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Remarks concerning the report “The protection of minors against excesses of sects,” Council of Europe hearing, 8 April 2014, Strasbourg. During the event "Minors and excesses of sects: a serious threat to religious freedom?" organized by EIFRF, CARE for Europe, the Moscow Helsinky Group, the All Faith Network and the European Evangelical Alliance, and sponsored by Mr Valeriu Ghiletchi, member of the Parlementary Assembly of the Council of Europe.


Dr Aaron Rhodes today's speech on religious freedom at Council of Europe side-event

Dr. Aaron Rhodes
Co-founder of the Freedom Rights Project; President of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe; former Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
 
I appreciate this opportunity to speak in the framework of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. 
As I understand it, the main role of the Parliamentary Assembly is to undertake investigations and make recommendations to the member states of the Council of Europe.

I am here to appeal to the members of the Parliamentary Assembly to soundly reject the resolution entitled “The protection of minors against excesses of sects.” (Drafted by French MP Rudy Salles and to be voted upon the 10th of April by the Plenary Assembly of the Council of Europe.)

As a human rights advocate, I am certain that this resolution would not offer children any meaningful protection not already available to them under the laws of member states.  

But if it were to pass, the resolution would itself constitute a threat to children, as well as adults, who are members of minority religions.  

It would stigmatize them and increase the chances of them being exposed to prejudice, discriminated against, and even subjected to violence. 

The proposal raises the obvious question:  Why focus just on so-called “sects”?  What about the threats to children by main-line religious organizations?  

The resolution would be a strike against religious toleration and thus against democracy and human rights, which mean nothing if religious groups are not treated equally. 

The resolution would be a stain on the Council of Europe.  It is in no way consistent with the intent of the founders of the Council of Europe.  Indeed, it is confusing that such a document, one that would weaken human rights protections and possibly inspire human rights violations, is even under consideration.

An impressive list of independent human rights organizations, and those that monitor religious freedom issues in particular, are calling for the rejection of this measure. 

They are doing so because they understand that the work of defending human rights is often that of defending the rights of members of minority groups—linguistic, ethnic, racial, political, sexual, or religious minorities, whose rights and security are often threatened because of discrimination and prejudice. 

Indeed, the whole philosophical edifice of human rights emerged with recognition of the moral obligation to respect people’s dignity, not because they are members of one’s own kin or shared one’s religion or nationality, or ethnicity or race, but because they are simply human beings.   It is also a central tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Pluralism gave us our appreciation for the dignity of humanity as such, and for the universality of human rights.

We believe this Resolution violates the principle of State’s duty to neutrality in matters of religion or belief, treating some with greater suspicion than others, and stigmatizing their members. 

Let us apply a simple test, the test of the Golden Rule:  How would you feel, as a member of a so-called “sect,” if Europe’s guardians of human rights passed this Resolution? If members of the Council of Europe acted on the recommendations to engage in an assault on religions classified as “sects”?   Indeed, the human rights community has many times condemned the classification of religious organizations using pejorative terms like “sect.”  Passage of this Resolution will put the Parliamentary Assembly at odds, not only with obligations under its own European Convention, but also at odds with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.   The Resolution is not only a recipe for discrimination and intolerance; it will provide cover for arbitrary interference in religious life. 

Let me conclude be a few words about the implications of this proposal with regard to the effort to protect the freedom of religion worldwide.

Many members of the Council of Europe consider the freedom of religion a priority concern in their engagement with other countries.  That is absolutely correct and appropriate, because the freedom of religion deeply affects the enjoyment of many other human rights, and is intrinsically among the most important rights necessary for human fulfillment.

But the freedom of religion is seriously threatened in a depressing number of countries—threatened by discriminatory laws; by blasphemy laws; by the refusal of authorities to protect members of minority religions; even by laws under which people can be executed for changing their religion—laws that exist even in some states that are members of the UN Human Rights Council.

