On March 7, Geneva’s Palais des Nations hosted a high-level conference Mutual Respect and Peaceful Coexistence as a Condition of Interreligious Peace and Stability: Supporting Christians and Other Communities as a side event of the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The event was organised by Armenia, the Holy See, Lebanon and Russia, who were joined by Brazil, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Serbia and Croatia.
Speakers at the conference’s opening session included Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto and Croatia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Davor Ivo Stier.
Taking part in the event were also Head of the European Institute for Democracy and Cooperation Natalia Narochnitskaya, Deputy Head of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society Elena Agapova, Archbishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Chair of the Muslim Spiritual Board of the Republic of Tatarstan Kamil Samigullin, members of World Russian People’s Council international public organisation, as well as civil society and political leaders, ecclesiastic hierarchs, researchers, politicians, diplomats and journalists.
The discussions during the conferences followed up on the conversation launched two years ago in Geneva at a conference on the same subject attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as the joint statement by 65 states Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, particularly in the Middle East adopted at the UNHCR’s 28th session at the initiative of Russia, the Holy See and Lebanon.
Participants in the conference noted that the persecution against Christians looms large in today’s world. It was noted that in the Middle East and North Africa, Christians are being forced to leave their homes and face physical extermination by extremist groups, while Christian cultural heritage is being obliterated. As a result, the Christian presence in the region is rapidly dwindling.
A number of speakers referred to the joint declaration adopted last year in Havana by the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis, who called on the international community to take immediate action to stop the massive exodus of Christians from the Middle East.
Special attention was also paid to discrimination and persecution against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine and the challenges Christians face in European countries.
Participants noted that in many cases growing radical, anti-Christian sentiment is a response to attempts to impose alien values and standards on society. Awareness campaigns on religious matters can play a special role as an effective tool for preventing extremism. It was also mentioned that better understanding Christianity and other religious teachings could prevent many people from falling into the trap of extremist ideology.
During the event, participants highlighted the importance of promoting mutually respectful dialogue and combining efforts by people of different faiths and creeds to preserve interreligious peace and accord. A number of speakers called on the international community to stand up for the rights of Christians across the world and reaffirm its commitment to religious freedom enshrined in the fundamental human rights instruments.
Russia will continue paying special attention to the important and urgent issues of protecting Christians, preserving interreligious peace and promoting dialogue, including in areas affected by conflict.