European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom

St Petersburg Conference on Religious life of Russian regions and prevention of religious extremism - Speech by Marco Ventura


Written the Wednesday, October 3rd 2018 à 09:40
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Professor Marco Ventura is the Director of the Centre for Religious Studies at Bruno Kessler Foundation, full professor with tenure at the Department of Law of the University of Siena and member of the experts panel on Freedom of Religion of the OSCE. On October 2, he intervened at the conference "Religious life of Russian regions and prevention of religious extremism", which took place in St Petersburg, Russia. The conference was organized by the Russian Association of Religion Researchers (RARR), the Russian association of religious freedom (St. Petersburg office), the Educational scientific center of studying of religions of the Russian State Humanitarian University (Moscow), the St. Petersburg center of theological researches and the Research center of theological and ethnopolitical researches of the Leningrad State University of A.S. Pushkin. EIFRF participated to the conference. Here is the content of Marco Ventura's speech:


Freedom of Religion or Belief in the OSCE Region
The Value and Rights of Minority Believers
 
International Scientific and Practical Conference
“Religious life of Russian regions and prevention of religious extremism”
St Petersburg
2 October 2018
 
Introduction
1. European minority believers
2. Their value
3. Their rights
Conclusion
 
Introduction
 
This presentation is concerned with minority believers and their freedom in the OSCE region and more specifically with extremism-based or tradition-based limitations of minorities’ freedom. For the purpose of this presentation Four factors combine in making majorities anxious about religious or belief minority individuals and their communities. First, global cultural exchange and transformation are resented as threatening identities and traditions. Second, global politics challenge national sovereignty in general and the extent and efficiency of domestic rule, thus questioning human rights as universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, and hindering the transition to a viable combination of supranational and national/local governance and justice. Third, crisis in the economy and security encourages stigmatisation of minorities as responsible for the crisis and as an obstacle to peace and development. Fourth, innovation in science and technology, most of all in information technology and artificial intelligence, empowers majorities to an unprecedented degree, while increasing their concern that digital communication will make minorities more connected internationally and thus more powerful. The Wall Street Journal has recently denounced the pervasive use by local authorities of technologies of facial recognition and scanning in the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang, resulting in the worrying oppression of Muslim Uyghurs.
Against this background, I will argue first that religious or belief minorities represent a crucial value for the OSCE region, to be acknowledged, protected and promoted, and second that inherent and instrumental to such value are minority rights, both general and freedom of religion or belief specific. I will then conclude on the interdependence of the value and rights of minorities in Europe.
 
1. Minority believers in Europe.
 
We have celebrated this year the 25th anniversary of the European Court of Human Rights Kokkinakis decision of 1993, the first ever whereby a State signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights has been found in violation of article 9 ECHR. In the decision, judges made the following seminal point applicable to both our national communities and our transnational community: ‘as enshrined in Article 9, freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a "democratic society" within the meaning of the Convention. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it (ECtHR, Kokkinakis v. Greece, 1993, at para 31). This text, and the related principle, capture the historical and conceptual dimension of freedom of religion or belief for all in Europe. Historically, and descriptively, the very identity of Europe as well as of its national and local components is based on pluralism of religion or belief in a democratic society. Conceptually, and prescriptively, no democratic society can exist, if one of its foundations, freedom of religion or belief, is not granted to all. As a consequence, minority believers are to be understood as an indispensable part of the European equation, historically and conceptually, descriptively and prescriptively.
 
2. Their value.
The value of minorities is not limited to some of them, but extends to all, big and small, more or less widespread, old or new. Orthodox Christians of the various Patriarchates and autocephalous churches, pre-Calcedonian churches, Roman Catholics and Protestants, Jewish of different schools, Sunni and Shia, Ahmadi and Alevi, Buddhists and Hindus of various traditions, Sikh and Baha’is belong to the same European symphony, as do Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Adventists, Scientologists and Pentecostals. All have been recognised by European institutions, and the Court of Strasbourg.
Minority believers and their communities represent a crucial value for Europe as understood in the European Convention of human rights and other international and pan-European instruments, on two accounts. First, they are indispensable to a plural, diverse and dynamic European society. Second, they are necessary to a rich and flourishing religious environment. On both accounts, the value of minorities is not limited to some of them, but extends to all, big and small, more or less widespread, old or new. Orthodox Christians of the various Patriarchates and autocephalous churches, pre-Calcedonian churches, Roman Catholics and Protestants, Jewish of different schools, Sunni and Shia, Ahmadi and Alevi, Buddhists and Hindus of various traditions, Sikh and Baha’is belong to the same European symphony, as do Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Adventists, Scientologists and Pentecostals. All have been recognised by European institutions, and the Court of Strasbourg. In the European perspective, the value of minorities is inextricably linked to the value of majorities, since all majorities in a given land are minorities elsewhere. From such values follows a process of mutual learning. Minorities invite majorities to recognise and welcome their own internal diversity and the diversity of society. Majorities invite minorities to contribute to the common good and the harmony of society. The ultimate value of minority believers is thus that in multiple ways they are precious, and indispensable actors of renewal, witnessing and contributing to the capacity of the individuals and communities in the OSCE region to perpetuate traditions and identities through a sensible process of cultural and religious change. Such renewal is not only compatible with religious traditions, but is a peculiar contribution of them, based as it is on a careful, gradual, incremental process of change balancing traditions and modernity. In fact, such renewal turns out to be an inspiration for our innovation-driven society, whereas majority and minority believers together have a lot to contribute to how to best draw the line between good and bad change, desirable and undesirable change.
 
3. Their rights.
 
Minority believers do have rights, individual, collective and institutional. Some rights are not specific to religion or belief. Belonging to this category is the right not to be limited in the personal freedom, private life and property without an objective and strict justification according to the terms of international law in general and the European Convention of Human Rights in particular. Defence rights and the right to a fair trial are also crucial rights for minority believers. Some rights are indeed specific to freedom of religion or belief as a multi-faceted human right embracing individual, collective, institutional, educative and communicative dimensions. Such right is expressly recognized in international and regional standards and OSCE commitments. Freedom of religion or belief is a right belonging to all human beings, men and women, whether theistic, non-theistic, atheistic or other believers. It includes the freedom of everyone to manifest their religion or belief, individually or in community with others, in public or in private, through worship, teaching, practice and observance. Under international law, “security” or “national security” is not recognized as a permissible ground for restricting the manifestation of freedom of religion or belief. Under freedom of religion or belief, communities are protected against targeting, discrimination and persecution. In particular religious or belief communities can not be declared criminal organizations and outlawed simply because of the criminal conviction of one or more members; more generally, States should not sanction religious or belief communities for the criminal conduct of individuals or groups, or target individuals or groups because of their religion or belief, but should address the specific unlawful activity of individuals or groups. Also States sanction religious or belief communities by reference to concepts such as “extremism” or “radicalization” which, given their imprecise nature and lack of a commonly accepted definition, render them open to different interpretations and arbitrariness in their application. The legal prohibition and sanctioning of activities carried out by unregistered religious or belief communities is also incompatible with international standards and OSCE commitments.
 
Conclusion
 
The correlation between rights and value is not one of hierarchy, or priority. Minority believers do not possess rights because of and insofar as they have value. Rights are inherent to them. Rather the correlation between value and rights should be seen as one of mutual enrichment and strengthening. This is all the more key, and relevant, for traditional majorities in our respective countries. Whenever and wherever minority believers are denied acknowledgment of their value and protection of their rights, it is the very essence of what means to be European to be at risk, and the very legacy of what Europeans, and European nations and peoples conquered over the centuries.
 


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