Answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission
The Commission attaches great importance to the rights of freedom of religion, belief and expression in its dialogues with third countries. Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief are fundamental human rights and as such are 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's 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 Union 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 human right as well as the rights of religious minorities are thus addressed through the Union's bilateral political dialogues, and, when appropriate, through démarches and public declarations, as well as through Union 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 Members that it monitors the issue of religious freedom closely in all countries and that it remains ready to raise particular concerns through all channels available, as appropriate.
OJ C 11 E, 15/01/2004