The Council of Europe is respected around the world for upholding human rights standards.  But if the Council of Europe itself embraces religious discrimination and interference by state authorities in the form of the Resolution under consideration here, it will not only degrade its own standards, but also diminish its value as a model for others.         
 
aaronarhodes@gmail.com
0049-170-323-8314
 
 
 
 
 
 
  

Rédigé par EIFRF le Wednesday, April 9th 2014 | Comments (0)

Press release
Minors and excesses of sects:
A serious threat to religious freedom?
Human Rights experts speak up at Council of Europe
Tuesday 8th April – Strasbourg – Council of Europe


A serious threat to religious freedom?  Human Rights experts speak up at Council of Europe
At an event in the Council of Europe today a coalition of 5 groups concerned with Religious Freedom held a well-attended event on the subject. The event was sponsored by Member of Parliament Valeriu Ghiletchi*. The event was held to focus attention on the already extensive criticism of French MP Rudy Salles’ Report “The protection of minors against excesses of sects” – a report that will be debated in the Parliamentary Assembly on the 10th April.

The two speakers, Professor Vincent Berger** and Dr Aaron Rhodes*** outlined the dangers of adopting a report that would affect the rights of religious minorities when, from a human rights and legal perspective, there are no or inadequate definitions to define the supposed problem. To implement measures without any clear legal basis would only end up stigmatizing and eventually reducing the rights and protection of children and their parents.

The report was also strongly criticized for its lack of evidence to support the proposed recommendations which Professor Berger said ‘would be likely to seriously undermine religious freedom and freedom of association guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, they cast aspersions on all new religious and spiritual groups that have emerged in Europe alongside traditional churches and denominations…’

Dr. Rhodes, former Executive Director of the International Helsinki Committee and Co-Founder of the Freedom Rights Project, who has worked in the human rights field for many years, was particularly critical of the failure of the report and recommendations to meet human rights standards. He made it clear that the draft resolution “would not offer children any meaningful protection not already available to them under the laws of member states” and that if it “were to pass, the resolution would itself constitute a threat to children, as well as adults, who are members of minority religions. It would stigmatize them and increase the chances of them being exposed to prejudice, discriminated against, and even subjected to violence.” 

He went on to say, “The resolution would be a stain on the Council of Europe.  It is in no way consistent with the intent of the founders of the Council of Europe.” “Passage of this Resolution will put the Parliamentary Assembly at odds, not only with obligations under its own European Convention, but also at odds with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.   The Resolution is not only a recipe for discrimination and intolerance; it will provide cover for arbitrary interference in religious life.”    

After a number of questions, many of them seeking to understand the motivation behind the report, Mr Ghiletchi concluded the meeting by appealing to the attendant MPs and NGO representatives. He said “This should not become a resolution. It will be a stain, a shame to the Council of Europe if it accepts this resolution. This draft report is a real threat to religious freedom and we cannot accept such a Pandora’s Box.”

Key points of serious concern included the following:

- The use of the term “sect” will establish a restrictive classification system that will stigmatize and marginalize targeted minority faiths.  This runs counter to statements by international human rights bodies and two former UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion and Belief that the term is a derogatory designation inconsistent with policies that foster religious freedom, pluralism and tolerance.
 
- The implementation of “extensive awareness-raising measures” for certain officials, including judges, on the issue of “sects” will contravene a UN Human Rights Committee finding that such “awareness sessions” violate human rights standards and a recommendation that “sensitizing sessions for judges against the practices of certain designated sects” cease.(1)

- The establishment of national and regional information centers or “sect observatories” without requiring such centers to be staffed by independent, neutral and objective experts with appropriate academic qualifications, and to provide targeted religious groups with access to their files and the opportunity to respond and correct inaccuracies, will result in a biased approached toward minority faiths. 
 
- The series of measures in the area of education and children will jeopardize the rights of parents to educate their children in conformity with their own religious beliefs, as protected under Article 9 and Protocol 1, Article 2, of the Convention; Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
 
- The call for all 47 member states to “adopt or strengthen, if necessary, legislative provisions punishing the abuse of psychological and/or physical weakness” is clearly based on the much-criticized About-Picard law in France.  This runs counter to previous declarations and resolutions of PACE.  On April 26, 2011, 50 members of PACE signed Declaration 321, expressing their concern about the About-Picard law.  And on November 18, 2002, PACE adopted Resolution 1309 on the About-Picard law, calling on the French government to “reconsider the law” and its conformance with Article 9 of the Convention.

The report will come before the Assembly on Thursday 10th April. It is expected that there will be strong opposition to the report and many amendments will be filed if the report is not rejected completely.
 

*Mr. Ghiletchi is a key figure in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s campaign “One in Five” directed at uniting parliaments in combating sexual violence against children.

