Parliamentary question by Maurizio Turco(NI),Emma Bonino(NI),Marco Pannella(NI),Marco Cappato(NI),Benedetto Della Vedova(NI),Gianfranco Dell'Alba(NI) and Olivier Dupuis(NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission
WRITTEN QUESTION E-2043/03
by Maurizio Turco (NI), Emma Bonino (NI), Marco Pannella (NI), Marco Cappato (NI), Benedetto Della Vedova (NI), Gianfranco Dell'Alba (NI) and Olivier Dupuis (NI) to the Commission
(10 June 2003)
Subject: Means of putting an end to violations of religious freedom
In May 2003 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a US federal government agency, published its annual report on religious freedom in the world, which includes the following points:
- Serious concerns are expressed about the situation in the Russian Federation, including possible interference by the Russian Orthodox Church in national politics, strict control of religious practice among Russian citizens by the State and the refusal to grant visas to clergy and religious workers.
- The situation in the People's Republic of China is characterised by the regular internment, torture and detention of Chinese citizens owing to their religious beliefs, as well as strict surveillance of religious activities in Tibet.
- In Laos, government officials are involved in systematic violation of religious freedom, which takes the form of imprisonment and forced conversions.
- In Vietnam, religious dissidents are jailed and there has been a campaign of forced conversions of Vietnamese religious minorities in the north-western provinces and the central highlands inhabited by the 'Montagnard' communities. In view of the seriousness of violations the USCIRF suggests halting aid for projects other that humanitarian actions until the Vietnamese authorities undertake to respect religious freedom.
Will the Commission state:
- whether it is aware of the serious and systematic violation of religious freedom in Russia, China, Laos and Vietnam?
- whether it intends to accept the USCIRF's suggestion that aid for projects other than humanitarian actions be halted until the Vietnamese authorities undertake to respect religious freedom?
- whether it considers that the suspension of all aid other than humanitarian aid until religious freedom is respected can act as an effective deterrent or what could be used as an alternative instrument?
Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(18 July 2003)
The Commission is well aware of the situation regarding religious freedom in the Russian Federation, China, Laos and Vietnam, and monitors this issue closely.
This issue has been raised with these national authorities, within the framework of the political dialogue that the Union conducts with these countries. Furthermore, the Commission will continue to raise these problems through all channels available, as appropriate.
The Commission will also continue to impress upon the Russian authorities that the pattern of developments regarding freedom of religion - and other related human rights issues - is neither acceptable nor compatible with the major international and European Human Rights conventions that Russia has ratified, which include reference to freedom of religion or belief.
In the case of Laos, Commission concerns regarding freedom of religion are frequently raised in bilateral meetings between the Commission and the Government of Lao People Democratic Republic (PDR). Thus, the situation on human rights, including religious freedom, will also be on the agenda for the Commission-Lao PDR Joint Committee Meeting, scheduled to be held in the autumn of 2003. The recent opening of a Commission Delegation in Vientiane will provide further possibilities for the Commission to engage in a more profound dialogue on human rights issues with the authorities.
The Commission is well aware of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee's serious concerns that Vietnam's State party practice does not meet the requirements of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Union, the Member States together with the Commission, have repeatedly raised this issue with the authorities in the framework of Union démarches and regular discussions on Human Rights.
In the particular case of China, the Union has repeatedly expressed its concern about restrictions on unofficial churches and religious groups and on Islam. It has regularly raised the issue of freedom of religion and belief in the framework of the Union-China structured dialogue on human rights, and will continue to do so as appropriate.
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 one of the fundamental human rights, 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 UN Commission on Human Rights or the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.
As regards the provision of assistance and as outlined in its May 2001 Communication on the Union's role in the promotion of Democracy and Human Rights in third countries, the Commission is committed to mainstreaming Human Rights and democratisation issues in all Community assistance programmes. Country Strategy Papers were used as a tool to take a more coherent and consistent approach to the promotion of human rights and democratisation, using the various financial instruments available to third countries, in addition to the assistance that is being provided through the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights.
In the specific case of assistance to Vietnam, the Commission's overall policy towards this country is to encourage and support its progress on human rights and democratisation, and to raise concerns where abuses occur or where a deterioration in the situation becomes evident. The Commission has defined the promotion of good governance, best administrative practices and a properly functioning judiciary system as priorities for co-operation with Vietnam under the Country Strategy 2002 - 2006. The Commission believes that its co-operation programme, especially through its specific support for institutional reforms as well as the inclusion of governance related training activities into all co-operation projects will contribute to strengthen Vietnam's overall governance and human rights commitments.
Overall, the Commission is of the opinion that a incitative approach is the most likely to lead to improvements in the respect of Human Rights, including religious freedom. The Commission will continue favouring dialogue and assistance in its relations with third countries. The suspension of aid until religious or other freedoms are respected can only be a last resort approach, whose consequences are very likely to impact badly on the populations whose rights are violated.
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