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Special Report From Brussels
Religious Freedom Coaltion
August 5, 2004 4:46PM EST

RFC Chairman William J. Murray reports on the

Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom

Thursday, August 5, 2004Brussels, Belgium


Photo of conferenceThe Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom opened today in Brussels, Belgium with members of various parliaments from all over the world in attendance. One big surprise was the attendance of a delegation from North Korea. Many of us attending thought this odd in that North Korea and Iran are probably tied as the two worst human rights offenders in the world today, after China.


The first session of the conference concerned “Ethnicity, Religion and Citizenship and included such renowned scholars as Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Assistant Professor in International Relations at Boston College, Joseph D’Souza, President of the All India Christian Council and Rev. Irinej Dobrijevic, a Hieromonk of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Also on the panel were Fr. Vsevolov, representing the Russian Orthodox Church and Erping Zhang, Executive Director of the Association of Asian Research.


The main question before the panel was the concept of a state with an official religion, versus a secular state. However, the question is far more complicated when adding ethnicity and citizenship. For example, citizenship in Israel is offered only to Jews, yet Jews who have become Christians traditionally are rejected by that nation for citizenship. Dr. Prodromou focused on the Orthodox Church because of its status as the official church in nations such as Greece and Russia. She stated that because the Orthodox Church is a minority in other Western nations, it has a mandate to promote religious freedom in countries where it is the state religion.


However, Fr. Chaplin defended the Orthodox church's special relationship with Russia stating that as long as religious minorities are protected, a traditional church can and should have a relationship with the government.


Rev. Irinej Dobrijevic had a different Orthodox Church prospective. He pointed out poignantly that despite a strong NATO presence in Kosovo that was meant to guard “religious diversity,” more than 200,000 Christians have been forced to leave since 1999 and the few that remain are forced to live in ghetto like conditions. In March of this year thousands more were driven from their homes by Muslim mobs and another 35 churches were destroyed along with thousands of Christian homes. Safeguards for religious minorities in Kosovo exist only on paper, but not practice. This is the case in many other nations as well. In October Kosovo plans to hold a parliamentary election, with only 30,000 Serbian Christians remaining and over 200,000 as exiles that can’t vote.


Adding to the information about persecuted minorities was Erping Zhang representing the Falun Gong. He was particularly concerned about the forced late-term abortions in China which are performed on female Falun Gong members. One woman who was eight months pregnant was forced to have a surgical abortion while in prison. Some  Falun Gong women are placed naked in holding cells with a dozen or more male criminals, and the guards watch as they are gang raped. Electrodes are also used on Falun Gong women, but in a way I had not heard of before. The electrode is actually placed inside the female prisoner’s genitalia and then she is shocked until she renounces her faith. Many Falun Gong and Christians are held in Chinese labor camps where they are used for slave labor for many of the cheaper items we buy in the United States such as the Christmas lights we string up on our homes each year to celebrate the birth of Christ. Think about this the next time you buy cheap Chinese made clothing at Wal-Mart!


Several parliamentarians spoke-up after the main panel concluded because the panel had assumed all states have either a main religious affiliation or complete separation of church and state. Both the Italian and Portuguese representatives pointed out that this was not necessarily the case. Portugal has a working relationship with all religions, somewhat like the faith-based initiative proposed by President George W. Bush. The government works with various churches that want to participate with it for the general welfare of the nation. The same is true in Italy. Professor Valdo Spini, who is also an Italian MP, outlined church-state relations that could very well be a model for other Western nations, dispelling the image that all of Europe is as anti-religious as France. He also participated in the drafting of the new EU constitution and was one of the delegates demanding that Europe’s Christian heritage be proclaimed in that document. I have requested that Professor Spini give me his notes so that I may post them separately as part of this report, as they are enlightening.


Several of the delegates I had met before in other places in the world where I have participated in conferences on various subjects that concern social conservatives. For example, Michele Clark, the Co-Director of the Protection Project, is here. She is well known for her efforts to expose and stop sexual trafficking. I last saw Michele at a State Department briefing on sexual trafficking given by Ambassador Miller when this year's Report on Trafficking in Persons was released. She is the author of Trafficking in Persons and Human Security. Since last year's Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom did not deal with the issue of human trafficking, her presence will add another dimension this year. I hope the concluding document of the conference will indeed contain a reference to human trafficking.


As you know, I have supported the efforts of King Mohammed VI of Morocco to modernize and somewhat Westernize that Islamic nation. Last year under his guidance the Kingdom legislated complete equal rights for women, the first Islamic society to do so. The King sent a letter to be read at the opening of the conference calling for religious freedom and tolerance of the beliefs of others, a far cry from the dogmatic Islam taught by our “ally” Saudi Arabia where women are nothing more than property.


When the conference opens Friday morning I will be the moderator of the second session, the topic of which is “Responses to Anti-Semitism.” This is a critical subject, particularly in Europe where anti-Semitism is once again on the rise despite the horrible history lesson of the Holocaust. It is unfortunate that the center of this new anti-Semitism is France, where some seven million Muslims now live.


Rather than write a completely new report on the progress of the conference I will add to this report, so please check back in from time to time and don’t forget to hit the update button on your browser the next time you check it.

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