freedom of religion, conscience and belief is an essential part of the European human rights system, which is guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. As an Assembly, we are duty-bound to comply with the commitment and to ensure that all countries in Europe do likewise.
There is a major concern regarding Hungary at the moment, where rights activists fear the end of religious freedom. According to Vatican radio, faith groups will need parliamentary approval to be recognised as churches. Among the requirements is collaboration with the State.
What is happening in Senegal is very worrying. Two missionaries have been in custody since November, following the filing of a complaint against them.
I welcome the recent judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in which a British Airways worker won her appeal on the right to wear a cross at work. In an increasingly secular Europe, religious freedom is very important and people should not live in fear of being themselves and practising their religious beliefs. It is disappointing that three other Christian applicants who claimed that they had suffered religious discrimination lost their appeals. I understand, however, that those cases are being appealed to the Grand Chamber.
It is also worrying to read the remarks of the personal representative of the OSCE chairperson-in-office on combating intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions, who stated recently that a Christian is killed for his or her faith somewhere in the world every five minutes.
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, two member States are considered problematic in Europe – Turkey and Russia. Religious freedom in Russia continues to deteriorate. Muslim and Jehovah’s Witnesses are particularly under pressure. It is important that we parliamentarians in the Council of Europe bring more pressure to bear on Turkey and Russia to ensure that they comply with religious freedom under the European Convention on Human Rights.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Mr Fritz and Ms Al-Astal are not here, so I call Ms Karlsson.
Mr KARLSSON (Sweden) – We have heard many colleagues bear witness to violations of religious groups’ rights. Each and every one of those violations is horrific. Nevertheless, we must open eyes and really see such violations of individual rights in the name of religion and understand them. I would like to take this opportunity to underline the fact that, every day, religious rights are put above fundamental human rights and the freedoms of each and every person.
Too often, and in many countries, religion, tradition and culture are used to restrict human rights, including the rights of women and girls and freedom of expression. Honour killings, bride burning, forced marriages and female genital mutilation are just some of the violations that face young women in today’s world. Religion is often used to justify such violence. For example, according to recent media reports, about 66 000 women and girls in the United Kingdom have been subject to female genital mutilation.
It is our duty to protect women and girls and to ensure that religion can never be invoked to justify such violence against women or to deny their rights in relation to their own bodies. Therefore, it is crucial that fundamental human rights and the rule of law must not be secondary to religious rights. The European Court of Human Rights underlines the fundamental rights of children to education, and the rights of parents to educate their children according to their religious views is secondary.
I therefore very much hope that we will agree to some of the proposed amendments. We must respect fundamental human rights and the rule of law. We cannot put religious rights above those rights.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much. Ms Zappone and Mr Yatim are not here, so I call Mr Ms Mattila.
Ms MATTILA (Finland)* – I thank the rapporteur for raising the important issue of violence against religious communities, but I agree with some colleagues who found disharmony between the title and the contents of the report.
In Finland, this is a new phenomenon, although we have had disputes between different communities in our country decades and centuries ago. However, I fully understand that cultures and traditions change as people move in an ever more globalised world. I am not worried about that. In fact, let us remind ourselves of something that is mentioned in the report: this year, we celebrate the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which gave direction to the notion of freedom of religion.
What worries me is violence. Let me underline the fact that we cannot allow freedom of violence. Therefore, it is unfortunate that people have somehow hijacked religion for violent purposes. Today, we see serious acts of hostility and intolerance towards non-traditional and minority religious groups, but what is that hostility about? If I travel outside Europe, my majority religion will probably become a minority one. As a result, I see a need for a worldwide discussion. What confuses me time and again is the use of terms and expressions such as “honour killing” or “honour violence” within religious discourse. I have great difficulty with such expressions of hatred and violence; they do not cause violence in themselves, but dual protections are needed because of them.
The report suggests that some member States might need to review their legislation, but we need to discuss the situation properly. Legislative change in relation to religion is a sensitive issue. However, it is very sad that we cannot solve our problems without legislation – in other words, that we cannot fully follow religious teaching without involving the law.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much. I call Ms El Ouafi, Partner for Democracy.
Ms EL OUAFI (Morocco)* – Mr President, distinguished colleagues, I have the honour of sharing with you my thoughts on what has happened in my own beloved country, Morocco, which has been a model in our region of the tradition of tolerance over the years. The Kingdom of Morocco has always been a bridge between our two continents, as well as a place where civil relations have always existed between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Morocco is not only geographically close to western Europe; we show courteous respect for the right of our Christian and Jewish minorities to be different, and that is truly reflected in Moroccan society. In 1492, many thousands of Jews were exterminated in Spain, but many others found refuge in Morocco and their descendants remain Moroccan citizens to this day.
