European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom

Moscow Helsinki Group alerts PACE President about Religious Freedom issue

Written the Thursday, March 20th 2014 à 14:37
Moscow Helsinki Group

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The famous Moscow Helsinki Group, by the voice of its co-founder Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a very well known freedom fighter since the 70s in the Soviet Union, wrote to Mrs Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to alert her about a report drafted by the member of the French delegation Mr Rudy Salles, which should be voted on April 10, 2014 by the Assembly.

Madame Anne Brasseur
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council
of Europe - Palais de l’Europe
67075 Strasbourg Cedex 
Moscow, the 15th of March 2014
Dear Madam President,
The Moscow Helsinki Group has a longstanding history of defending Human Rights and a quite important expertise in that field.
We would like to draw your attention on the report written by Mr Rudy Salles, French member of the Assembly, and the draft resolution and recommendations that are going to be voted upon at the second part of the plenary session 2014, “The protection of minors against excesses of sects“.
This report in our views poses tremendous problems against basic international standards with regards to human rights.
Protecting children is a very important matter, and every effort in that direction should be supported. However, the resolution and recommendation contained in the report will do exactly the opposite.
The right of parents to educate children accordingly to their own belief is a fundamental right protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the right to choose one’s own religion. No distinction should be made between “traditional” religions and “non-traditional” religions and labelling a group as a “sect” is obviously an effort to make a distinction between “good” and “bad” religions.
In that report, it is clear that what is called a “sect” is a religious minority as opposed to a “traditional” religion. See the illustration of this in point 43: “When it comes to preventing and combating excesses of sects, some Council of Europe member states grant significant leeway to civil society and the “traditional” churches (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant). In this case, it is necessary to provide these stakeholders with sufficient resources for effectively performing their tasks in terms of advising and assisting the victims of such excesses and their relatives.”
This will lead to mere discrimination where “traditional Churches” will receive money by the States with the purpose to discriminate against religious minorities as it has already happened in Russia. This has even led to children sent to “reform” psychiatric camps has it was the case under the Soviet Union. When that path is followed, it is the concept of freedom itself that is at stake.
Moreover, in OSCE/ODHIR/Venice Commission Guidelines for Review of Legislation Pertaining to Religion or Belief(1), it’s written:
2. The definition of “religion.” Legislation often includes the understandable attempt to define “religion” or related terms (“sects”, “cults”, “traditional religion”, etc.). There is no generally accepted definition for such terms in international law, and many States have had difficulty defining these terms. It has been argued that such terms cannot be defined in a legal sense because of the inherent ambiguity of the concept of religion. A common definitional mistake is to require that a belief in God be necessary for some- thing to be considered a religion. The most obvious counterexamples are classical Buddhism, which is not theistic, and Hinduism, which is polytheistic. In addition, terms such as “sect” and “cult” are frequently employed in a pejorative rather than analytic way. To the extent that legislation includes definitions, the text should be reviewed carefully to ensure that they are not discriminatory and that they do not prejudge some religions or fundamental beliefs at the expense of others.
Then point 6.7 of the resolution: “to adopt or strengthen, if necessary, legislative provisions punishing the abuse of psychological and/or physical weakness”, cannot stand any critical assessment. This refers to the French law on “psychological subjugation”. There is no scientific evidence that could support the idea of “psychological subjugation”, which is a synonym to “brainwashing”, by religious groups, or it could be applied to any religion, including mainstream ones. As for the word “sect”, there is no legal definition of “psychological subjugation” which will allow any mainstream group to attack religious minorities, like Hindus, Muslims, or even Jewish or non-mainstream Christians as well as new religions, pretending that the followers are under “psychological subjugation” even if they say that they practice their religion freely. Actually this is what happens already, but this will be reinforced by this resolution.
The European Court of human Rights has already expressed this in 2010 in the CASE OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES OF MOSCOW AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA (2) “that there is no generally accepted and scientific definition of what constitutes ”mind control”” (point 129).
In Russia, FECRIS (FECRIS seems to be the main biased informer of Mr Rudy Salles for the report) is mainly made up of mainstream Orthodox Church linked organizations, and are targeting every non-orthodox faiths as “sects”: Muslims, Hindus, Evangelical Christians, new religious movements. Their competence and fairness is very questionable. They benefit of a strong position in the law, constitutionally, legislatively and economically, and cannot be considered as impartial as they utter extremist speech regularly.
We strongly believe that this resolution and this recommendation will create more harm that they will protect any child. It should be reviewed or rejected, and we hope that the Assembly will not endorse such a dangerous path for children of religious minorities, a path of violations of human rights against parents and the more vulnerable population: children.
Warm regards,
Lyudmila Alexeyeva

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