Representatives from civil society, governments and international organizations explored the challenges, including discrimination and hate crime, Christian communities face in the OSCE region at a conference held in Vienna on 18 May 2015.
The “Conference on Enhancing Efforts to Prevent and Combat Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians, Focusing on Hate Crimes, Exclusion, Marginalization and Denial of Rights” was organized by the OSCE Serbian Chairmanship and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
“We would like to highlight the importance of raising awareness of the value of cultural and religious diversity as a source of mutual understanding and respect for different cultures, ethnicities religious and believes,” said Ambassador Vuk Žugić, Chair of the OSCE Permanent Council and Serbia’s Permanent Representative to the Organization, adding that Serbia has a special interest in promoting this, given that its Christian heritage has suffered great, and many times irreparable damage throughout the tumultuous recent history in the Balkans.
ODIHR Director Michael Georg Link stressed that ODIHR’s annual reporting has illustrated gaps in the information provided on hate crimes committed against Christians, as well as his hope that the discussion at the conference would help provide ways to address these gaps.
"We look forward to the recommendations that will emerge from this conference, which will help efforts to counter intolerance against Christians," Director Link said. "There are still too many barriers to developing policies and initiatives to challenge intolerance against Christians. ODIHR is ready to continue its efforts to help participating States the recording of data on hate crimes against Christians – data that can then guide policymakers in preparing the most effective response to this problem."
Discrimination and intolerance threaten the security of individuals and can give rise to wider scale conflict and violence, undermining regional and international stability and security, participants at the conference said. At the conference, they examined how co-operation and trust among law-enforcement agencies, criminal justice practitioners and Christian communities can be enhanced, to ensure that there is an effective body of laws, policies and practices that addresses hate crimes and intolerance faced by Christian communities across the OSCE region.
“Hate crimes against Christians are often under-reported,” said keynote speaker Massimo Introvigne, Managing Director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) and former OSCE Chairman-in-Office's Personal Representative on Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination, also Focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions. “Better co-operation between Christian communities, police, government and ODIHR is needed in order to raise awareness and confront this very serious phenomenon.”
OSCE participating States have acknowledged the need to counter specific forms of intolerance, including against Christians and members of other religions. The 2005 Cordoba Declaration by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office addressed intolerance against Christians specifically, and has been supplemented in subsequent OSCE Ministerial Council Decisions. Today’s conference in Vienna builds on the work done during a high-level meeting in Rome, in 2011, on preventing and responding to hate incidents and crimes against Christians.