Since then, Morocco has developed a collective cultural identity that respects religious minorities in a spirit of tolerance. Morocco also has well-developed Judeo-Christian relationships, and these communities live together in a spirit of mutual understanding. I would also like to say how proud I am to be able to tell you that our Jewish and Christian communities have always shared the same laws and social rules as the Muslim majority. Morocco has norms and laws that guarantee our minorities the right to exercise their religion in full liberty. All issues of marriage, inheritance and family affairs are treated equally, too. There is also the question of taxation. There are family courts in which the Muslim authorities and rabbinical authorities administer justice and all changes to the law are agreed with them. There are also family tribunals where the two share the jurisdiction.
It is important that we should clearly and categorically condemn any violence against Muslim minorities in other countries. As colleagues and as people who live in each other’s countries, we must do everything possible to work together to ensure that the financial crisis does not become a humanitarian one. We must ensure that Muslim fellow citizens can live in peace and we must help them to overcome the identity crisis that often faces the second, third and fourth generation when Moroccans live as immigrants in other countries.
THE PRESIDENT* – That concludes the list of speakers.
Mr Volontč, you have seven minutes to reply to the debate.
Mr VOLONTČ (Italy)* – I thank the 50 speakers who have contributed to the debate. I thank everybody, even those who have been critical of the report, for their participation, even after the debate in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. The committee started to discuss the report not just a few months ago but, as many speakers have said, immediately after we had received the Committee of Ministers’ reply to my previous report on the responsibilities of Council of Europe member States regarding what happened in the Middle East in 2011. The hope expressed by Mr Mignon, who was chair of the French delegation at the time, was not reflected by the response of the Committee of Ministers.
The title of the report has changed several times – and will probably do so again today – to cover as far as possible all the debates we have had. Some questions remain and, as many colleagues have said, the report does not stop here. Events continue – blatant cases from recent days that have been mentioned included an attack by Buddhist extremists against Muslims in Myanmar, abductions, although some people have since been released, and the expulsion of the entire Christian community from Srinagar a couple of weeks ago. This is of concern to us all.
A French colleague put it well: we are not immune from the temptation to consider those with religious beliefs as a danger to our democracies. I was struck when President Gauck said the other day that we should not be afraid of religious convictions. People with strong convictions have a great knowledge of their identity and this is a chance to open up a dialogue that is fruitful for all democracies.
Our report has gone a little beyond its second title and is more in line with its original title. It is reflected better by the title agreed yesterday in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. There are more than 30 amendments and we agreed to the vast majority of them in committee, so everything has been taken on board. The report will not stop here. It is a priority for the Council of Europe that is, as our President said on the day of his election, still a focal point for us all.
I thank everybody for all their work – the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, all the members of the various secretariats and Secretary General Sawicki. Whether I return or not depends on the new Italian Parliament, but I thank you all for your work on this report and for your friendship and sincerity. I thank the other leaders of the parliamentary groups, too. There has been a great deal of loyalty and sincerity even though there have sometimes been differences of opinion. It is good that we can have diametrically opposed opinions but at the end of our discussions in this Parliamentary Assembly, whoever has won or lost, we are aware that we have great respect for each other and even for our differences. That has been the flavour of the debates over the years. I have tried to be as sincere as possible in my opinions and hope that the work of the Council of Europe will continue in that spirit when you return to the question of freedom of religion over the course of the next few years, particularly because, as President Gauck said, we want the values of democracy to grow and positive action to be taken by the Council of Europe on that front.
We have said much on this subject over the past few days. You will have seen this in the draft resolution, but we want the Parliamentary Assembly, for the second time in just a few years, to remind those on the Committee of Ministers that they must share the responsibility to affirm the right to religious belief, as well as our other values, with our national parliaments and our nation States. The Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General have a responsibility to promote it. We need to promote democracy and all its rights and we are addressing an important example of those rights today – that is, freedom of religion, and freedom of religion for all, for those who have religious beliefs and for those who do not. We have the right to believe and the right to a secular society that respects the religious and the non-religious.
