Defending human rights is not just an ethical commitment: it also responds to our security needs. All too often, from the Balkans to the Mediterranean, we have seen that manifest human rights violations are a source of destabilisation and conflict. It is no mere chance that Italy has taken on an increasingly high-profile role over the years in international initiatives to defend human rights. It has done so in light of its tradition and political commitment and its propensity to engage in dialogue with and respect different cultures and religions, and in view too of its geographical position, between the Arab south and the European north.
It is in keeping with Italy’s role and the international expectations it has generated that I have sought from the outset to place the defence of human rights at the centre of our government’s foreign policy priorities for action. Actions promoted vigorously by the previous government, and which I too am taking forward in these early days of my mandate, while adding new nuances and content in light of the international changes currently under way.
Our commitment is being taken forward on several fronts – from the campaign against the death penalty to women’s and children’s rights – but the dimension encompassing religious minorities, and the respect for religious freedom, is today becoming increasingly important. Sadly, we have been witnessing – for some time now and in different parts of the world – a dangerous and unacceptable escalation in attacks against religious minorities, especially Christian minorities. I have therefore decided to step up our diplomatic action in various spheres. Starting with the United Nations, and in particular the Human Rights Council, where Italy was unanimously elected in 2011 for a further three-year term.
We have already played a part, in coordination with our European partners, in the adoption – again in 2011 – of an important Council Resolution on the defence of religious freedom, after the violent attacks against the Coptic community in Egypt. In the wake of the tragic episodes in Nigeria, I drew the attention of the Geneva-based High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to the need for incisive intervention to defend religious minorities, and Christian minorities in particular. I am taking action with our European partners to ensure that the Council can adopt, be the end of March, a new resolution in defence of the principle of freedom of belief.
In the European Union context we played a decisive role in the adoption last July of an Action Plan to intensify the joint monitoring conducted by the Community institutions and the 27 member states on the respect for religious freedoms. And just a few days ago I asked the EU’s High Representative, Catherine Ashton, to promote a discussion on the state of implementation of the Action Plan.
The issue of defending religious, including Christian, minorities is one on which I have been noticing – as recently as yesterday, in my talks with the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, in Paris – keen awareness and shared perceptions on the part of our European partners and the Holy See.
At the national level I have recently signed an agreement with the Mayor of Rome, Alemanno, for the creation of an observatory to study and monitor the respect for religious freedoms. This body will draw on the active collaboration of our diplomatic network abroad and help increase the effectiveness of the European Union’s initiatives in this regard. Again at the Italian level, I will be working hard to ensure that an independent Italian Authority for Human Rights is established before the end of this parliamentary term.