COUNCIL OF EUROPE: Attempt to introduce anti-religious legislation, rejected by Parliamentary Assembly

11 04 2014

PACE

PRESS RELEASE BY EUROPEAN INTERRELIGIOUS FORUM FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM & ALL FAITHS NETWORK

10 Apr. 2014 – STRASBOURG The recommendations of French MP Rudy Salles which would have had the effect of exporting French anti-religious policies to the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe has not been adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

All Salles´ recommendations – identified by former International Helsinki Federation Director Dr. Aaron Rhodes as “a recipe for discrimination and intolerance” and something that would “provide cover for arbitrary interference in religious life” – were cancelled. Instead, a completely different proposal was proposed and adopted:

“The Assembly therefore calls on the member states to sign and/or ratify the relevant Council of Europe conventions on child protection and welfare if they have not already done so”.

Salles´ proposals to establish information centres, establish a European observatory, carry out specialist training and a range of other actions on groups he derogatorily called ´sects´ – were all rejected by the Parliamentary Assembly.

Over 80 dedicated human rights organization and experts in criminal law, religious freedom and human rights from throughout the world, as well as a petition signed by more than 10,000 signatories, addressed the President Ms Anne Brasseur and key political figures of the Parliamentary Assembly asking for the proposed antireligious recommendations to be rejected.

While religious minorities still need to be alert to attempts of repressive individuals who try to use government positions to impose restrictive policies, the final resolution protects minors of religious minorities in light of article 9 of the Convention. At the same time it requests the Member States to implement policies of non-discrimination between traditional, non-traditions, new religious movements and “sects”, as can be seen in point 9 of the final resolution:

“9. The Assembly calls on member States to ensure that no discrimination is allowed on the basis of which movement is considered as a sect or not, that no distinction is made between traditional religions and non-traditional religious movements, new religious movements or “sects” when it comes to the application of civil and criminal law, and that each measure which is taken towards non-traditional religious movements, new religious movements or “sects” is aligned with human rights standards as laid down by the European Convention on Human Rights and other relevant instruments protecting the dignity inherent to all human beings and their equal and inalienable rights.”

Attempts by some Parliamentarians to remove the word ´sect´ entirely were rejected – although this was quite contradictory to the main direction of the majority of the amendments that were accepted. This can only be understood in terms of a political compromise where a report, having no factual basis, was thrust upon the Assembly and pushed through on a last-minute basis. Never-the-less, the fact that all the negative and discriminatory proposals were rejected is a positive sign that the Assembly saw through the attempts of Rudy Salles to impose a model of the French discriminatory approach to religious minorities on the rest of Europe.

Full final resolution: http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=20889&lang=en

(END OF THE PRESS RELEASE)

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NOTE BY JURA NANUK, CERFI FOUNDER & PRESIDENT:  Although this resolution is definitely better than the original Rudy Salles’ proposal, I don’t believe we should be satisfied about it. The very fact that such discriminating proposal is being discussed in Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe is a reason to worry.

There is no clear legal definition for the word “sect” and its use represent discrimination in itself. Several PACE Representatives who took part in the discussion recognized discriminatory nature of the use of the term “sect” and spoke openly about it.

Mr. Ghiletchi, Representative from Moldova, said that “the key problem lies in the rapporteur’s approach and insistence on using undefined terms such as “sects”, “sect-like movements” and “excesses” in both the title and text of the report, despite many previous recommendations of the Assembly against such practice. To ask a state to initiate criminal proceedings on the basis of undefined terms runs completely contrary to all that this institution stands for.”

Mr. Wold, Representative from Norway said about the use of the word “sect”, the following: “The use of the term “sect” will establish a restrictive classification system that will stigmatise and marginalise targeted minority faiths. It is notable that in 2005 the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief was critical of the French attempt to stigmatise and label genuine Christian minorities as sects, stating that it could lead to discrimination and limitations on basic fundamental freedoms.”

We don’t have more freedom than 15 years ago. I believe lot of united effort will be needed by all human rights and religious freedom groups to prevent further deterioration of religious freedom in Europe.

The full transcript of the PACE session is available here:
http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/Records/2014/E/1404101530E.htm

 

 

 


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