Wien, 5. April 2013 Press release

Spindelegger: "Freedom of religion as a benchmark for democracy and freedom"

Foreign Minister on "Foreign Policy Initiatives of Austria on Freedom of Religion and Protection of Minorities" before the Federal Council

Vienna, 5 April 2013 – "The number of incidents restricting and violating the freedom of religion and conscience has increased over the past few years. In many countries of the world, people are prohibited for a variety of reasons to confess their faith and live undisturbed according to rules of their faith. They are disadvantaged, discriminated and persecuted for reasons of their religion", Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister said, opening today's "Aktuelle Stunde" at the Federal Council on the "Initiative for Freedom of Religion and against Persecution of Christians".

"We must not tolerate these destabilising developments that infringe against human rights", Spindelegger continued. "We must not close our eyes on them. In the course of the past few years, Austria has launched a number on initiatives in this field to draw attention to these alarming developments and to find possible solutions. "On my travels to the Middle and Near East, China and Africa I have systematically addressed this problem and consulted with representatives of religious communities about concrete steps that could be taken to alleviate the situation."

"At EU level, Austria enjoys the reputation of opinion leader on religious freedom and protection of minorities". I have therefore proposed to my colleagues in the Council to establish a powerful tool of foreign policy to counteract the trend of persecution of religious minorities. Following my initiative, EU guidelines are being developed that are expected to be adopted by the Council this coming summer", the Foreign Minister continued. The creation of an early-warning mechanism is a central element in these efforts. The aim is to detect risk factors on site at an early stage to be able to take preventive action swiftly.

"In the United Nations Organisation, Austria is advocating the universal strengthening of the right of freedom of religion world-wide. We are actively seeking the dialogue with all states, especially the Arab countries. Our main conclusion is as follows: There may be mechanisms for the protection of human rights at various levels, but we still have to reinforce them to improve the protection of religious minorities."

Austria also makes good use of its membership in the UN Human Rights Council to draw attention to this issue in numerous panel discussions, experts meetings and side events in Geneva and Vienna and to discuss the root cause of increasing violence against religious minorities and possible solutions for them. The results are reflected in relevant UN resolutions and recommendations of the UN special rapporteurs for freedom of religion and protection of minorities.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Conference in Vienna, the Foreign Ministry will hold a high-level expert conference in June, to which High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay has also been invited. In addition to taking stock of the implementation of the outcome of the Vienna Conference of 1993, the event will also focus on the further development of human rights protection.

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