The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a Recommendation in 17 points on “Violence against Christians in the Middle East.”

The Recommendation and its explanatory memorandum were drafted by Italian Member of Parliament Luca Volontè. It was adopted by 125 votes in favor, with nine voting against and 13 abstentions. The document notes that Christians have been present in the Middle East since Christianity began there, but that for the last century, the communities have been dwindling.

“The situation has become more serious since the beginning of the 21st century and, if it is not properly addressed, it could lead to the disappearance — in the short term — of Christian communities from the Middle East, which would entail the loss of a significant part of the religious heritage of the countries concerned,” the council document declares. The Council of Europe specifically condemned two recent episodes of anti-Christian violence: the Oct. 31 attack on a church in Baghdad, Iraq, and the Jan. 1 bombing of a church in Alexandria, Egypt. It further mentions a Christmas episode in Cyprus.

“[T]he Assembly calls on Turkey to clarify fully the circumstances surrounding the interruption of the celebration of Christmas Mass in the villages of Rizokarpaso and Ayia Triada in the northern part of Cyprus on 25 December 2010 and to bring to justice those responsible,” the document states. “The Assembly urges Iraq and Egypt to be transparent and determined in their attempts to bring the culprits of the attacks in Baghdad and in Alexandria to justice as rapidly as possible. The Recommendation also affirms that “freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion, are universal human rights.”

Aid to the Church in Need is lauding the efforts of several European institutions to raise awareness of the plight of Christians who have suffered attacks recently in countries such as Iraq and Egypt. The aid agency released a statement ahead of a Monday meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union, which will discuss stepping up measures to promote religious liberty.

STRASBOURG, France, JAN. 27, 2010 (