**Professor Berger was until recently the Jurisconsult of the European Court of Human Rights – a unique position responsible for case-law monitoring and preventing case-law conflicts in the Court. He is therefore in a unique position to determine the validity of the report from a European human rights and case law perspective.
***Dr Rhodes is regarded as one of the world’s leading human rights activities who has deveoted his life to public service.

The groups sponsoring this event are:

European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom
Care for Europe
The Moscow Helsinki Group
The All Faiths Network
The European Evangelical Alliance


1. UN Human Rights Committee Concluding Observations: Germany (18/11/96), (CCPR/C/79/Add.73). 


Rédigé par EIFRF le Tuesday, April 8th 2014 | Comments (0)

Vincent Berger is the former Jurisconsult of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). He has been the ECtHR Jurisconsult for 7 years up till 2013 and is now professor of Law at the College of Europe in Bruges and Warsaw and an attorney at law in Paris. There is only one jurisconsult of the Court and he is the top expert responsible for case-law monitoring and preventing case-law conflicts. He gave his opinion on the Rudy Salles' report, resolution and recommendation, which will be voted upon the 10th of April during the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, during a side-event this afternoon in the Council of Europe premises. The event was sponsored by Mr Valeriu Ghiletchi, a key member of the Assembly, known for his tremendous work on the sexual abuse on children topic. Here is the speech of Mr berger at the Council of Europe:


Top ECtHR expert (former Jurisconsult of the ECtHR) gives opinion on Rudy Salle's report at Council of Europe
THE PROTECTION OF MINORS AGAINST EXCESSES OF SECTS:
THE SALLES REPORT (1)

Note by Vincent Berger (2)

(24 March 2014)



1. Obviously, the protection of minors is a legitimate concern in the democratic societies composing the Council of Europe. The Salles Report is however far from responding to this concern satisfactorily.

A. Diversion targets

2. Despite its title, the Salles report contains many passages which are of general scope and suggest that minors are used as a collateral or a pretext for an offensive against "sects" .

a) A specific target

3. The draft recommendation (3) deals exclusively with the protection of minors. It therefore corresponds to the official purpose of the report.

b ) A general target

4. As to the draft resolution, it is aiming at a much larger target (4). Indeed, half of its points do not refer to children and teenagers: they concern "religious and spiritual sectarian groups" (§ 6.3) , "sectarian excesses" (§ § 6.6, 6.7 and 6.8) and "cult phenomenon" (§ 6.6).

5. This is also the case with the explanatory memorandum, including important developments that have no relationships with minors (§ § 11-13 , 22-26 , 28, 35 , 37 and 42-44) .

6. The same applies to the summary of the responses by parliamentary delegations of Member States to the questionnaire sent by the Rapporteur (§ § 1 a) -d) and 2 b) - d)), which was also often of a general nature .

B. Unfounded premises

7. Salles report is based on premises whose relevance is questionable, whether explicit or implicit.

a) Explicit premises

8. A European approach is necessary to protect minors: this is far from obvious, to the extent that, according to the Rapporteur himself, many countries do not face serious cases of "sectarian excesses" affecting minors and that the vast majority of the States deem useless to legislate on this issue.

9. The " sectarian excesses " against minors are a "deeply worrying phenomenon" (explanatory memorandum, § 38) and "remains very worrying" (explanatory memorandum, § 46 ): this is contradicted by the available data on rare abuses recorded in some States.

b) Implicit premises

10. "Cults" present a priori a danger to minors: this discredits and throws suspicion on all non traditional churches and communities and on all new religious and spiritual groups, while only a tiny minority of these entities may – or may have in the past – given rise to such criticism.

11. The legislation of Member States, and particularly criminal law, is not sufficient to protect minors: this is a serious accusation against national legislators, suspected of negligence, or even complacency, towards dangerous groups.

12. Public services of Member States do not perform their duties properly, in particular to ensure  schooling and health of minors: here again, this is an accusation aimed at national authorities.