The few amendments rejected in committee were rejected not because we did not think that they were important but because it seemed to us that they were covered by the initial part of our resolution. In the case of blasphemy, for example, the Assembly has passed resolutions, particularly those of 2006 and 2007, and there is also Article 10. The resolutions are mentioned in our draft resolution not just to be thorough but because they are important pillars that have been upheld hitherto. We hope that you will approve the resolution, which can be a point of departure for further action on the part of the Assembly.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Volontč, for the report and for all the hard work you have done – and have always done – in this Assembly. Thank you for your commitment to defending the values of which the Council of Europe is the vehicle. We are all very grateful to you and greatly regret that you are leaving us. If you look around, however, you will see that other parliamentarians who have left us in the past have come back again; so knowing how young and dynamic you are, I am sure that we will see you here again. Many of us fervently hope that we do. Whatever our political groups, ideas or differences, one of the special things about our great Council of Europe family is that we are united in defending the values that human rights are all about. Thank you again for the quality of your work and your commitment.
Does the chairperson of the committee, Mr Marcenaro, wish to speak? You have two minutes.
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – I shall take just a few seconds to say something that has become obvious during the debate. The report that we are discussing is the result of a great deal of work and of the rapporteur’s great ability to listen. He started with very solid convictions but was able to accommodate and accept the views of others. Perhaps he was able to accept them because he started with such strong convictions. This has led to a text on which the committee has largely agreed. There was further confirmation of that yesterday when a majority of the amendments were agreed.
I have nothing to add except to the words of thanks that you, Mr President, have extended to Luca Volontč. Luca and I are, in fact, more or less in the same situation – two very young and dynamic politicians who are abandoning, at least temporarily, this arena. We have tried to do our work and we will finish this by doing our duty to the last. Luca Volontč is an example of this and I am grateful to him. At a time when Italian politics is not exactly at an apogee of prestige, we have been able to make at least a small contribution in this direction. Thank you very much, Luca.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much, Chairman Marcenaro. I know that you are among those who will soon be leaving this Assembly, along with Mr Santini. It is a very good thing that you should be there on the front bench together. We congratulate you and thank you for the way in which you have presided over the work of your two committees. I say this with great emotion because you have been a fine example of commitment to us all. The Council of Europe would not be the organisation that it is if it were not for people such as you and your commitment to defending our values. We thank you for all the hard work that you have done with the Secretariat and the secretariats of your committees, who are also grateful to you. Working with you has been an unalloyed pleasure. Thank you.
The debate is closed.
The Political Affairs Committee has presented a draft resolution to which 36 amendments and two written sub-amendments have been tabled. I understand that the Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy wishes to propose to the Assembly that the following amendments, which were unanimously approved by the committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly under Rule 33.11. I list them in the order in which they appear in the compendium and Organisation of Debates: Amendments 25, 7, 22, 12, 16, 10, 18, 26, 17, 13, 4, 14, 15, 19, 28, 5, 6, 29, 24, 30, 32, 8 and 35.
Amendments Nos. 9, 11, 27, 3 and 23, which were also agreed unanimously by the committee, must be taken separately as they have an impact on, or are impacted by, other amendments. Is that so Mr Marcenaro?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – Yes.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone object to the amendments? That is not the case. As there is no objection, I declare that these amendments to the draft resolution have been agreed.
The following amendments have been adopted:
Amendment 25, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Mr Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 1, in the first sentence, to replace the words “against religious communities throughout the world” with the following words: “against religious communities and individuals throughout the world on the basis of their religion or belief”; and in the second sentence, after the word “religion” insert the following words: “or beliefs”.
Amendment 7, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 5, to insert the following paragraph:
“The Assembly condemns any instances of negative stereotyping of persons based on religion as well as the advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”
Amendment 22, tabled by Mr Dişli, Mr Çavuşoğlu, Mr A Türkeş, Ms Pashayeva and Ms Erkal Kara, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 6, to replace the words “, which are so often the cause of present-day terrorism” with the following words: “for terrorist purposes”.
Amendment 12, tabled by Lord Anderson, Mr Chope, Lord Tomlinson, Ms Gillan and Mr Dobbin, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 8, to insert the following paragraph:
“The Assembly further urges those non-member states which have the status of Partners for Democracy, to move steadily to acceptance of the above principles and values and resolves to monitor their compliance.”
Amendment 16, tabled by Mr Gross, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Hägg, Ms Ohlsson, Mr Hancock, Ms Acketoft, Ms Bilgehan, Mr Biedroń, Mr Gunnarsson and Ms Guzowska, which is, in the draft resolution, before paragraph 8.1, to insert the following paragraph:
“ensure equality of treatment before the State and public authorities of all individuals and communities regardless of religion, faith or non-religious beliefs;”.
Amendment 10, tabled by Mr Braun, Mr Fischer, Mr Gulyás, Mr Kalmár, Mr Agramunt, Mr Kandelaki and Ms Quintanilla, which is, in the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 8.2, to insert the following words: “in particular those countries in which blasphemy laws are in force”.
