Elena Agapova participated as a speaker at the OSCE Conference on «Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians»

14 December 2016 the Vice-Chairman of IOPS, Head of IOPS Civic Center for supporting Christians of the Middle East and North Africa Elena Agapova participated in the OSCE conference on "Combating intolerance and discrimination against Christians", held in the headquarters of the organization in Vienna. According to the invitation of the OSCE organizers she was as a speaker at the second session and shared a good practice of NGOs in this important sphere. We are offer her statement.

Dear Chairman, Ladies and Gentlmen!

First of all let me express my sincere gratitude to OSCE German Chairmanship and ODIHR for invitation to  be a speaker at Conference on extremely vital issue. Hate crimes or bias-motivated crimes as manifistation of aggressive nationalism, racism, violent extremism affect the security of individuals, their communities and societies as a whole. The right to freedom of religion or belief has under increasing pressure in various parts of the OSCE area and pose a threat to national security and stability. We can not and never accept it.

In accordance with my experience I would like to highlight the issues and guiding principles related to the importance of increasing public awareness about cases of hate crimes against Christians in the OSCE region. It is important to focuses on the root causes of religious hatred  and develop effective prevention and strategies.

Before to express my point of view I would like to take this opportunity to thank  a lot the OSCE/ODIHR and personally to Mr.  of Mickael Georg Link for inviting me in July of this year, as an expert  to Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion and Belief. But I would like to note that I am speaking today on behalf myself.

I am a Deputy Chairman of Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society – the oldest non-governmental organization, founded in 1882 and historically involved in humanitarian, educational, cultural missions in the Middle East, promoting moral values of tolerance, harmony of faiths, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue in the region.  

And one more deeply connected position – I am the Head of the Civic Support Center of Christians in the Middle East and the Northern Africa established 4 years ago for monitoring and as a response to genocide of Christians in the land of three global religion - a targets of barbaric radicals. We have good cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church to collect and deliver humanitarian aid  to suffering people – both Christians and Muslims. I was more than once in Syria, Iraqy Kurdistanwith humanitarian missions and in other Middle East countries and have a  lot of testimonies  of   the Middle Eastern Christians drama,  witnessing the systematic removal of Christians  which are under serious persecution by barbaric brutality of DAISH and other terroristic organizations.

They are really threaten the world, including European countries. DAISH try to shock Europe with terrorist attacks and Christians also became the straight targets. I would mention only one example of horrible violence in July this year in France – the attack on Catholic Church in Normandy during Mass and barbarous murdering by cutting his throat an 81-year priest. Just few days ago tеrrorists carried out the ugly attacks with numerous innocent victims in Coptic Church in Cairo in Egypt.

Hate crimes and manifestations of intolerance   against Christians continue to occur throughout the OSCE region on a daily basis. They are often restricted in their rights, very often on the pretext of tolerance. Christians Churches are being burn out, cemeteries are being desecrated. Under the slogan of political correctness numerous efforts to force out Christians of all social life areas – governmental, education, army – are undertaken. Monitoring the rights and freedom of Christians in Europe registering violations of freedoms of conscience, expression, assembly and other freedoms and rights. Usually violations occur as defamation, humiliation, hate speech and action, discrimination, intolerance, hostility against priests, Church stuff or believers. Christians have right as another religious groups in society to preserve traditional values and traditional Christian roots of the identity. It is obvious that in modern Europe, with centuries of Christian roots, culture and philosophy we are often witnessing rejection of Christian values.It is very dangerous trend for European security and freedoms, especially in context with the global threat of extremism and terrorism and all negative consequences of migration crises which  evoked religious tension.

It is extremely important to make collective efforts to prevent the spreading of the monstrous radical ideologies  in the youth environment and to strengthen interreligious and intercultural dialogue in society, democratic governance based on rule of law and respect for human rights and to create environments of mutual respect, tolerance and understanding among peoples of different religions, beliefs and cultures.

I will give some comments about ODIHR  annual hate crime data for 2015. Forty-oneparticipating States submitted information, along with 113 civil society groups covering incidents in 41 countries. But unfortunately, these data do not reflect the scale of committed crimes of hate against Christians in countries in the OSCE region and illustrated some gaps in the information on hate crimes against Christians and in recording.  It is clear that there is a lack of confidence in criminal justice systems contribute  towards the under-reporting of hate crimes against Christians in OSCE region. Physical and verbal assaults, desecration of Christian sites, symbols, insulting religious feelings, targeting of the places of worship and property are often not reported to the police and authorities and often  do not receive  appropriate attention by the national authorities and media. The lack ofcomprehensive data on hate crimes undermines the ability of States  to deal effectively with the problem.  It is important to examine  how trust and cooperation between law enforcement agencies, criminal justice practitioners and communities can be enhance to ensure that there is an effective corpus of legislation, policies and practices that address hate crimes and intolerance against Christians. One of recommendation is to use of «hotline” telephone  for victims of hate crimes to report  about the crimes and seek support.