C. Questionable models

13. In a veiled yet clearly way, the draft resolution and especially the explanatory memorandum are campaigning for combative systems against "sectarian excesses", that are supposed to be effective and valid throughout all of Europe.

a) The French "model"
 
14. The French system, in particular, is presented as a model that should be adopted by all other Member States. But it has not proven its effectiveness, as shown by the paltry number of abuse cases reported by Miviludes. As to the About / Picard law, it has aroused the concern of the Parliamentary Assembly, which invited the French government to reconsider it (Resolution 1309 (2002) Freedom of religion and religious minorities in France, § 6), without success. However, the draft resolution advocates repression – without, however, any reference to minors – of the "abuse of psychological and / or physical weakness of persons ". This is a concept that lies at the heart of the French law but is devoid of scientific value.

b) The German "model"

15. The German system is also portrayed favorably, although less emphasized. Catholic and Protestant churches play an important role in "counseling victims of  ‘sectarian excesses’ and gathering information on sectarian groups" (explanatory memorandum, § 38). The Rapporteur encourages the authorities to grant them financial support for this purpose. However, we can question the neutrality of such churches, which are in direct competition with "cults". One must also consider the risk for the State to delegate its powers to private institutions, to the point that they become the armed branch of public authorities.

D. Redundant initiatives

16. Apart from the aforementioned dangers and drawbacks, the Salles report does not provide any "added value" to the works of the Parliamentary Assembly on the issue and is often only repetitions.

a) Previous works

17. The works of the Parliamentary Assembly on the protection of children against abuses led to Resolutions 1530 (2007) and 1952 (2013) and Recommendations 117 (2007) and 2023 (2013). They have a triple character. First, they are very recent. Then they remedy what seems to appear, in the eyes of the Rapporteur, a deficiency of the European Parliament in the considered field. Finally and most importantly, they cover all issues related to violations of the physical or moral integrity of children. They appear therefore amply adequate.

b) The draft resolution

18. On a general level, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendations 1178 (1992) and 1412 (1999): the first is about sects and new religious movements, the second about the illegal activities of sects. Yet the draft resolution includes two invitations that are already contained in Recommendation 1412 (1999) (§ 8 and § 10 ii and iv.) "to provide teaching in the history of religions and the main philosophies in schools" (§ 6.4) and "to make sure that compulsory schooling is enforced and ensure strict, prompt and effective monitoring of all private education, including home schooling"(§ 6.5).

E. Inaccurate assumptions

a) The explanatory memorandum

19. The Salles report notes that "The ECHR has never issued judgments directly concerning minors who have been victims of the influence of sects either directly or through their parents or persons caring for them" (explanatory memorandum, § 14). He explains this in part by "the specific nature of proceedings before the Court" and the "lack of legal capacity to act" of minors under domestic law ( ibid.). He adds that " it is hard to imagine a situation in which parents or legal guardians – followers of a sect – would turn to the courts to protect the children concerned against themselves" (ibid.). He thus suggests that children are helpless, which is incorrect .

b) The Strasbourg jurisprudence

20. States party to the European Convention on Human Rights have a positive obligation to protect individuals. This obligation applies primarily to minors and may be invoked before the national courts by relatives who deem that they are in danger. It is the same in Strasbourg: an indirect victim of a violation of the Convention can complain since he/she has a specific and personal connection to the direct victim. This would be the case of close relatives such as grandparents and aunts or uncles. The absence of ECHR judgments concerning minors affected by "sectarian excesses" is therefore not explained by any impossibility to file applications meeting the conditions of admissibility.

F. Conclusion

21. If they were adopted as such by the Parliamentary Assembly , the draft resolution and the draft recommendation would be likely to seriously undermine religious freedom and freedom of association guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, they cast aspersions on all new religious and spiritual groups that have emerged in Europe alongside traditional churches and denominations, in suspecting them, a priori, of "sectarian excesses" unlawful and harmful to minors.
 


1. Report by M. Rudy Salles, Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
2. Attorney at law at the Paris Bar and professor at the Collège d’Europe in Bruges and Warsaw; former jurisconsult of the European Court of Human Rights.
3. Adopted by the Committee on March 3, 2014.
4. Adopted by the Committee on March 3, 2014.

