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Nigeria: Attacks against Christians, escalation since 2011 – Italy speaks out for religious freedom in the EU and UN

By Italy - Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Nigeria: Attacks against Christians, escalation since 2011 – Italy speaks out for religious freedom in the EU and UN
Nigeria: Attacks against Christians, escalation since 2011 – Italy speaks out for religious freedom in the EU and UN
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ROME, Italy, June 11, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The latest in a wave of attacks against Christians in Nigeria once again transformed a Sunday of worship into a bloodbath. A car bomb and group of gunmen respectively hit the packed churches of Jos and Biu, causing at least 4 deaths and dozens of wounded. The attacks were claimed by the Boko Haram extremists that have been terrorising Nigeria for nearly two years now with the goal of transforming it into an Islamic State and expelling all Christians. This escalation in attacks began in 2011 and has heightened alarm for the safety of the large Christian community there.

I'll speak to the European ministers, says Terzi

Minister for Foreign Affairs Giulio Terzi condemned the attacks, reasserting “Italy's maximum commitment in all international forums, primarily that of the EU, to the defence and promotion of religious freedom and to confronting the terrorist challenge”. The minister gave instructions to the Italian permanent representative to the EU, Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, to add the question of the defence of religious minorities, particularly of Christians, to the agenda of the next meeting of EU foreign ministers planned for 25 June in Luxembourg.

UN resolution supported by Italy

In its efforts to defend and promote human rights, the Italian government – with the strong support of the parliament and public – has been working long and hard on focusing the international community's attention to the issue of religious freedom, the MFA announced. A UN resolution – strongly supported by Italy – was adopted by the General Assembly in December 2011, which, also thanks to proposals advanced by Italy, underscored the increase in violence against religious minorities and the duty of every State to prevent it and punish those responsible for it.

The European initiative

On the impetus of Minister Terzi, in early 2012 Italy raised the issue of the defence of religious minorities with the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. Between February and March, thanks to the efforts of a task force on religious freedoms that meets periodically in the margins of the EU's work group on human rights, the European External Action Service updated its database on the situation of religious freedom in third countries. In April Terzi presented a platform of initiatives to an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers, following which the EU work group on human rights resumed the debate and set a series of deadlines, which included a report on religious freedoms to the Council of the High Representatives.

EU task force on religious freedoms

The task force on religious freedoms will be meeting in Brussels on 13 June 2012 to analyse possible EU initiatives and instruments to strengthen its efforts on behalf of the defence of religious freedom and religious minorities, and Italy will advance its proposals, aimed in particular at publicly reasserting the EU's laws and values in this sector and establish a precise catalogue of actions in this context.

Bilateral initiatives

Bilaterally Italy has undertaken various initiatives in the area of religious freedom during meetings, conferences and visits, with a view to raising awareness and in a spirit of constructive dialogue. The topic was confronted during political level meetings held between early 2012 and the present with representatives from 15 countries in addition to Nigeria. The minister himself, in recent contacts and through his special envoy Margherita Boniver, has frequently gone back to the question. The foreign ministry signed a protocol of understanding with the City of Rome on 10 January 2012 calling for the creation of a “Religious Freedom Observatory” to analyse and monitor religious freedoms around the world with the contribution of scholars and civil society experts.