EU condemns religious violence, singles out Christians and Muslims

Brussels, Belgium - The European Union on Monday condemned violence aimed at religious groups, especially Christians and Muslims, as the bloc's foreign ministers met in Brussels.

The question of religious violence jumped up the EU agenda in late December, after attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt. But the bloc failed to agree on a response in January, after member states clashed over whether to refer to Christians specifically.

The EU "expresses its profound concern about the increasing number of acts of religious intolerance and discrimination ... against Christians and their places of worship, Muslim pilgrims and other religious communities, which it firmly condemns," a statement issued in Brussels read.

Member states disagreed in January after some pushed for a declaration upholding the EU's official values - tolerance and non- discrimination - while others, including Italy, demanded a text highlighting the plight of Christians in the Muslim world.

"Freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right which needs to be protected everywhere and for everyone," the EU said.

"It is the primary duty of States to protect their citizens, including persons belonging to religious minorities, as well as all people living in their jurisdiction, and safeguard their rights," the statement added.

The EU does not have a specific fund for promoting religious freedom. But the bloc regularly links other aid packages to improvements in human rights more broadly, giving the bloc some hope of leverage on the issue.

"The EU will continue to engage with partner countries and offer its cooperation to promote religious tolerance and to protect human rights," the statement read.