Download the opinion:

Rédigé par EIFRF le Tuesday, April 8th 2014 | Comments (0)

Professor Emeritus Rimon Kasher, from the Department of Biblical Studies of the Bar-Ilan University in Israel, wrote yesterday a letter to Mrs Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and other members of the Assembly, in which he expresses "deep concern and disagreement with regards to the recent report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe by Mr. Salles concerning "Excesses of sects"." Here is his letter:


Jewish Israeli Emeritus Professor expresses deep concern about Rudy Salles' report at PACE
To: Mrs Anne Brasseur
President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Avenue de l’Europe
67075 Strasbourg Cedex

Or-Yehuda, Israel, 6 April, 2014

Dear sir, I, Professor (Emeritus) Rimon Kasher, am a religious Jew and have researched and taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty for the Study of the Torah in the Jewish-religious Bar-Ilan University. My main subjects through those years, and to this day - as I am still publishing papers - are Bible in the Department for the Study of Bible, focusing on the Jewish religious beliefs during the Biblical and the Byzantine Era, and I also research the development of New Religious Movements.

Both as a member of one of the "old" religions and as a Scholar on the subject of religion, I wish to express my deep concern and disagreement with regards to the recent report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe by Mr. Salles concerning "Cult Excesses".

Based on my understanding of the term "religion", any attempt to differentiate between the Western Monotheistic Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the New Religious Movements of the last century or two is without merit, both academically and morally:

1. Academically: for dozens of years the term "cult" has been deliberately cancelled out of the academic discourse on New Religious Movements, as it is prejudiced and not neutral or scientific. Phenomenologically, there is no essential difference between the 'old' religions and new religions, as the latter category corresponds fully with the characteristics of the phenomena we know as 'religion'. Thus, any attempt to 'recruit' older religions to persecute new religions is doomed for failure and is absurd.

2. Morally: the attempt to differentiate between various religions as far as their value ('good' vs. 'bad' ones) is a direct infringement of the Freedom of Religion and Belief, as laid in article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
 
As an additional point, it should be of concern that wherever new religions are ostracized, any minority faith will soon follow as a target, as it is the fact they are a minority which exposes them to be stereotyped. There are instances I have been informed on of Hassidic Jews, Baptists, Evangelical groups and Muslims who have suffered from the same type of treatment as "cult" members, in France, due to their beliefs. Every religion, no matter how big, is a minority somewhere.

I sincerely hope this report's obvious push to export the French Model to the entire continent and marginalize and discriminate against the many members of new religious movements across Europe will not come to pass, as it will be a step backwards for the freedoms and basic rights guaranteed to all.

Regards,

Prof. Emeritus Rimon Kasher
Dept. of Biblical Studies
Bar-Ilan University Israel

CC: Mr Nachman Shai – Israeli Representative: nshai@knesset.gov.il Mr Ronen Hoffman – Israeli Representative: rhoffman@knesset.gov.il Mrs Rina Frenkel – Israeli Representative: rfrenkel@knesset.gov.il
Mr Meir Shitrit – Israeli Representative: mshitrit@knesset.gov.il
Mr. James Clappison – Chairman, Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights:
james.clappison.mp@parliament.uk
Mr. Mark Neville – Head of the Private Office of the President: mark.neville@coe.int
Mr. Andrew Drzemczewski – Head of the Secretariat of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights: andrew.drzemczewski@coe.int
Christopher Chope – Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights: christopher.chope.mp@parliament.uk
Mr Valeriu Ghiletchi – President of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable development: valeriuga@yahoo.com
Mrs Gisela Wurm – President of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination: gisela.wurm@spoe.at
Mr. Wojciech Sawicki – Secretary General of the PACE: markus.adelsbach@coe.int 
Mr Pedro Agramunt – President of the EPP group: pedro.agramunt@senado.es
Mr Andreas Gross – President of the Socialists group: andreas.gross@parl.ch
Mr Alexei Pushkov – President of the EDG group: cinternat@duma.gov.ru
Mr Jordi Xucla – President of the ALDE group: jordi.xucla@congreso.es
Mr Tiny Cox – President of the UEL group: tkox@sp.nl

The letter in Hebrew and in English:

Rédigé par EIFRF le Monday, April 7th 2014 | Comments (2)

Alliance Defending Freedom: legal expert analysis on report by Rudy Salles at the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE
The Protection of minors against excesses of sects, Rapporteur: Mr. Rudy Salles (via http://www.freedomofconscience.eu)

RE: The Protection of minors against excesses of sects, Rapporteur: Mr. Rudy Salles [AS/Jur (2014) 07] DATE: 03 April 2014  Introduction 1. Alliance Defending Freedom [ADF] is a legal organization of 2300 allied lawyers, over 40 full time lawyers and…


Rédigé par EIFRF le Saturday, April 5th 2014 | Comments (0)

Dr Alessandro A. Amicarelli is a Human rights lawyer, Doctor of research in "International Order and Human Rights" (SAPIENZA, University of Rome). He also researched and lectured in International Human Rights Law at the University of Urbino “Carlo Bo” and has participated as a speaker on Human Rights worldwide.


