KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 8 June 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.

SITES RESOLUTION. A United Nations resolution calling on states to
protect religious sites, adopted on 31 May, was not sponsored by either
China or Turkmenistan. Places of worship have been destroyed in the past
few years in both countries, in government campaigns to suppress the
religious activity of non-registered communities. Chinese officials told
Keston News Service that China backed the resolution, despite failing to
sponsor it, but would not say if religious sites outside the framework of the
five state-sponsored faiths would be protected. Turkmen officials failed to
respond to Keston's questions.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Two of the countries that conspicuously failed to sponsor a United Nations
resolution calling on states to protect religious sites were China and
Turkmenistan, both of which have destroyed places of worship in the past
few years in campaigns to suppress the religious activity of non-registered
communities whose activities the government regards as illegal. Officials of
the Chinese mission to the UN told Keston News Service that China backed
the resolution, despite failing to sponsor it, but declined to say if religious
sites of communities outside the framework of the five state-sponsored faiths
would be protected from further raids, attacks and destruction. Officials of
Turkmenistan's mission to the UN have failed to respond to Keston's
questions as to whether Turkmenistan supports the resolution and, if so,
whether it will abandon its policies of raiding unregistered places of worship
and on at least five occasions bulldozing unregistered places of worship.

Originally sponsored by Austria and Hungary, the final resolution
(A/RES/55/254), adopted without a vote by the General Assembly in New
York on 31 May, was co-sponsored by 115 countries out of 189. The
resolution condemned all acts or threats of violence, destruction, damage or
endangerment directed against religious sites, calling on all states to respect
and protect such sites in conformity with international standards and national
legislation. It also encouraged promotion, through education, of a culture of
tolerance and respect for the diversity of religions and for religious sites.

Officials of the Chinese mission rejected suggestions their country was
lukewarm in its support for the resolution. `Not sponsoring it does not mean
not supporting it,' Mr Yu (who declined to give his full name) told Keston by
telephone from New York on 7 June. `China does support it.' Asked why his
country had not sponsored the resolution, given that more than 100 other
countries had, he responded: `So many countries had sponsored it that we
knew it would be passed. It is not necessary for China to sponsor every
resolution.' Asked whether China's destruction of unapproved places of
worship - as in Wenzhou last year (see KNS 1 June 2001) - might have
contributed to the decision not to sponsor the resolution, Yu replied: `There
are no destructions. As a national policy, China does not destroy religious
sites of places of worship. According to the constitution, the government
respects and protects freedom of religion and protects people's right to
worship.' Asked how this assertion matches the destruction of non-approved
Buddhist, Daoist and Christian places of worship - including Buddhist
temples and monasteries in Tibet � Yu repeated his earlier answers.

Keston repeatedly asked Yu whether the resolution protects places of
worship not subject to the five state-sponsored religious communities, such
as Catholic churches loyal to the Vatican (which are banned in mainland
China). He pointedly and repeatedly declined to say, repeating only: `The
government will protect religious sites in accordance with international and
domestic law, as set out in the resolution.' He refused to say if this extended
to religious sites outside the framework of the state-sponsored religious
faiths. `I'm not an expert.'

Likewise the spokeswoman for the mission, Ms Meng (who also declined to
give her full name) refused to say whether places of worship of non-
government approved faiths would be protected. She denied that the places
of worship destroyed in Wenzhou last year had been religious sites. `Maybe
they were destroyed because they were illegal,' she asserted. `Maybe people
did illegal things there - maybe they were evil cults.'

Also on 7 June, Keston tried to find out the views of Turkmenistan's mission
to the UN on the resolution. Keston spoke briefly by telephone to an official
who gave his name as Pagas Atpadev, who declared: `The resolution was
approved by consensus, which means that all countries agreed it.' However,
he declined to elaborate, merely noting Keston's questions and promising to
let Keston know the mission's response. When Keston phoned later in the
day, a woman said there was no official at the mission named Atpadev, and
asked Keston to fax the questions to mission official Essen Aidogdyev.

Keston immediately sent a fax, asking whether Turkmenistan supported the
resolution; why Turkmenistan was not among the co-sponsors; if
Turkmenistan does support the resolution, what steps the government would
be taking to protect places of worship of all faiths, given that many have
been raided by the KNB during religious services, and a number have been
destroyed (including two mosques, two Hare Krishna temples and the
Adventist church in Ashgabad); what steps would be taken to return places
of worship confiscated during the Soviet period (such as the Armenian
Apostolic church in Turkmenbashi) and allow them to reopen; and what
steps would be taken to allow all religious communities to operate places of
worship openly (including Protestant Christians, Armenian Apostolic
Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutherans, Jews and Bahais). Keston has so
far received no response.

Paruir Hovanisyan, second secretary of the Armenian mission to the UN,
told Keston on 7 June that Armenia had `definitely' decided to co-sponsor
the resolution, declaring that there were `significant violations of Armenian
religious sites in Turkey and Azerbaijan' (where many Armenian churches
and monasteries have been left to rot or have been destroyed in the wake of
the flight of Armenians). Hovanisyan claimed Armenia was `very tolerant' of
religious groups. Asked whether this meant that raids by National Security
Ministry officers on places of worship of minority communities - as in the
April 1995 raids on Evangelical, Pentecostal, Adventist, Hare Krishna, Bahai
and Jehovah's Witnesses places of worship and similar raids on Jehovah's
Witness places of worship in April 2000 (see KNS 31 May 2000) - would
not recur, he declared: `Definitely.' Asked about the vandalism on the
mosque in the Azerbaijani town of Agdam (which is under the control of
Karabakh Armenians), involving arson, graffiti and the use of the mosque to
house cattle, Hovanisyan said he was not familiar with this. `There are
specific facts - this was a result of war. You can't find such a violation in
Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh.'

By contrast, governments of countries that have seen places of worship
destroyed by individuals or non-state entities strongly backed the resolution.
`We had very clear instructions from the Foreign Ministry to co-sponsor,
fully support and participate actively in this resolution,' a diplomat from the
mission of Bosnia Herzegovina (who preferred not to be named) told Keston
by telephone from New York on 7 June. `We would hope that the resolution
would contribute to reconciliation among the peoples of the four major
religions living in Bosnia Herzegovina.'

As proof of the need of such reconciliation, the official pointed to the recent
riots in Banja Luka and Trebinje (both in the Bosnian Serb entity) that
prevented the laying of foundation stones to rebuild the mosques destroyed
by Serbian nationalists during the Bosnian war (see KNS 8 May 2001).
`Unfortunately, some people still do not want to see such sites rebuilt.'
Asked whether the resolution would be conveyed to officials on the ground
in the two entities of Bosnia, the official declared that both the draft and final
resolutions had been forwarded to the Foreign Ministry in Sarajevo, which
would pass on the text to the entities. `I've seen no comments yet on the
resolution from the entity level.'

Among other co-sponsors was Yugoslavia, which has been keen to highlight
the attacks on Serbian Orthodox religious sites by ethnic Albanians in
Kosovo. (END)