Amendment 18, tabled Mr Gross, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Hägg, Ms Ohlsson, Mr Hancock, Ms Acketoft, Ms Bilgehan, Mr Biedroń, Mr Gunnarsson and Ms Guzowska, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 8.4, to insert the following paragraph:
“note the particular status of women and girls in many traditional religious settings and to protect women and girls and to ensure that religion can never be invoked to justify violence against women, such as honour killings, bride burning, forced marriages, female genital mutilation, even by members of their own religious communities;”.
Amendment 26, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Mr Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 8.5, to replace the words “religious minorities” with the following words: “minorities defined by their religion or belief”.
Amendment 17, tabled by Mr Gross, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Hägg, Mr Hancock, Ms Acketoft, Ms Bilgehan, Mr Biedroń, Mr Gunnarsson and Ms Guzowska, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 8.5, to insert the following paragraph:
“ensure that the religious beliefs and traditions of individuals and communities of the society are respected, while guaranteeing that a due balance is struck with the rights of others in accordance with the case law of the European Court on Human Rights;”
Amendment 13, tabled by Mr Gross, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Hägg, Ms Ohlsson, Mr Hancock, Ms Acketoft, Ms Bilgehan, Mr Biedroń, Mr Gunnarsson and Ms Guzowska, which is, in the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 8.6, to add the following words: “provided that the rights of others to be free from discrimination are respected and that the access to lawful services is guaranteed;”.
Amendment 4, tabled by Mr Kalmár, Mr Aligrudić, Mr D Davies, Mr Bardina Pau and Ms Quintanilla, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 8.7, after the words “such as military service”, to insert the following words: “or other services related to health-care and education,”.
Amendment 14, tabled by Mr Gross, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Hägg, Ms Ohlsson, Mr Hancock, Ms Acketoft, Ms Bilgehan, Mr Biedroń, Mr Gunnarsson and Ms Guzowska, which is, in the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 8.7, to add the following words: “provided that the rights of others to be free from discrimination are respected and that the access to lawful services is guaranteed;”.
Amendment 15, tabled by Mr Gross, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Hägg, Ms Ohlsson, Mr Hancock, Ms Acketoft, Ms Bilgehan, Mr Biedroń, Mr Gunnarsson and Ms Guzowska, which is, in the draft resolution, to replace paragraph 8.8 with the following paragraph:
“while guaranteeing the fundamental right of children to education in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner, respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions;”.
Amendment 19, tabled by Mr Gross, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Hägg, Ms Ohlsson, Mr Hancock, Ms Acketoft, Ms Bilgehan, Mr Biedroń, Mr Gunnarsson and Ms Guzowska, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 8.10, after the words “the European Convention on Human Rights”, to insert the following words: “and relevant jurisprudence by the ECHR since 1949”.
Amendment 28, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Mr Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 8.10, to replace the words “religious communities” with the following words: “communities and individuals defined by religion or belief”.
Amendment 5, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 8.10, to insert the following paragraph:
“recognise the need to provide international protection for those seeking asylum due to religious persecution”.
Amendment 6, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 8.10, to insert the following paragraph:
“duly take into account the possible overlap between racism, xenophobia and religious hatred, keeping in mind that these phenomena are often directed against migrant communities.”
Amendment 29, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Mr Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 9, to replace the words “religious communities” with the following words: “communities and individuals defined by religion or belief”.
Amendment 24, tabled by Mr Dişli, Mr Çavuşoğlu, Mr A Türkeş, Ms Pashayeva and Ms Erkal Kara, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 9.1, after the word “intolerance”, to add the following words: “, including hate speech,”.
Amendment 30, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Mr Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 9.3, after the word “religions” insert the following words: “and non-religious beliefs”.
Amendment 32, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Mr Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 9.5, to replace the words “religious communities” with the words “communities and individuals defined by religion or belief”; and after the word “their” insert the following words: “meeting places and”.
Amendment 8, tabled by Mr Kalmár, Mr Aligrudić, Mr D Davies, Mr Bardina Pau and Ms Quintanilla, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 10, to insert the following paragraph:
“The Council of Europe urges Member States where the restitution of church property is not yet concluded, to speed up this process and finish it in short or medium term. The process should not be negatively affected or influenced by any political ideology or government.”
Amendment 35, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Mr Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 11, to replace the words “religious communities” with the words “communities and individuals defined by religion or belief”.