Dr A. Amicarelli legal comment on Rudy Salle's report at PACE
The protection of minors against excesses of anti-religious policies

Comment on the report "The protection of minors against excesses of sects" of Mr Rudy Salles (MP EPP/CD' France), no. AS/Jur (2014) 07 of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

As a human rights lawyer with a specific interest for religious freedom and religious minorities I was not happy to read this draft report as it poses a real threat to religious freedom in Europe.
 
Basically, as declared in the explanatory memorandum (page 4), this report is the result of:
1. a meeting the Committee had the 6th of September 2012 with one scholar, prof. Sophie van Bijsterveld MP from the Netherlands, one lawyer and representative of Family and Personality Protection Society, Mr Maksym Yurchenko from Ukraine and the renowned French politician and former president of MIVILUDES, Mr Georges Fenech from France;
2. a questionnaire sent to members states' parliamentary delegations;
3. two one-day fact-finding visits of Mr Salles with representatives of anti-cultic associations in Stockholm and in Berlin.
 
As a matter of fact, it must be noticed that Mr Salles is a French politician and only met with representatives of anti-cultic groups and it has to be reminded also that France is renowned for fighting against new religious movements and I would say, as explained below, minority religions generally speaking; consequently this report is the natural result of at least two decades of anti-religious activities and policies enforced and implemented in France and that the French authorities are trying to spread all around Europe through their emissaries.
 
There are many reasons to be shocked reading this report.
 
After reading the first lines concerning the protection of minors, it is clear that the actual aim of the report is to stygmatise religious minorities, roughly called sects, and to favour the adoption of national legislations aimed at preventing and fighting their activities in the Council Of Europe's member States.
 
It seems that with this recommendation the Council of Europe deny its own words, particularly the recommendations no. 1178/92 and 1412/99, and the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning religious freedom and religious minorities too.
 
In the subsequent explanatory report some judgments of the Court are recalled as well as excerpts of the previous recommendations, however, the main points are not mentioned at all.
 
For instance it deserves to recall that in case Church of Scientology of Moscow v. Russia the Court found a violation of the Convention (ECHR) as the authorities tried to justify in any possible ways the refusal to grant the registration of the Church because this religion was considered as a cult.
Austria had employed 10 years to grant the legal status to the religion of the Jehovah's witnesses and the Court found this unacceptable for this religion which is well known at national and international level too (Religionsgemeinschaft v. Austria).
A representative of the Unification Church was stopped at an airport in Russia and detained and not allowed to re-enter the country as the religion he belonged to was considered as dangerous, the Court found several violations of the Convention also because a minor was involved along with his father (Nolan and K. v. Russia).
All of these three religious minorities are usually referred to as sects or cults by the anti-cultic associations and were enlisted in two lists of dangerous cults created in France and Belgium were secto-phobic groups are particularly active also thanks to the funding and support they receive from the governments; in some cases actually they are State bodies themselves, e.g. the French MIVILUDES, whose former president Mr Fenech has been consulted by Mr Rudy Salles to draft this report.
 
It must be said that:
- no distinction between cults or sects and mainstream religions is allowed (recomm. no. 1412/99 par. 6)
- no lists, actually blacklists, are allowed; in case lists of religions are created they must include all groups, also 'sects' (recomm. no. 1412/99 par. 8 and 9)
- no need for a specific legislation for, actually against, cults as both the civil and criminal law have enough provisions to cover also cases concerning people involved in religious groups (recomm. no. 1412/99 par. 10 sub .iii)
- understanding, tolerance, dialogue and resolution of conflicts have to be encouraged (recomm. no. 1412/99 par. 10 sub .vi)
- States must ensure a firm commitment against any discriminatory and marginalising actions and behaviour against religious and spiritual minorities (recomm. no. 1412/99 par. 10 sub .vii). This is more than just prevention of discriminatory actions, it implies a positive action by States to fight against discrmination that affect minority groups. The approval of the proposed Salles report would have the opposite result, namely to allow member States to discriminate such groups and to legitimate the behaviour of anti-cultic movements and their secto-phobic and religio-phobic campaigns.
 
