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ICC Note: Human rights observers are noting a perceptible increase in the profile of religious freedom issues in the United States and Europe. President Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 6 included many direct references to the issue of international religious freedom. The European Parliament has also just released its first annual report on religious freedom violations around the globe, and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, has publicly called for more attention to be paid to severe persecution in nations like Syria, Egypt, and Nigeria.  
2/13/2014 Belgium (WWM)  – Freedom of religion and belief is an issue “whose time has come”, the vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said yesterday.
During the presentation of two reports on religious freedom at the European Parliament in Brussels on Feb. 12, commission Vice Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett said that the prominence of the issue was highlighted by President Barack Obama’s decision to choose it as the focus of his speech at the recent annual Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, agreed that there is an “increasing interest” in the subject, although he said it is often connected with a “certain degree of suspicion” and is “perhaps the only right to freedom which sometimes triggers mixed emotions”.
Speaking to World Watch Monitor following the presentation of the two reports, Bielefeldt said that life for Christians has “deteriorated in a number of countries” in recent years, and highlighted some prominent examples.
“We have, unfortunately, seen a deterioration of the situation for Christians in a number of countries, particularly in the Middle East,” he said. “Obvious examples include Egypt, Syria and Iraq.”
Bielefeldt said all minorities, not only Christians, are at risk as the Syrian civil war continues.
“The extremely volatile situation in Syria includes increased risks for minorities in general,” he said. “Everyone is affected by the instability, it’s not something that exclusively targets Christians, but usually minorities are at disproportionate risk of ending up between the big fighting camps.”
In Egypt, Bielefeldt said that discrimination against Christians that existed before the Arab Spring has worsened. “During the Arab Spring we saw very promising signs of a new cooperation between various groups, but now authoritarian regimes have taken over and the situation has worsened there, certainly,” he said.
However, Bielefeldt said it would be wrong to perceive that all Muslims and Christians within the country are opposed to each other. “Sometimes you get the impression from some headlines that it’s perceived like that, but it’s not that Muslims in general persecute Christians in general,” he said. “Muslims are also fighting with Muslims, fighting about the role of religion in public life and Sharia.”

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