We come now to Amendment 1, tabled by Ms Gündeş Bakir, Mr Dişli, Mr A Türkeş, Mr Seyidov, Ms Fataliyeva and Ms Gafarova, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 5, to insert the following paragraph:
“Caricatures and films ridiculing or insulting a religion is not freedom of expression but quite the contrary an indication of intolerance and xenophobia. The aim is to provocate the believers of that religion. These types of acts do not contribute to world peace or the world's intellectual heritage, do not add anything positive to any society except for segregation and hurt. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe calls on all member states to ensure respect for all religious and sacred symbols, religious figures, holy books, Prophets and God, as the opposite deeply hurts the devout believers of a religion, who can believe that their identity and community is being victimized if their religion or its sacred symbols are subjected to public ridicule or vilification. This offence should be considered within the framework of ‘hate crimes’.”
I call Ms Gündeş Bakir to support Amendment 1. I remind members that they have 30 seconds to speak for or against an amendment.
Ms GÜNDEŞ BAKIR (Turkey) – Insulting religion hurts believers. We should respect others’ beliefs and religions. In a judgment in 2005, the European Court of Human Rights stressed that a distinction is to be drawn between provocative expressions or abusive attacks on religion and freedom of expression. The Court decided that the conviction of a book publisher who insulted religion met a pressing social need and protected the rights of others. Accordingly, there had been no violation of Article 10 of the Convention. The decision of the Strasbourg Court is a legal basis for this amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Leigh.
Mr LEIGH (United Kingdom) – Of course it is very bad taste to have cartoons, caricatures, insults or jokes about religion but the fact is that, in a free democracy and our western European traditions, we have to accept it. The Christian faith is often ridiculed in the West. If we start down the road of classifying more and more things as a hate crime we will be impacting on the freedom of speech, which is the most important thing that this Council should protect.
THE PRESIDENT* – Thank you. What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The committee is against the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 1 is rejected.
We come to Amendment 2, tabled by Ms Gündeş Bakir, Mr Dişli, Mr A Türkeş, Mr Seyidov, Ms Fataliyeva and Ms Gafarova, which is, in the draft resolution, to delete paragraph 7.
I call Ms Gündeş Bakir to support the amendment.
Ms GÜNDEŞ BAKIR (Turkey) – Many tragic incidents show that this paragraph cannot be accepted. Two examples are neo-Nazi killings in Germany claiming the lives of eight Turkish men, and the arson attack on the house of a Turkish family in which three girls and two women died. A 2009 report of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency stated that 11% of Muslims in Europe have been physically attacked, threatened or seriously injured. In the past year research by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation has stated that there have been 182 fatalities due to right-wing extremist violence between 1990 and 2005 in Germany alone.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the Amendment? I call Mr Volontč.
Mr VOLONTČ (Italy)* – We are not talking in paragraph 7 about specific episodes of violence. We are not happy about what we are saying in the paragraph – we would love to be able to say that religious communities are protected everywhere, in all countries of the world. Unfortunately, the facts tell us that that is not the case, particularly on certain continents and in certain countries. We are not happy about that; we are just mentioning the facts. We are therefore against the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The committee is against the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – I should advise the Assembly that if Amendment 2 is adopted, Amendments 9 and 11 will fall automatically.
The vote is open.
Amendment 2 is rejected.
We come to Amendment 9, tabled by Mr Braun, Mr Gulyás, Mr Kalmár, Mr Agramunt, Mr Kandelaki and Ms Quintanilla, which is, in the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 7, to insert the following words:
“In some member States in particular, recent constitutional reforms raise serious concerns with regard to their compatibility with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
I call Mr Braun to move the amendment. He does not appear to be present. Does anyone else wish to press the amendment? What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The committee unanimously agreed the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – This is one of the amendments that were unanimously agreed in committee but we have to discuss it because it is linked to other amendments. However, if no one wants to press the amendment I cannot put it to the Assembly.
Mr VOLONTČ (Italy)* – Mr President, I will move it. The amendment was agreed unanimously in committee.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The committee is in favour of the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 9 is adopted.
We come to Amendment 11, tabled by Lord Anderson, Mr Chope, Lord Tomlinson, Ms Gillan and Mr Dobbin, which is, in the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 7, to insert the following words:
“The Assembly accepts that, if we are to be credible in our representations to non-member countries, such problems must be recognised, confronted and eliminated.”
I call Lord Anderson to support Amendment 11.
Lord ANDERSON (United Kingdom) – The strength of our representations to other countries depends on the way we put our own house in order.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The committee is in favour.
THE PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 11 is adopted.
We come to Amendment 27, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Lord Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 8.9, to replace the words “religious groups and churches” with the following words: “groups (including churches) defined by their religion or belief”.
If this amendment is agreed to, Amendments 3 and 23 will fall.
