FRANCE/ COUNCIL OF EUROPE

France attempts to export its policy of minority religious discrimination through the Council of Europe

 HRWF (24.06.2013) – A report on the « Protection of Minors Against Sectarian Influence » is in preparation at the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, monitored by French Member of Parliament Mr. Rudy Salles.

As stated by Mr. Salles, the purpose of this report is to convince other European countries to adhere to the French model to « fight » against so called « sects » or « sectarian movements ».

For the preparation of the report, a Questionnaire has been sent out to the Member States of the Council of Europe. The Questionnaire is designed to convince other European countries of their failure to fight against new religious movements. The first three questions are revealing:

a)      Does your country have an official list (drawn up by the public authorities) of religions, « new religious movements » and/or sects

b)      Can « new religious movements » and religious movements which may be suspected of engaging in sect-like activities receive state financial assistance?

c)      What are the criteria for registering « new religious movements« ?

This type of classification and listing has been strongly criticized by human rights institutions throughout the years due to the violation of the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief it implies for religious minorities so derogatorily labeled.

In 1996, in his Annual Report, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, noted the inadequacy of labeling certain belief groups as « sects »:

« The term « sect » seems to have a pejorative connotation. A sect is considered to be different from a religion, and thus not entitled to the same protection. This kind of approach is indicative of a propensity to lump things together, to discriminate and to exclude, which is hard to justify and harder still to excuse, so injurious is it to religious freedom. »

In her report following her official visit to France on 18-29 September 2005, Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, noted as regards « new religious movements or communities of belief »:

108. However, she is of the opinion that the policy and measures that have been adopted by the French authorities have provoked situations where the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of these groups has been unduly limited. Moreover, the public condemnation of some of these groups, as well as the stigmatization of their members, has led to certain forms of discrimination, in particular vis-à-vis their children.

And she made the following recommendations:

112. The Special Rapporteur urges the Government to ensure that its mechanisms for dealing with these religious groups or communities of belief deliver a message based on tolerance, freedom of religion or belief and on the principle that no one can be judged for his actions other than through the appropriate judicial channels.

113. Moreover, she recommends that the Government monitor more closely preventive actions and campaigns that are conducted throughout the country by private initiatives or Government-sponsored organizations, in particular within the school system in order to avoid children of members of these groups being negatively affected.

Far from complying with these recommendations, the French authorities continue to finance anti-sect activists and are now trying to export their policy of systematic discrimination against the followers of new religious movements and their children to other European countries. The Questionnaire includes such questions as:

a)      Are there any organisations active in combating abuses by sects, and in particular protecting minors and/or helping them to leave sects?

b)      If so, do they receive financial assistance from the state?

It goes on with questions regarding minors and education:

a)      Can religious movements establish private schools? If so, are there any schools established by « new religious movements » or sects?

b)      Do they receive financial assistance from the state?

Following a fact-finding visit to Stockholm in connection with the preparation of his report on protection of minors against sectarian influence, Mr. Rudy Salles has ascertained in December 2012 that Sweden is too lax, that its national education system, particularly the arrangements for funding private schools, together with the system for registering associations, embody defects that might be used by sects.

The terminology used in the Questionnaire leaves no doubt on what groups are targeted. New religious movements are specifically named as the groups against which discriminatory measures should be adopted.

This policy contravenes international human rights standards. In its General Comment n° 22, the UN Human Rights Committee formulated clear principles in this regard:

2. Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms « belief » and « religion » are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.

