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

11 04 2014



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:



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:




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Sects or Religions?

6 12 2012


By Willy Fautré, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers [1]

Is there a distinction to be made between “cults” or “sects” and religions? Should religious freedom be only accessible to so-called historical religions and their members? Should other minority religious or spiritual movements called “sects” or “cults” be denied the enjoyment of the provisions of international declarations and covenants guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief?

Is there a difference between a sect or cult and a religion?

International instruments guarantee freedom of religion or belief and not only religious freedom.

Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“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.”

Article 18.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees the right to freedom of conscience and religion in the following terms:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

The United Nations, religious experts, and UN treaty-based bodies have consistently found that the expression “religion or belief,” as well as the individual terms “religion” and “belief,” must be construed broadly to include non-traditional religions and all forms of belief.

In particular, the UN Human Rights Committee provided in its General Comment No 22 on the interpretation to be given to Article 18 of the ICCPR on the Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion[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.(emphasis added)

Furthermore, the 1996 Annual Report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom makes clear the Rapporteur’s opinion on the broad scope of the term “religion” and the need for equal treatment of all religions, including so called “sects” or “cults”.  First, the Rapporteur 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.”

Second, the Special Rapporteur then explained:

“Religions cannot be distinguished from sects on the basis of quantitative considerations saying that a sect, unlike a religion, has a small number of followers.  This is in fact not always the case.  It runs absolutely counter to the principle of respect and protection of minorities, which is upheld by domestic and international law and morality.  Besides, following this line of argument, what are the major religions if not successful sects?”

“Again, one cannot say that sects should not benefit from the protection given to religion just because they have no chance to demonstrate their durability.  History contains many examples of dissident movements, schisms, heresies and reforms that have suddenly given birth to religions or religious movements.”

And finally the Rapporteur concluded by writing that:

“All in all, the distinction between a religion and a sect is too contrived to be acceptable.  A sect that goes beyond simple belief and appeals to a divinity, or at the very least, to the supernatural, the transcendent, the absolute, or the sacred, enters into the religious sphere and should enjoy the protection afforded to religions.”[3]

The terminology to be used when discussing these issues is of utmost importance. The UN language in this regard is neutral and universal. It is not influenced by the perception in a particular cultural and religious context or in a particular part of the world, such as European and American countries with Christian traditions.

The UN experts and treaty bodies use the neutral term “religious or belief systems” to cover the broad spectrum of religions and worldviews, and the term “religious or belief communities” to encompass the various forms of religious, spiritual and non-religious communities or organizations. They never endorse the terms “sects” or “cults”.


First conclusion, all religious or belief communities around the world and their members are treated equally by the UN. Therefore they must be treated equally by Governments and must have access to the same rights and also the same duties as other citizens. Governments have a duty to neutrality and they should not discriminate against specific religious or belief communities nor should they adopt a specific law that puts specific mechanisms and implements specific policies to target specific groups. Last but not least, Governments also have a duty to protect their citizens against any infringement upon their rights regardless of their religion or belief.

Second conclusion, freedom of religion or belief is indivisible. If a faith or a belief community, their leaders or their religious ministers violate laws which are consistent with international standards, they must be prosecuted. If a member of a religious or belief community violates the laws, he/she must be prosecuted but his/her community should not be stigmatized on this ground.

FECRIS – Inquisiton of the 21st century

2 12 2012

The Inquisition was an ecclesiastical body of Catholic Church set up in medieval times to search and destroy any attempt of heresy. Although the times of the Inquisition are far behind us, people who wish to punish any form of belief outside of the frame of historic religions, are still among us.

FECRIS, acronym for Fédération Européenne des Centres de Recherche et d’Information sur le Sectarisme (European Federation of Centers for Research and Information on Sects), is an umbrella organization of about 25 anti-religious organization from 16 countries. A key objective of FECRIS is establishment of European Observatory on groups of religious, esoteric or spiritual nature so that anti-religious groups in various countries can exchange information. In the minds of FECRIS members any and every minority religion is labeled as “sect” and attacked in orchestrated media campaigns. The only real product of FECRIS is increased intolerance of minority religions in several European countries.

The Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews recently published a 200 pages long research of the Human Rights Without Frontiers under title larger image Freedom of Religion or Belief, Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality/A Case Study: FECRIS.

Central-European Religious Freedom Institute commands this book to all individuals and organizations caring about human rights and religious freedom.

HRWF-logoPDF version is available at the web site of Human Rights Without Frontiers by clicking on the logo of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

Paper copies of the book can be ordered directly from the publisher by writing to or by clicking on picture below.



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