GENEVA – The Vatican’s chief representative to the UN agencies in Geneva called upon the nations of the world to respect the right of all people to practice religion freely and urged world leaders to punish those who persecute religious minorities.

Addressing a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in the Swiss capital Mar 12, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Vatican representative, said harassment of religious minorities often is “encouraged by the silent collusion of state authorities and by a judicial system that is ineffective or partial”.

The archbishop called for the world’s governments to pass legislation imposing tough sanctions against those found guilty of harassing people because of their faith.

“Victims of discrimination and violent attacks have a right to obtain redress and compensation for the harm done to them by public or private agents,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “The state has the responsibility of protecting the fundamental rights of all people in its territory.”

Citing recent surveys that found nearly 70 percent of the world’s population living in countries with “high restrictions on religion”, Archbishop Tomasi denounced the fact that the rights of religious minorities were “seriously violated, their freedom of worship hampered”.

In some regions followers of minority religions not recognised by law, have to confess their faith in hiding, in fear of prison terms and persecution, said Archbishop Tomasi.

“In other places,” he said, “while the right to freedom of religion is legally recognised, religious minorities are harassed and persecuted by members of the majority religion.”

He added, “Their properties are damaged, their houses of worship are destroyed, their lives severely threatened. These criminal acts are often committed in total impunity.”

Archbishop Tomasi also mentioned that the authorities stand idly by or are partisans in the conflict, so “victims are forced to desist from reporting the injustice done to them for fear of further negative repercussions”.

The Representative of the Holy See then made an invitation to all countries to “respect and promote the right to freedom of religion in all its aspects, through national legislation, including appropriate sanctions against violators to eradicate impunity effectively.”

The State, in fact, has the responsibility of protecting the fundamental human rights of all people in their own land. “As long as the State is not able or willing to provide effective legal protection for all its citizens, the continuous persecution of ethnic and religious minority communities will continue to afflict the world and to weaken the human rights of everyone.”

“The way forward,” the archbishop concluded, “rests on an effective implementation of all human rights by recognising and respecting the dignity of each human being, without distinction of ethnicity or religion; on rejection of all forms of discrimination on the ground of race, colour, sex or religion; on fair treatment in the courts; on an educational system that teaches peaceful coexistence built on mutual respect, solidarity and cooperation as means that promote a healthy social pluralism; and a prosperous life for all members of our one human family.”  CNS, FIDES

GENEVA –

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