In furtherance of its discriminatory policy, the French Ministry of National Education has adopted on 22 March 2012 a Circular addressed to education authorities of primary and high schools entitled « Prevention and Fight against Sectarian Risks ». Any child in a situation of « sectarian risk » has to be reported to the authorities. The Circular provides the following explanation of what constitutes a « sectarian risk »:

« A situation of sectarian risk, for a child, is therefore the one in which some views and practices are imposed on him with the exception of any other views or practice. This situation is likely to harm his intellectual development, his social integration and finally his attainment of autonomy. The risk concerns not only the content of the knowledge passed on, the possibility of access to the values and pluralism of democratic societies, but also the possibility for the child to develop and exert a critical mind, an independent judgment. »

In the French authorities’ view, the « sectarian risk » is clearly constituted by the beliefs of followers of new or minority religious movements, which they consider as harmful. This reasoning violates the believers’ right to raise their children according to their own beliefs protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also is discriminatory in that it does not target historic religions, and religious education such as Catechism.

The French policy and initiative at European level constitute an outright violation of international human rights norms and have no place in a human rights institution such as the Council of Europe.

ANNEX

Questionnaire for the European Centre for Parliamentary Research & Documentation (ECPRD)/ Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

In connection with his report on « The protection of minors against sectarian influence« , the rapporteur (Mr Rudy Salles, France, EPP/CD) wishes to look into certain issues relating to the scale of the phenomenon of sects in Europe and current legislation protecting minors against the dangers of sects.

He would therefore like to obtain further information on the following questions:

Religious movements and sects

a)    Does your country have an official list (drawn up by the public authorities) of religions, « new religious movements » and/or sects?

b)    Can « new religious movements » and religious movements which may be suspected of engaging in sect-like activities receive state financial assistance?

c)    What are the criteria for registering « new religious movements »?

d)    What is the legal status of religious movements which may be suspected of engaging in sect-like activities (religious denominations or ordinary non-profit organisations)?

e)    Is there a public body specialising in preventing and combating abuses by sects and protecting minors against them, or a body responsible for collecting data on the phenomenon of sects?

Legislation against abuses by sects

a)    Does your country have legislation which:

–       deals with and/or defines « sects » and « abuses by sects »?

–       concerns specifically the illegal activities of sects, and particularly those targeting minors?

b)    Does your country recognise the offence of « fraudulent abuse of weakness » of persons in a state of psychological or physical subjection? If not, on what legal basis are abuses by sects punished?

 c)    Does your country’s legislation permit the dissolution of legal entities which engage in activities designed to exploit persons in a state of psychological or physical subjection?

d)    In criminal cases concerning abuses by sects, can non-profit organisations join the proceedings as civil parties claiming damages?

f)     Is there a register of cases of abuses by sects involving minors?

Parliamentary initiatives to combat abuses by sects

a)    Is there, or has there been, a parliamentary committee of enquiry or a study group on the activities of sects, and in particular on minors who have been the victims of abuses by sects? If so, what are the results of its work (reports, recommendations, findings etc.)?

b)    Are there currently initiatives in Parliament to increase protection for minors against the influence of sects?

Education and sects

a)    Can religious movements establish private schools? If so, are there any schools established by « new religious movements » or sects?

b)    Do they receive financial assistance from the state?

c)    What is the legal framework governing these confessional schools? Do they provide religious education?

d)    What is the extent of state supervision in these confessional schools?

e)    Have there been cases in which authorisation to establish a school has not been granted to a « new religious movement » or has been withdrawn?

Other measures to combat abuses by sects targeting minors

a)    What educational or awareness-raising measures (circulars, publications, seminars etc.) are taken by the public authorities to address the problem of abuses by sects affecting minors (sexual abuse, psychological abuse, ill-treatment etc.)?

b)    Are there any organisations active in combating abuses by sects, and in particular protecting minors and/or helping them to leave sects?

c)    If so, do they receive financial assistance from the state?

Author: admin

CAPLC (European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience). This ONG follows a humanist universal call towards peace, brotherhood and tolerance regarding all human beings. It stemmed out of the following observations: -worldwide, an unparalleled crisis of civilisation, aggravated by recurrent economic, social and financial upheavals pours on mankind an array of evils and disasters: genocide, poverty, unemployment, starvation, terrorism, crime, drugs, extinction of species…

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