French Anti-Cult Organisation MIVILUDES Recognizes FOREF’s Achievements in Promoting Universal Human Rights
PARIS/STRASBOURG, 15.05.2015 (FOREF) – A bit more than a year ago, on the 10th of April 2014 the motion of the rapporteur Mr. Rudy Salles titled “The protection of minors against excesses of sects” was debated at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Mr. Salles’ original resolution was flatly rejected by the Council. Contrary to his aims, the Council’s final resolution stressed the freedom of belief for both traditional and non-traditional forms of religion to be an equal right for all. Moreover, the Assembly is unequivocally committed to a policy against discrimination of minors on grounds of religion or belief, especially in schools and other educational institutions. MIVILUDES, a French GONGO and main financier of FECRIS, has publicly recognized FOREF’s achievements in pointing out crucial shortcomings in Mr. Salles’ draft in its latest report.
Mr. Salles is a member of the French National Assembly and long-time associate of Mr. Georges Fenech, former head of the MIVILUDES, an organization within the French executive commissioned to monitor religious minorities (“cults” and “sects”). In March 2014 FOREF has filed an official complaint against the resolution of Mr. Salles, who clearly violated the code of conduct for rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly: rapporteurs are required to respect the principle of neutrality, impartiality and objectivity. It was evident that Mr. Salles’ personal interests were informed by MIVILUDES which aims to achieve “European harmonization” for the collective fight against “sects” or “cults” via portraying an alleged threat of “minors.” Thus, FOREF advised to conduct a careful investigation into MIVILUDES’ agenda and to withdraw Mr. Salles’ mandate on the theme of minority religions.
In MIVILUDES’ recent report* that was addressed to the Prime Minister of France, Mr. Manuel Valls, FOREF’s contribution to work out the controversial aspects of Mr. Salles’ draft resolution has been clearly acknowledged:
“La Miviludes a en effet pu constater la diversité des provenances des lettres ouvertes adressées à la présidente de l’APCE : se sont exprimés des groupes de nature aussi dif- férentes que le groupe Helsinki de Moscou ou l’association Coordination des Associations & Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience (CAPLC) qui relayait les précédentes accusations du Forum pour la liberté religieuse – Europe (Foref) contre M. Rudy Salles.” (Original)
“The MIVILUDES did indeed notice the diversity of the origins of open letters that were addressed to the president of the PACE [Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe]: They were expressions by various groups such as the Helsinki Federation of Moscow or the Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience (CAP) who have passed on the previous accusations of the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe (FOREF) against. Mr. Rudy Salles.“ (English translation by FOREF)
However, what the 184-page report of MIVILUDES failed to mention is that two days before the debate at the PACE Dr. Aaron Rhodes, co-founder of the Freedom Rights Project and the incumbent president of FOREF, was invited to speak at a public hearing at the Council of Europe. On that occasion Dr. Rhodes addressed the inherent threat of compromising the universality of human dignity and human rights as implied by the questionable resolution of Mr. Salles. He appealed to the members of the Assembly “to soundly reject the resolution” since it would provide a “recipe for discrimination and intolerance” and cause a “stain on the Council of Europe”. Please find Dr. Rhodes’ full address below.
FOREF appeals to the French Prime Minister to reconsider the extent of funding for MIVILUDES and FECRIS, and to introduce an ideologically independent scientific board to investigate the threats and constructive potentials of traditional and non-traditional religions for the broader society. Furthermore, the French government is advised to honor its commitment to uphold the rights of children and their parents as defined by Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
*MIVILUDES: Rapport au Premier Ministre, 2013-2014. Paris 2014, p. 147-148.
Hearing in the Council of Europe – April 08, 2014
The Universality of Human Dignity and Human Rights cannot be Subject to Compromise
By Aaron Rhodes
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.”
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 fulfilment.
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.
Dr. Aaron Rhodes is the Co-founder of the Freedom Rights Project, President of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe, and former Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.