Parliamentary question by Marco Cappato(NI),Benedetto Della Vedova(NI),Emma Bonino(NI),Gianfranco Dell'Alba(NI),Olivier Dupuis(NI),Marco Pannella(NI) and Maurizio Turco(NI) to the Commission answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission
WRITTEN QUESTION E-1990/03
by Marco Cappato (NI), Benedetto Della Vedova (NI), Emma Bonino (NI), Gianfranco Dell'Alba (NI), Olivier Dupuis (NI), Marco Pannella (NI) and Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission
(04 June 2003)
Subject: Exercising the right to religious freedom
Two events have been brought to the Commission's attention in recent months which, in quite different contexts and ways, have seriously endangered the exercise of the right to religious freedom: the adoption by the Cambodian Ministry for Religious Affairs of a Directive banning all public proselytising activities, and the approval by the Legislative Assembly of the Indian state of Gujarat of a Freedom of Religion Bill, which allows the possibility of religious conversion only when authorised by a magistrate.
The Commission's answers seem to differ in terms of the thinking behind them. In the first, on the situation in Cambodia, the Commission states: "In the absence of an in-depth analysis at this stage, the Directive as well as measures adopted until now by the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs, which are put in place to avoid the risks of religious conflicts, do not appear to violate the Universal Declaration on Human Rights nor the provisions of the Cambodian Constitution," concluding that "the Commission does not find any reason, at present, to believe that the government will use this Directive to discriminate against any particular religious groups". In the second, on the situation in India, the Commission expresses its concern that this kind of state legislation could have the potential to restrict the Indian population's right to religious freedom. In conclusion it pledges that the Commission will "deal with this matter in the same way that it deals with all other questions concerning democracy and human rights in India".
Given that these two responses are profoundly at odds, can the Commission state which line of reasoning it intends to follow in order to uphold the principle of the secularity of institutions, wherever they may be, as a fundamental bastion of the freedom of every individual?
Does the Commission intend to accept highly restrictive interpretations of the right to religious freedom solely on the grounds that governments use them in order to avoid religious conflict, as it has done with Cambodia?
Or does the Commission intend, as it has pledged in India's case, to monitor the situation in, and, if need be, exert diplomatic pressure on, those countries that choose democratically to impose conditions on their citizens' rights to express their own beliefs freely and to promote awareness and the dissemination of these beliefs, also freely?
Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(9 July 2003)
The Commission attaches great importance to the rights of freedom of religion, belief and expression in its dialogues with third countries. Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief are fundamental human rights and as such are enshrined in a number of international instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18) and the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 9). In addition, the EU Charter of fundamental rights, which guides the Commission’s external action in this field, makes clear that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 10) and that cultural, religious and linguistic diversity should be respected.
The Union has repeatedly affirmed that human rights and democratisation must form an integral part of all political dialogues with third countries. Religious freedom as a fundamental human right as well as the rights of religious minorities are thus addressed through the Union's bilateral political dialogues, and, when appropriate, through démarches and public declarations, as well as through Union action in fora such as the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights or the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.
Even if the political situation and the level of religious tension varies from country to country, the Commission can assure the Honourable Members that it monitors the issue of religious freedom closely in all countries and that it remains ready to raise particular concerns through all channels available, as appropriate.
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