Remarks by Konstantin Dolgov, Foreign Ministry Special Representative for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, at the international conference Religions Against Terrorism, Moscow, October 6, 2016
I welcome all participants of this conference, which has been organised at the initiative of President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Terrorism has become a transnational issue of serious concern to everyone. The Middle East and North Africa is an open wound that is undermining stability beyond the geographical boundaries of this region.
The current developments there are a direct result of the policies of countries that have been advocating regime change for undesirable governments, including by force, a revision of the regional landscape and the imposition of unilateral actions and their version of democracy without any regard for the historic and cultural traditions of the countries in the region. Examples of this approach are the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
Experts point to a qualitative change that has occurred among terrorist organisations, as evidenced, first, by the emergence of the “Islamic State”, which has been banned in the Russian Federation. ISIS has declared the goal of creating a so-called caliphate and has many followers around the world. Many terrorist groups in various countries, including in Africa, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, have claimed allegiance to ISIS.
Another threat is posed by those who fought in North Africa, Syria and Iraq and are now returning to their home countries. There is also the migration situation in Europe to consider. Over a million migrants and refugees have entered Europe, and the whereabouts of over 350,000 of them are unknown. Some of them entered Europe using false papers: ISIS has seized tens of thousands of passports in Syria. Many of the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks that have been staged in Europe had these passports.
The international community is taking preventive measures against the threat of terrorism. It appears that the majority of European countries are coming to understand the growing scale of the terrorist threat. Nearly all countries have taken measures to strengthen their counterterrorism laws.
The fate of Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East is a source of concern. Historically, Russia has helped and supported fraternal Christians that were harassed and discriminated against and defended their rights and interests, with arms in hand, if need be. Therefore, we are naturally worried about the future of the 2,000-year Christian presence in the Middle East. According to some human rights organisations, in the past seven years the number of physical attacks and terrorist attacks on Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East grew by 309 percent.
Followers of Christianity and other religions considered “heretics” by terrorists are subjected to harassment. Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria its Christian population decreased from 2.2 million to 1.2 million. Militants target Christian shrines and take Christians hostage. The position of the Christian community in Iraq remains no less difficult. Its population is a tenth of what it was in 2003, falling from 1.5 million to 150,000.
Terrorists have introduced a special annual tax on Christians on the territory under their control (up to $500 per person). They prohibit Christians from building or restoring churches, as well as using or creating religious symbols. Apart from this, terrorists have taken about 200 Assyrian Christians hostage.
The need for a broad anti-terrorist front is more urgent today than ever before. As you know, President of Russia Vladimir Putin put forward a relevant initiative at the UN General Assembly a year ago. Now Russia is drafting a UN Security Council resolution that seeks to mobilise the world community against terrorist and extremist ideology.
According to human rights activists, systematic manifestations of Christianophobia were registered in 139 countries and Islamophobia in 121 countries.
Europe and the United States do not fully appreciate how respect for religion and observance of religious freedom are critical for the normal development and prosperity of all communities. According to the US human rights NGO Open Doors, every month at least 322 Christians are killed, 214 Christian churches are destroyed and 722 attacks are committed against Christians worldwide. It called the year 2014 unprecedented in the scale of harassment of Christians throughout the world, and described 2015 as even worse.
Despite measures taken by OSCE member states, there has been a significant rise in intolerance of Jews, Muslims and particularly Christians on their territory. Christianity, its shrines and followers are subjected to harassment, violence and discrimination. Indicatively, cases of intolerance and discrimination against Christians occur even in those OSCE countries where Christians constitute a majority. These include attacks on the clergy, attempts to disrupt religious events, destruction and desecration of Christian churches and cemeteries, attempts to remove religious symbols from public places, infringement on the freedom of speech, and economic discrimination. The number of barbaric acts, cases of arson and theft of Christian valuables and cultural objects is growing. Some media openly sneer at Christian values under the shelter of freedom of speech. It has reached absurd levels, including bans on wearing religious symbols or putting up Christmas trees.
Aggressive Western neoliberalism and bellicose secularism aimed at undermining the traditional spiritual and moral foundations of society have played a large role in the growth of these negative trends. Moreover, imbalances in implementing multicultural policy amid growing migration have overshadowed the role of Christianity in the historical formation of common European values that became the basis of European integration.
According to Professor Roger Trigg of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford University, Europe is becoming more aggressively secular. At the same time, the European Court of Human Rights is seriously concerned about tolerance. It has received about 250,000 claims of religious discrimination, including Christianophobia, but reviews no more than 40 cases per year.
Experts have noted with alarm the steady growth of xenophobia and other forms of intolerance in OSCE countries and the United States. US sociologists believe that 15-20 percent of the American population are outright xenophobes, while about 15 percent (35 million) have radical anti-Semitic views.
We will continue raising these issues at major international venues, including the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe with the support of religious organisations.
Dialogue between the state, society and religious organisations is a key component of the efforts to ensure peaceful coexistence of people of different religions and ethnic backgrounds. The Russian Federation enjoys international prestige in this respect. It has a unique experience and centuries-long traditions that should be preserved and strengthened to the utmost.
I am convinced that we have all the necessary resources and, most important, the understanding and will to ensure that Russia remains the country with the most peaceful and harmonious society in these turbulent times.