Christians recognized as the most persecuted religious group in the world –

All over the world, Christians are persecuted because of their faith. The European Parliament has brought much-needed recognition to victims of persecution and must follow up with concrete tools to protect religious groups around the world, writes Adina Portaru.

Adina Portaru is legal counsel in Brussels for ADF International, a Vienna-based organization that defends the right of people to live their faith freely.

On 14 December, the European Parliament adopted the annual report on human rights and democracy in the world and the European Union’s policy in this area in 2015.

In line with the European Union’s commitment to fundamental human rights, Members of the European Parliament underlined the need to protect freedom of religion around the world. The annual report brings a new dimension to the usual call for respect for human rights.

He concludes: “Christians are currently the most harassed and intimidated religious group in countries around the world, including Europe, where Christian refugees regularly face religiously motivated persecution, and where some of the oldest Christian communities are in endangered, especially in the north. Africa and the Middle East”.

The evidence is irrefutable and demands action from the international community. Just recently, news broke of an ISIS suicide bombing at a church in Cairo, killing 24 Coptic Christians, Christian pastors facing the death penalty in Sudan, and ISIS boasting of committing genocide in Syria and Iraq. Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East for 2,000 years are now on the brink of extinction. In Syria, the number of Christians fell from over 2 million to less than a million and in Iraq from 1.4 million to less than 260,000 in just a few years. What we are witnessing is the end of Christianity in the Middle East before our eyes.

With the recognition of Christians as the most persecuted religious group in the world comes the question: what can be done to protect and safeguard the rights of Christians and to secure justice for the victims? Two things should follow: first, the prosecution of the perpetrators of genocide before the International Criminal Court, and second, the strengthening of the mandate of the EU special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union.

With regard to international prosecutions, the European Parliament should follow up on its resolution of February 4, 2016 and ask the United Nations Security Council to support a referral to the International Criminal Court to investigate ISIS crimes in Syria and in Iraq.

If this fails due to a lack of political will on the part of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (which is currently the case), the International Criminal Court should nevertheless prosecute the European foreign fighters implicated in the atrocities. The Court has jurisdiction over European authors who fight with IS. Most of them are nationals of countries that have signed the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, for example Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The number of European foreign fighters is estimated at more than 5,000 in the Middle East.

National governments must cooperate with the International Criminal Court to ensure that evidence of crimes committed is preserved, cataloged and used against the perpetrators.

The European Parliament has indeed called for the creation of a group of experts responsible for collecting evidence concerning the genocide against religious and ethnic minorities. If implemented, this group could prove instrumental in bringing perpetrators to justice.

Furthermore, the mandate of the EU Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union should be strengthened. This position was created on May 6, 2016, when the President of the European Commission appointed former Commissioner Jan Figel for a one-year term. In the first part of his term, Jan Figel focused on the growing persecution of religious minorities.

This has helped raise international awareness of the plight of Yazidis, Christians and others in the Middle East. The mandate of the EU Special Envoy should therefore not only be renewed, but also benefit from increased visibility, political power, budget and support staff. A lightly staffed office, as it currently stands, will hamper the Special Envoy in responding to what the EU has rightly concluded is a growing and significant threat.

The overall message conveyed by the annual report is clear: Member States and the EU as a whole must do more to seek justice for victims of religious persecution and prosecute the perpetrators. The international community must act urgently to end the genocide in the Middle East and protect persecuted Christians and other religious groups around the world.