Civil society plays a crucial role in monitoring and reporting hate crimes.  And we have an example  of good practice of NGOs activities.

I can mention an example of activities of IOPS as a non-governmental organization and my personal experience. We are monitoring situation of Christian persecution and violation on human rights in Syria for several years and regularly inform UN Human Rights Council, relevant international NGO, human rights institutions, media, religious leaders, communities. Now we have a lot of partners – among Christians and Muslims, international NGOs, civil society organizations, and we have important exchange of that information and deep connections with religious leaders and ethnic communities in the region.

 Moreover, it is very important for a rising awareness  in public sphere and to promote mutual understanding and for interreligious and intercultural dialogue to have some respective activists from all sides – Christian and Muslim communities like  goodwill Ambassadors. They are spreading in there communities positive message of acceptance, reconciliation, peace and respect of diversity.  

Also I can note the good practice and the fruitful cooperation of Russian NGOs with Interreligious Council of Russia. 

 One more example of good practice. The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society organize and regularly attend conferences, side events, in Human Rights Council and try to attract the attention of the international community to the plight of Christians not just in the Middle East nut in Europe too, where basic Christian values are eroding. IOPS as NGO to accompany foreign ministers of several countries including Sergey Lavrov at the high-level panel of the UN Rights Council session in Geneva in March 2015. As a result of this event a unique document was adopted sighed by 65 countries, including Vatican  - “In support of Human Rights of Christians and other communities, especially in the Middle East».

I would like to  express my regret that Council of Ministers in Hamburg several days ago could not to reach consensus to adopt Ministerial Declaration on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians, Muslims and members of other religion. We are look forward.

It is time to initiate the development  of inter-state measures to promote  an inter-faith dialogue around the OSCE region and instill respect for other religious and moral values which ate shared by all faith.

Participating States, religious communities, NGOs should work closer together to promote coming together, dialogue and mutual respect. There is no better way of effectively combating  intolerance, discrimination and all fanaticism and extremism, religious or anti-religious. It is very important to promote the social integration of religious minorities and act at an early stage against those social, economic and political inequalities which affect such minorities, and resist their marginalisation and the instigation of hatred against them.

Participating States must to give encouragement to projects jointly developed by several communities, including with non-religious associations, with a view to strengthening the social fabric through, for example, the promotion of inter-community solidarity, attention being paid to the most vulnerable people and the fight against discrimination.

Adequate legislation and educational approaches  are becoming increasingly vital as a means of combating the rise of violence, extremism, discrimination and intolerance. What is necessary today – is  to get the access to quality  education that open minds, that equips young people with critical thinking, dialogue skills and interreligious and intercultural knowledge to understand and to respect each others. Governments must support such approach which means reforming educational system and changing curricula, improving teaching resources and training, improving  the capacity of educational.  In school and  extracurricula frameworks it is important to promote opportunities for people of different believes to meet and to talk so that they can learn to express  their religious identity without fear and without provoking others, both  open up to other visions of the world and learn to respect each other.

Very important to reinforce the role of education in the integration of migrants by teaching them the host countries language, teaching about religion and history, providing information on institutional and traditional values. It must be dialogue but not dictate of cultures in the context of cultural and religious diversity.

The most high-profile crimes against Christians are reflected in society, in the international and national press. But we need to admit openly: many cases of crimes of hate against Christians do not receive adequate response in media which play a great role in the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination. Some publications deeply insult the feelings of believers. Only professional standards can prevent  intolerant discourse against religious, including Christianity. The media is encourage to develop voluntary guidelines for reporting on religious issues, in particular as regards situations of religious  conflicts. Self-regulatory supervision mechanisms can help to implement such guidelines in ways that fully respect  the human right to freedom of expression. NGO in cooperation with media are able to send a clear message that hate crimes are unacceptable in democratic society and Christians and other religious groups have a right to feel secure and to live in inter-faith harmony.

 Thank you for your attention.

Elena Agapova OSCE