I call Mr Connarty to support Amendment 27.
Mr CONNARTY (United Kingdom) – The amendment brings the definition into line with the Convention, which mentions not only buildings related to churches, but other buildings where people with beliefs gather not necessarily for religious purposes.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The committee is in favour.
THE PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 27 is adopted.
We come to Amendment 31, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Lord Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 9.4, to replace the words “inter-religious” with the following words: “inter-cultural”.
I call Mr Connarty to support Amendment 31.
Mr CONNARTY (United Kingdom) – I am very happy to accept the committee’s sub-amendment. I made an error by putting “or” when it should have been “and”. I accept that and apologise.
THE PRESIDENT* – We come to Sub-Amendment 1 to Amendment 31, tabled by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, which is, in Amendment 31, before the word “inter-cultural”, to insert the following words: “inter-religious and”.
I call Mr Volontč to support the sub-amendment.
Mr VOLONTČ (Italy)* – The sub-amendment covers everything by bringing together the inter-religious and inter-cultural dimensions.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the sub-amendment? That is not the case.
Mr Connarty, the mover of the main amendment, said he was in favour of the sub-amendment.
The committee is obviously in favour.
I shall put the sub-amendment to the vote.
The vote is open.
Sub-Amendment 1 is adopted.
Does anyone wish to speak against Amendment 31? That is not the case, so we move straight to the vote on Amendment 31, as amended.
The vote is open.
Amendment 31, as amended, is adopted.
We come to Amendment 33, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Lord Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 9.6, after the word “religions”, to add the following words: “and non-religious beliefs”.
I call Mr Connarty to support Amendment 33.
Mr CONNARTY (United Kingdom) – The amendment would add non-religious beliefs to this part of the draft resolution in order to be consistent with the Convention in full. I cannot see why it should be opposed, and I look forward to hearing the logic of anyone who sees it as inappropriate.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Volontč
Mr VOLONTČ (Italy)* – This section of the draft resolution mentions respecting and protecting the cultural heritage of various religions. We are against the amendment because, as Lord Tomlinson rightly said yesterday, what would be the cultural heritage of non-religious beliefs? We recognise the good intentions, but we do not really understand what the amendment is getting at.
THE PRESIDENT* – What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The committee is against the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 33 is rejected.
We come to Amendment 34, tabled by Mr Connarty, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Mr Sheridan, Dame Angela Watkinson and Lord Prescott, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 10, to replace the words “religious leaders” with the words “religious, humanist and secularist leaders”; to replace the words “other faith groups” with the words “other belief groups”; and after the word “religion” to add the words “or belief”.
I call Mr Connarty to support Amendment 34.
Mr CONNARTY (United Kingdom) – We have the same problem here. Faith, humanist and secularist groups are all recognised, but there is some logic that suggests that if you are not in a religion, you have no hinterland or place in society and that you are a negative force. The amendment is more consistent than that perception.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Volontč
Mr VOLONTČ (Italy)* – Mr Connarty knows that there is no prejudice on the part of myself or the committee and that we have no objections to secularists or humanists. The Assembly has often rightly invited such groups along for inter-cultural dialogue. When discussing a dialogue between religious leaders in Europe, however, we do not understand why we need to include a reference to the leaders of secularist or humanist movements. We just do not understand what Mr Connarty is getting at.
THE PRESIDENT* – What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The committee is against the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 34 is rejected.
We come to Amendment 20, tabled by Mr Gross, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Hägg, Ms Ohlsson, Mr Hancock, Ms Acketoft, Ms Bilgehan, Mr Biedroń, Mr Gunnarsson and Ms Guzowska, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 11, to delete the words “and to link its European Neighbourhood Policy, including financial aid, to the degree of human rights protection, including that of freedom of religion, and awareness in those countries”.
If this amendment is agreed to, Amendment 36 falls.
I call Ms Ohlsson to support Amendment 20.
Ms OHLSSON (Sweden) – Such European Union funding is outside the Council of Europe’s remit and falls under the jurisdiction of the Governments of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission. The wording in question should therefore not be included in the report.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?
Mr CONNARTY (United Kingdom) – I do not know whether this is allowed, but I spoke earlier to Andreas Gross about tabling a sub-amendment on this issue. The amendment refers only to religion, not religion and belief, and is therefore contrary to all the other amendments that have been accepted, which include the phrase “and belief”—a point accepted by the committee. Without the inclusion of that phrase, I cannot support the amendment.
THE PRESIDENT* – What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – The committee was in favour of Amendment 20.
