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Written Question E-2268/05 to the Commission (15 June 2005)

by Salvador Garriga Polledo (PPE-DE)

Subject: Reciprocity concerning religious practices between Saudi Arabia and the EU

Certain recent incidents affecting Catholics who were celebrating mass on the appropriate day of observance have once again highlighted Saudi Arabia ‘s intransigence towards Catholics practising their faith within its territory.

This appears all the more paradoxical if we recall that Saudi Arabia is currently making large-scale investments with a view to building more mosques to be attended by Arabs in EU Member States.

Can the Commission state whether it believes it should intervene with the Saudi authorities asking them to stop harassing Catholics who are obliged to live in their country and wish to attend mass on the relevant day of observance and pointing out the need for Saudi Arabia to take account of the importance of reciprocity?

Answer given by Mrs Ferrero-Waldner on behalf of the Commission (26 August 2005)

The Commission would like to confirm once again that it attaches great importance to the respect by all the countries of the rights of freedom or religion, belief and expression as human rights enshrined in a number of international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18) and the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 9). In addition, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guides the Commission external action in this field, makes clear that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 10) and that cultural, religious and linguistic diversity should be respected.

The EU has repeatedly affirmed that human rights and democratisation must form an integral part of all political dialogues with third countries. Religious freedom as a fundamental right as well as the rights of religious minorities are thus addressed through the EU’s bilateral political dialogues and, when appropriate, through démarches and public declarations as well as through EU action in fora such as the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights or the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.

Even if the political situation and the level of religious tension varies from country to country, the Commission can assure the Honourable Member of Parliament that it monitors the issue of freedom of religion, belief and expression closely in all countries, and it remains ready to raise particular concerns through all channels available, as appropriate, including with Saudi Arabia.

At the last EU-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Ministerial meeting in Bahrain , the Commission conveyed to the GCC the importance the European Union attaches to the respect of human rights. Furthermore, the current EU-GCC negotiations for a free trade agreement will include the standard human rights clause which will be an essential element of the agreement. This clause will form the basis for further encouraging the governments of the GCC to strengthen the implementation and respect of human rights and the rule of law.