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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Protest against religious discrimination in EU

2 04 2014

1 International-Religious-Freedom

 

By Gerhard Wilts / Nederlands Dagblad

 

STRASBOURG – More than sixty humanitarian and religious organizations in Europe are protesting heavily against a plan to set up a watchdog against cults. The plan of the French politician Rudy Salles is a profound violation of the freedom of religion.

Sixty-four organizations and spiritual leaders from Europe and the United States are “deeply concerned” about the proposal of Salles which will be submitted next week in the Council of Europe. In a joint statement they asked President Anne Brasseur of the Council of Europe to send the proposal back to the Committee on Legislation and Human Rights.

Salles advocates the establishment of an ‘observation centre that serves to protect minors against sectarian influences’. In the draft report Salles suggests that the extent of “sectarian excesses” increases and more and more young people are at risk. To prove that trend Salles has gotten a questionnaire filled out and did two visits, to Germany and Sweden.

The joint organizations think that Salles’ proposal to monitor religious splinter groups is a threat to fundamental human rights, like the freedom of religions and the right of parents to raise their children to their own judgement. In addition the establishment of an observation centre against sects affects the neutral position of governments towards churches.

The European Evangelical Alliance (EEA), the Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF) and other agencies turn themselves with strong words against the proposal. “The evidence Salles comes up with is thin slice. The report should be rejected ,” says Christel Ngambi, spokesman for the EEA. The Alliance is a partnership of fifteen million evangelical Christians in 34 European countries.

“Europe has adequate laws and safeguards against illegal practices of sects, “says Ngambi.” Salles wants the Council of Europe to radically change direction. His proposal is at odds with decisions and declarations of the council in the past 22 years.” In addition, the 47 EU member states have sufficient laws to guarantee the rights of children in religious minorities.

Mr. Peter Zöhrer, General Secretary of FOREF adds that Salles has not complied with the required impartiality of rapporteurs. For many years, Salles has been closely associated with the French lobby against sects and a convinced supporter of organizations fighting faiths.” Salles is neutral nor impartial,” says Zöhrer, “and didn’t care for the code of conduct for rapporteurs of the Council of Europe.”

Also the Italian constitutional law professor Pietro Nocita has joined the chorus of opponents. He believes that the establishment of a watchdog against cults is not in line with European principles and fundamental rights. “The European countries have already established legal sanctions against abuses.” He also denounces the superficial definition of “abuse” in the proposal of Salles: “He speaks about a negative influence on young people, that wording is vague and general.”

 

Related posts:
The Institute on Religion and Public Policy stands against discriminatory resolution at Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Religious Freedom – Complaint against French MP Rudy Salles, Rapporteur at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Civic and religious leaders support a motion for religious freedom at Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

 

 





The Venice Commission criticizes the state of religious freedom in Hungary

20 03 2012

The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional law, responded to a request from the government of Hungary for an advisory opinion, by issuing a report on Hungary’s 2011 Act On the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and the Legal Status of Churches, Denominations and Religious Communities. 

The main conclusions of the report are:

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a democratic society. In this respect, it may only be restricted by strict criteria set out in international instruments.

States benefit from a large margin of appreciation with regard to the relationship between the church and the state and with regard to the choice of their policies and regulation in this field. The Venice Commission recognises that there is legitimate concern in Hungary to eliminate the abuse of religious organisations, which have operated for illicit and harmful purposes or for personal gain. One of the main justifications for this new Act is the need to prevent some religious organizations from abusing the possibility of receiving public funding. Although various types of solutions have been found throughout Europe, the European guarantees must not be undermined.

As a whole, the Act constitutes a liberal and generous framework for the freedom of
religion. However, although few in number, some important issues remain problematic and fall short of international standards.

The Act sets a range of requirements that are excessive and based on arbitrary criteria with regard to the recognition of a church. In particular, the requirement related to the national and international duration of a religious community and the recognition procedure, based on a political decision, should be reviewed. This recognition confers a number of privileges to churches concerned.

The Act has led to a deregistration process of hundreds of previously lawfully recognised churches, that can hardly be considered in line with international standards.

Finally, the Act induces, to some extent, an unequal and even discriminatory treatment of religious beliefs and communities, depending on whether they are recognised or not.

The Venice Commission was informed that – as a reaction to the draft opinion – the Government intends to introduce amendments, which is welcome. The Commission had no possibility to examine these proposals but it remains at the disposal of the Hungarian authorities for any further assistance.

For the access to the full text of the report, please click here.





Letter from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary

18 01 2012

Strasbourg, 12/01/12  – “Major legislative changes have been adopted in Hungary after minimal public consultation and without sufficient consideration of crucial human rights principles. Recent decisions affecting the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression and freedom of religion raise serious concerns”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, publishing today a letter addressed to the Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs about the new Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, which deprives a great number of religious denominations of their church status.

Full text of the letter is available in pdf format from the website of Council of Europe. For access to the full text please click here.

Photo courtesy of Council of Europe Image Bank








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