In the very case of this report, should the proposed recommendation be passed, there is the likely risk for religious minorities throughout Europe to be threatened particularly in those States that welcome with favour the French style of oppression of minorities.
 
It must be recalled that in the last decades France has adopted the most illiberal legislation against religious groups and that at several occasions the European and International jurisdictions have found violations of the human rights standards.
 
We can indeed mention law no. 228/2004 prohibiting religious symbols in public places that has caused hundreds of cases of discrimination against pupils belonging to religious minorities, both Sikh and Muslims too, expelled from French public schools as intended as extremists that may threaten other pupils and because the republican principle of laicite' (i.e. secularism) had to be protected and ensured in the country, public schools included. This principle is considered so important by some in France that the former president Chirac even proposed a code de la laicite' - a code of secularism - that would also create a police department to enforce secularism throughout the country.
 
Also the principle of egalite' (i.e. equality) is often recalled to justify such discriminations, particularly such measures in the view of those who apply such restrictions, are aimed at making all the students equal, which means they all have to look the same, no difference being tolerated. Of course this view is unacceptable as incompatible with the democratic societies and in fact the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in cases concerning students belonging to the Sikh religion who had been expelled from French public schools for wearing the turban or people that had been forced to remove the turban prior to taking the passport photo, found violations of the International Covenant of 1966 and particularly art. 18 about freedom of thought,conscience and religion (see inter alia UN Committee S. Singh v. France 2013).
 
The European Court found also violations of the Convention in several cases concerning the tax matter as France had adopted a piece of legislation imposing a rough 60% tax on income of religious groups which had been discriminatorily enforced only on the income of groups considered as sects (See inter alia Association of Jehovah's witnesses of France v. France).
 
As I stated above the content of the drafted recommendation, while non adding any further protection to either minors or children, proves in no way and gives no evidence that the phenomenon is so wide-spread to justify any special legislation.
 
In respect of the numbers of people involved with 'sects', as acknowledged also by Mr Salles, there are no official figures; nonetheless in the case of my native country, Italy, it has been reported by a Catholic priest, Mr Don Aldo Bonaiuto, that in 2010 some 8000 people have been involved in different ways with sathanism, vampirism, spiritualism and witchcraft and of them some 36% are aged between 15 and 24, which means the phenomenon is not as big as the anti-cultic associations state since years.
 
If passed this recommendation would indeed invert the long-lasting tradition of the Council of Europe of the last 60 years, inspired to the philosophy of tolerance and social inclusion and to the culture of "living together".
 
In addition it would mean to justify the discriminatory activities carried out by State bodies, private and semi-public anti-cultic associations and it is a fact that discriminatory measures not only affect new religious movements but indeed also traditional religions that are a minority in the given country, for instance Islam in France.
 
It has been reported that in the recent era, the first official case of discrimination involving minors belonging to a religious minority in France is dated 1989. It concerned three young Muslim girls who were expelled from a public schools on the ground they wore the hijab, a simple veil covering the head and that they refused to remove for religious reasons (See Joan W. Scott, Symptomatic Politics. The Banning of Islamic Head Scarves in French Public Schools, in French Politics, Culture & Society, Vol. 23, No. 3, Winter 2005).
 
This behaviour of the authorities has continued for years so far and recently in 2010 the French parliament has also banned the wearing of niqab, a veil that covers also face, usually wore by women from Saudia Arabia and few other countries.
 
Since then cases occurred in France and somewhere else have been thousands and the content of the Salles report risks to validate the spirit at the basis of such discriminatory acts, sanctioned several times at international level.
 