THE PRESIDENT* – I have not had a request for a sub-amendment. I am told, Mr Connarty, that you were really defending Amendment 36, not 20, and that you would accept the latter if the former were accepted. I have to stick to what was planned.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Mr MARCENARO (Italy)* – We are in favour of Amendment 20, and Amendment 36 falls if the former is approved.
THE PRESIDENT* – So, the committee is in favour of Amendment 20.
The vote is open.
Amendment 20 is adopted.
Amendment 36 therefore falls.
We come to Amendment 21, tabled by Mr Gross, Ms Brasseur, Mr Kox, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Hägg, Ms Ohlsson, Mr Hancock, Ms Acketoft, Ms Bilgehan, Mr Biedroń, Mr Gunnarsson and Ms Guzowska, which is to replace the title of the Resolution with the following words: “Safeguarding human rights in relation to religion and belief”.
I call Ms Ohlsson to support Amendment 21.
Ms OHLSSON (Sweden) – A sub-amendment has been tabled to Amendment 21 with which I agree.
THE PRESIDENT* – Sub-Amendment 1 reads as follows: “In amendment 21, after the word ‘belief’, add the following words: ‘and protecting religious communities from violence’.”
I call Mr Volontč to support Sub-Amendment 1 on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.
Mr VOLONTČ (Italy)* – The main amendment is a rewording of the title, which has gone through various travails over the years. The committee wanted to sub-amend the amendment to reflect the work that has been done over the years. The sub-amended wording is more complete.
THE PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the sub-amendment?
That is not the case.
I know the opinion of the mover of the main amendment.
The committee is obviously in favour of the sub-amendment.
I shall now put the sub-amendment to the vote.
The vote is open.
Sub-Amendment 1 is agreed to.
Does anyone wish to speak against Amendment 21, as amended?
That is not the case.
I shall now put the amendment, as amended, to the vote.
The vote is open.
Amendment 21, as amended, is adopted.
We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft resolution contained in Document 13157, as amended.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 13157, as amended, is adopted, with 148 votes for, 3 against, and 7 abstentions.
2. Next public business
THE PRESIDENT* – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3.30 p.m.
The sitting is adjourned.
(The sitting was closed at 1.05 p.m.)
1. Violence against religious communities
Presentation of report of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy by Mr Volontč, Document 13157
Presentation of the opinion of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons by Mr Santini, Document 13178
Speakers: Mr Villumsen, Mr Mendes Bota, Mr Mogens Jensen, Ms Acketoft, Mr Neill, Ms Schneider-Schneiter, Mr Szabó, Mr Fournier, Lord Anderson, Mr Huseynov, Ms Gafarova, Mr Muńoz-Alonso, Mr Biedroń, Mr Mota Amaral, Mr Connarty, Ms Bakoyannis, Mr Recordon, Mr Ghiletchi, Mr Ameur, Mr Gaudi Nagy, Mr Kalmár, Ms Blanco, Mr Hancock, Mr Sidyakin, Mr O’Reilly, Mr Hood, Mr Omtzigt, Mr Bockel, Ms Erkal Kara, Ms Gündeş Bakir, Mr Clappison, Mr Ariev, Mr Sabella, Ms Zimmerman, Ms Postanjyan, Mr Leigh, Mr R. Farina, Mr Flanagan, Mr Karlsson, Ms Mattila, Ms El Ouafi.
Replies: Mr Volontč, Mr Marcenaro.
Amendments 25, 7,22, 12, 16, 10, 18, 26, 17, 13, 4, 14, 15, 19, 28, 5, 6, 29, 24, 30, 32, 8,35, 9, 11,27, 31, as amended, 20 and 21, as amended,adopted.
Draft resolution in Document 13157, as amended, adopted.
Draft resolution in Document 13157, as amended, adopted
2. Next public business
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the Attendance Register in accordance with Rule 11.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of Substitutes who replaced absent Representatives are printed in small letters. The names of those who were absent or apologised for absence are followed by an asterisk.
