Press Release: OSCE Summit places Human Dignity and Religious Freedom at the Heart of Global Security

ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN, 7th December 2010 – The final declaration of the first Summit in 11 years of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the “Astana Commemorative Declaration, Towards a Common Security”, released on Sunday, December 5th, places the dignity of the individual and religious freedom and belief at the heart of the solution to global security. Coming at the end of a comprehensive review process, including three preparatory conferences in Vienna, Warsaw and Astana, the OSCE Summit in Astana saw Heads of Government or their representatives from the 56 Participating States gathered to highlight the need to guard the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people. “Free expression and free media provide the cornerstone for liberty, democracy and security among our nations”, said OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović at the OSCE Review Conference on Nov 28th leading up to the Summit. “Our goal is MORE freedom, not LESS freedom of expression and media.”  In his remarks at the Summit Cardinal Bertone, the representative of the Holy See highlighted the growing problem of religiously motivated intolerance and discrimination against Christians. “It is well documented that Christians are the most discriminated and persecuted religious group. Over 200 million of them, belonging to different denominations, live in difficult conditions because of legal and cultural structures”. NGO representatives present in Astana called on the incoming Lithuanian chairmanship to place their concerns at the heart of the proposed Action Plan and to continue the open and comprehensive engagement with members of the NGO community in the drafting process in 2011. Jan Ledochowski delegate of the St. John Community of the Sovereign Order of Malta in Vienna highlighted anti-Christian bias in the media limiting comprehensive freedom of expression and said “It is the responsibility of the state and the media to create an environment where everybody can openly manifest his belief without fear of ridicule or discrimination.” Álvaro Zulueta, representative of the Spanish organization, emphasized the inconsistency of Participating States that do not protect human life. “Today, religious freedom is in danger in many countries. In some countries, believers risk their lives or their health. In other countries, they are subject to insults and mockery. Believers and their right to express themselves also in the public arena must be protected.” Profesionales por la Ética spokeswoman Leonor Tamayo referenced Resolution 1763 of the Council of Europe, and stated “Any attempt to control conscience is a great danger to Europe, as denying this fundamental right means denying the history of all European institutions and roots” and called on Participating States to respect and guarantee the freedom of conscience. Barbara Vittucci, representing the Austrian Round Table for Reconciliation and the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, said: “To be consistent with a commitment to freedom of expression, Christians must be free to speak and teach on the Christian understanding of the dignity and nature of man, as well as matters of faith, ethics and morals.  These freedoms are being obstructed by harassment and violence, and making it impossible to speak.   Repression of freedom of expression also occurs on a political level by so-called hate speech legislation.” Mario Bergner of Redeemed Lives highlighted the growing danger of restricting religious freedom in the area of sexuality saying that the “over-broad application of hate-speech laws have begun to curtail the fundamental freedoms of Christian clerics, academicians, therapists and university students to apply the morality of their faith to the subject of homosexuality.” Following the summit the OSCE has now set itself the task of drafting an Action Plan under the Lithuanian chairmanship next year. The content of this Plan of Action and Participating States’ commitment to it will determine how successful the OSCE will be during the next 10 years. Dr Gudrun Kugler, Director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, urges the OSCE “to recognize and condemn the problem of intolerance and discrimination against Christians in all it’s forms, both in the Eastern and Western countries of the OSCE. This includes securing freedom of religion in its collective and public dimension, as well as freedom of expression – even if this expression is unpleasant.”