Among other provisions, the Salles report, calls on member States:
- to set up centres on sect-like religious and spiritual movements (6.3); the aims of such centres are not specified, it could be to study, to provide information, to organise fight campaigns
- to provide teaching in the history of religions and the main philosophies in schools (6.4)
- to ensure schooling is enforced and monitoring of private education and home schooling too (6.5)
- to provides judges and policemen and ombudsmen and the welfare services with information about the phenomenon of sects (6.6)
- to support, including in financials terms, the action of private bodies (6.8)
 
All of the above points contrast with human rights standards and the basic principles of State neutrality and impartiality and indeed non interference with the internal affairs of religions that includes the prohibition to States from taking into consideration religious beliefs (see inter alia Church of Scientology of Moscow v. Russia and Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria).
Furthermore teaching the history of religions would indeed include only some traditional groups and non others and certainly none of the groups labelled as sects. And the meaning of the expression 'main philosophies' is obviously non-inclusive and aimed at excluding those philosophies considered as linked to sects.
Who will decide which philosophy or religion has to be included in the teaching and who will teach these classes?
Monitoring on schooling, both private and public, has to be ensured by States regardless pupils belong to religious minorities or not.
Providing judges and other officers with manuals and training about sects and cultic groups will imply State authorities make lists of good and bad religions, religions and sects and as explained this is not in line with Sates' obligations.
To support and to fund bodies and associations that fight the 'excesses of sects' would mean again that the State makes an evaluation and disctinction between religions and sects and becomes partisan while discriminating against some people and favouring others.
 
Freedom, democracy and human rights are the main goals of the Council of Europe's daily activities.
 
The proposed recommendation would legitimate legislations aimed at discrimination, violation of basic human rights and social exclusion of all those who belong to minorities, primarily - but non exclusively - the minors and this is in contradiction with the stated aim of protecting minors.
Crimes against members belonging to minorities and buildings owned by religious groups are growing, for instance several times Kingdom Halls of Jehovah's witnesses have been burnt, as well as cases of Islamo-phobia and particularly actions against hijabed (veiled) women and bearded men; other cases of physical and verbal aggression have involved members of the Sikh religion who wear the turban and other people too, including young pupils expelled from public schools.
 
Members of the population deserve respect and not to be discriminated against on the ground of their religious affiliation and they have to be protected against the excesses of the anti-religious policies implemented and enforced in some countries.
 
For all the above reasons I strongly hope the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe would reject this Trojan horse firmly and completely for sake of religious freedom and equality!
 
All minors deserve respect and dignity and protection from any kind of abuses, regardless they belong to a minority or not and have to be protected from all forms of discrimination too.
 
Alessandro A. Amicarelli PhD
Human rights lawyer
Doctor of research in
"International Order and Human Rights"
(SAPIENZA, University of Rome)


Rédigé par Dr Alessandro Amicarelli le Saturday, April 5th 2014 | Comments (0)

Vienna, 4 April, 2014 (FOREF): Dr. Aaron Rhodes will succeed Professor Christian Bruenner as President of the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe (FOREF). The board of directors will formalize the selection at their General Assembly meeting on 5 April 2014.


FOREF-Europe names Aaron Rhodes President

Aaron Rhodes is a founder of the Freedom Rights Project, a human rights research initiative and think-tank.  He was formerly associated with the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), which he led for 14 years between 1993 and  2007.  In 2008, he and colleagues established the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.  Rhodes has taught and lectured widely at universities in the United States and Europe. 

 

In 2008, Rhodes was made an honorary citizen of the Republic of Austria in recognition of his work on behalf of human rights, and in 2009, The University of Chicago awarded him a citation for public service, noting that he is “regarded as one of the world’s leading human rights activists.”  Rhodes earned his doctorate in the Committee on Social Thought at The University of Chicago, and before that a bachelors degree from Reed College.

Professor Christian Bruenner, former Austrian MP and Dean of Law at Graz University, is an international authority on the freedom of religion.  Professor Bruenner co-founded the Forum for Religious Freedom - Europe with human rights activist and journalist Peter Zoehrer in 2005 as an independent civil society structure to monitor threats to religious freedom and advocate for respect for international human rights standards and obligations. 

The mandate of FOREF is:

  • Protection of the right of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief
  • Promotion of basic democratic principles and the Rule of Law
  • Monitoring and documentation of official and public intolerance against religious minorities and advancing public awareness  
  • Advocacy with local, national, and international authorities
  • Promotion of objective approaches to understanding the emergence of new religious movements 
  • Supporting civil society’s ability to pro-actively find solutions to inter-religious conflicts

Contact:

FOREF Europe

E-Mail:  zoehrer@gmail.com

Phone: +43 6645238794:%2B43%206645238794

Blog:    foref-europe.org

Web:    http://foref.info/


Rédigé par FOREF Europe le Saturday, April 5th 2014 | Comments (0)

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