Persecuted and forgotten

Lidia Dudkiewicz talks to Senator Ryszard Bender, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

On 17 March 2010, at 1 a.m., a big unit of armed Muslims from the Fulami tribe attacked the Christian Bye in Nigeria, brutally killing 12 people, mainly women and children. According to the words of the head of the village some attackers wore military uniforms. Most houses were burnt. The attackers cut the corpses and took some parts of the bodies with them. Bye is located 12 km from the town of Riyom in the Nigerian state of Plateau, i.e. the place where only 10 days earlier the Muslims attacked three Christian villages, brutally murdering 500 people.

Lidia Dudkiewicz: – The media in Poland rarely and usually briefly inform about the Council of Europe, the documents of its Parliamentary Assembly that are often so important…

Prof. Ryszard Bender: – Yes, that’s right. In the media the Council of Europe is in the shadow of the European Parliament that has its sessions both in Brussels and in Strasburg. It happens so despite the fact that the conventions, resolutions, recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe are adopted by the parliaments and governments of 47 members both in Europe and Asia, for example in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

– The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopts the legal acts you have mentioned and then they are usually adopted by member states…

– The Parliamentary Assembly adopts them during its sessions in Strasburg that are held for several days four times a year. The Assembly consists of 318 representatives of the Parliaments of member states and the same number of their deputies. The Polish representatives are 12 (nine MPs and three senators) and their deputies. The legal acts passed by the Assembly are directed to the Committee of the Ministers of the Council of Europe, gathering representatives of the governments of member states, after the so-called recommendations are voted. Projects of bills and recommendations are prepared by committees, usually at the initiatives of the clubs called political groups.

– Whose was the initiative of the Parliamentary Assembly to pass a resolution condemning violence against Christians in the Middle East?

– The debate concerning the persecutions of Christians in the countries of the Middle East was not in the programme of the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that began on 24 January 2011. The Presidential Office introduced this point. The Office consists of the presidents of the national delegations. The Polish member is the leader of our delegation Dariusz Lipinski, MP from the Civic Platform. He supported the introduction of this point into the programme of the session. The Office set the debate on the above-mentioned subject on 27 January 2011. The project of a resolution was created by the Political Affairs Committee. The Committee ordered the Italian Christian Democrat Luce Volonte from Unione di Centro, the president of the parliamentary group of the European Peoples’ Party/Christian Democrats, to work on the text of the resolution.

– What was the next stage of the report?

– Luca Volonte presented the report to the Parliamentary Assembly, evoking a long discussion. 27 representatives from 13 countries took part in the discussion. I was the only Polish representative who expressed his intention to speak and I participated in the discussion. I said that the cases of persecutions of Christians in the Middle East, in which many Christians lose their lives, are ignored by the media and by politicians. And 80% of the victims of religious attacks in the Middle East are Christians. As many as 200 million Christians are persecuted every year. I said that one could not narrow the persecutions of Christians to those in the Middle East because they happen in other areas of Asia and also in Africa.

– What is the content of the resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?

– I think it could be defined as satisfactory. The first sentence of the resolution contains an important ascertainment, ‘The Parliamentary Assembly recalls that Christianity had its beginnings in the Middle East 2,000 years ago and that Christian communities have existed in the area since that time.’ Then it speaks that the persecutions of Christians in the Middle East cause emigration, which can lead to the disappearance – in the short term – of Christian communities from the Middle East.

– Does the resolution mention acts of terror and suicide bombing?

– Yes, it does. It mentions the hostage taking in the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad on 31 October 2010 and the suicide bombing in a Coptic church in Alexandria on 1 January 2011. It gives the number of the dead and the wounded. And the Assembly ‘condemns these attacks in unequivocal terms.’

– What were the actions to prevent violence against Christians in the Middle East recommended to member states by the Parliamentary Assembly?

– I am quoting the resolution, ‘The Assembly calls on member states to take account of the situation of Christian and other religious communities in their bilateral political dialogue with the countries concerned; [...] the European Union to enhance its monitoring of the situation of Christian and other religious communities in its political dialogue with the countries of the Middle East and to link its neighbourhood policy, including financial aid, to the degree of human rights protection and awareness in those countries.’

– Will the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly condemning violence against Christians in the Middle East not remain an empty declaration?

– The quoted words of the resolution, including the call on the European Union, let us expect to avoid such a possibility. Time will show. The Parliamentary Assembly also adopted a recommendation obliging the Committee of the Ministers of the Council of Europe to direct the resolution to the governments of member states for implementation. 125 MPs were in favour of the recommendation, 13 abstained and 9 were against. Let us hope that the governments of all member states of the Council of Europe, including the Polish government and the European Union, will respect the demands of the resolution in their politics towards the countries of the Middle East. We, citizens – Christians, have the right and obligation to demand it.

"Niedziela" 7/2011

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