Karin ANDERSEN/Anette Trettebergstuen
Lord Donald ANDERSON
Danielle AUROI/Brigitte Allain
Gérard BAPT/Jean-Pierre Michel
Gerard BARCIA DUEDRA/Sílvia Eloďsa Bonet Perot
José Manuel BARREIRO*
José María BENEYTO
Brian BINLEY/Robert Neill
Ľuboš BLAHA/Darina Gabániová
Federico BRICOLO/Rossana Boldi
Gerold BÜCHEL/Rainer Gopp
Patrizia BUGNANO/Giuliana Carlino
Vannino CHITI/Paolo Corsini
Tudor-Alexandru CHIUARIU/Corneliu Mugurel Cozmanciuc
Deirdre CLUNE/Terence Flanagan
Carlos COSTA NEVES
Joseph DEBONO GRECH*
Armand De DECKER/Ludo Sannen
Arcadio DÍAZ TEJERA
Peter van DIJK
Alexander [The Earl of] DUNDEE/Cheryl Gillan
Baroness Diana ECCLES/Jeffrey Donaldson
Tülin ERKAL KARA
Joseph FENECH ADAMI*
Cătălin Daniel FENECHIU
Vyacheslav FETISOV/Alexander Sidyakin
Doris FIALA/Luc Recordon
Daniela FILIPIOVÁ/Miroslav Krejča
Axel E. FISCHER
Gvozden Srećko FLEGO*
Jean-Claude FRÉCON/Maryvonne Blondin
Erich Georg FRITZ
Sir Roger GALE
Tamás GAUDI NAGY
Jarosław GÓRCZYŃSKI/ Zbigniew Girzyński
Alina Ştefania GORGHIU
Pelin GÜNDEŞ BAKIR
Alfred HEER/Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter
Martin HENRIKSEN/Mette Reissmann
Ali HUSEYNLI/Sahiba Gafarova
Vladimir ILIĆ/Vesna Marjanović
Denis JACQUAT/André Schneider
Michael Aastrup JENSEN
Jadranka JOKSIMOVIĆ/Katarina Rakić
Birkir Jón JÓNSSON*
Antti KAIKKONEN/Sirkka-Liisa Anttila
Božidar KALMETA/Ivan Račan
Jan KAŹMIERCZAK/Marek Krząkała
Bogdan KLICH/Iwona Guzowska
Borjana KRIŠTO/Nermina Kapetanović
Jean-Yves LE DÉAUT/Christian Bataille
Igor LEBEDEV/Olga Kazakova
Inese LĪBIŅA-EGNERE/Aleksandrs Sakovskis
Jean-Louis LORRAIN/Bernard Fournier
Saša MAGAZINOVIĆ/Ismeta Dervoz
Gennaro MALGIERI/Renato Farina
Meritxell MATEU PI
Liliane MAURY PASQUIER
Michael McNAMARA/Katherine Zappone
Sir Alan MEALE/Michael Connarty
Ermira MEHMETI DEVAJA
Ivan MELNIKOV/Leonid Kalashnikov
José MENDES BOTA
Jean-Claude MIGNON/Marie-Jo Zimmermann
Djordje MILIĆEVIĆ/Stefana Miladinović
Federica MOGHERINI REBESANI*
Andrey MOLCHANOV/Yury Shamkov
Rubén MORENO PALANQUES
Joăo Bosco MOTA AMARAL
Lydia MUTSCH/Fernand Boden
Lev MYRYMSKYI/Serhiy Labaziuk
Baroness Emma NICHOLSON*
Elena NIKOLAEVA/Robert Shlegel
Sandra OSBORNE/Linda Riordan
Eva PARERA/Jordi Xuclŕ
Danny PIETERS/Sabine Vermeulen
Lisbeth Bech POULSEN/Nikolaj Villumsen
Marietta de POURBAIX-LUNDIN
Cezar Florin PREDA
John PRESCOTT/Joe Benton
Mailis REPS/Ester Tuiksoo
Maria de Belém ROSEIRA*
Rovshan RZAYEV/Sevinj Fataliyeva
Björn von SYDOW/Lennart Axelsson
Melinda SZÉKYNÉ SZTRÉMI/Imre Vejkey
Romana TOMC/Iva Dimic
Lord John E. TOMLINSON
Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ
Theodora TZAKRI/Konstantinos Triantafyllos
Miltiadis VARVITSIOTIS/Spyridon Taliadouros
Volodymyr VECHERKO/Larysa Melnychuk
Tanja VRBAT/Melita Mulić
Klaas de VRIES/Pieter Omtzigt
Robert WALTER/Edward Leigh
Dame Angela WATKINSON
Karin S. WOLDSETH*
Barbara ŽGAJNER TAVŠ*
Svetlana ZHUROVA/Anton Belyakov
Emanuelis ZINGERIS/Egidijus Vareikis
Naira ZOHRABYAN/Zaruhi Postanjyan
Vacant Seat, Cyprus*
Vacant Seat, Montenegro*
Representatives and Substitutes not authorised to vote
Juan BUENO TORIO
Eloy CANTU SEGOVIA
Ernesto GÁNDARA CAMOU
Miguel ROMO MEDINA
Partners for Democracy
M. Mohammed AMEUR
M. Mohammed Mehdi BENSAID
Mme Nezha EL OUAFI