By Mark Barwick, Human Rights Without Frontiers
HRWF (15.07.2015) - When the freedom of religion or belief has been violated, we typically think of actions that have been taken against individuals. This is the lens through which people of Western cultures tend to view human rights, since individuals are normally regarded as the primary right-holders in society. It is also individuals that are held accountable for infractions of the law or for criminal offenses.
However, many people are in prison or are otherwise sanctioned not for something that they have done or for something they believe in, despite the charges that have been made against them. They are there because of their religious or belief identity and association with a group.
The freedom of association is a hallmark of any democratic system. And the freedom of religion or belief itself is understood to include the freedom to practice one's religion "either individually or in community with others," as it is stated in Article 18 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights. It is this community dimension - that is present in most religions and that shapes profoundly religious identity - that can make governments and authorities uneasy. It can trigger actions to monitor, control and even supress that community. And by implication, that means anyone who is associated with that community.
1998-1999 began the launch of China’s suppression of the Falun Gong, a traditional discipline with a big following in China (70-100 million practising). Being an accessible spiritual practise bringing a lot of benefits, Falun Gong was becoming a respected practise and a household name.
As we know, from many of the cases of the infringement of spiritual human rights, any spiritual movement which is increasing in popularity and also, encourages their practitioners to develop an inner freedom, is considered a threat to those governments still existing under corrupt regimes, whether they maybe under the guise of a kind of ‘democracy’ or in this case, a clear cut Communist rule.
Soteria International took part today in the presentation of the first Freedom of Religion or Belief World Report done by The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance (EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT)
We reproduce here their press release of the event:
European Parliament Intergroup presents its first Freedom of Religion or Belief World Report
(03.06.2015) - The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance (EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT) presented its first Annual Report on the 'State of Freedom of Religion or Belief' at an event hosted by the Intergroup in collaboration with United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Speakers included the Chairs of the EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT and USCIRF as well as the Director of Human Rights at the European External Action Service (EEAS).
We will bring a series of articles regarding the witch-hunt effects in society, displacing the rule of law, when spiritual groups are confronted with allegations of sexual abuse.
We start with an article by André Tarassi published by “Centre d'Information et de Conseil des Nouvelles Spiritualités” – CICNS, in 2006.
"Spiritual Minorities and sexual abuse?
By André Tarassi
Anne A. Simpkinson, whose remarks are intended to denounce sexual deviance in spiritual groups in the United States, says in her book "Betrayal of the Soul": In the mid-1980s, the wave of articles detailing the accusations against Catholic priests about their conduct with teenagers, has unleashed a series of revelations about the behaviour of many spiritual authorities in almost all religions. Since then, new charges arise regularly. There is hardly a month without something new emerging about a priest, a rabbi, a pastor, a rishi or accused swami resigning because of sexual abuse. It would be tempting to point to one group or another and say "it's their fault, if we put them all in prison if they were eliminated, there would be no more of this abuse!”
On March 30, an important event was hosted by the European Parliament, a public hearing on fundamental rights in the European Union.
The main goal of this public hearing was to contribute to the on-going dialogue on the mechanisms and methods meant to better defend the rule of law and the fundamental rights of people in the Union, and to allow for an assessment of the Union's efforts to guard and promote its common values.
The public hearing has gathered institutional actors, researchers and organisations of the civil society to discuss the situation of fundamental rights in the EU. The first session focused on the Union's recent initiatives to protect and promote fundamental rights and the rule of law and on the Union's institutional framework in this field. Among the spokespersons were: First Vice-President of the Commission - Timmermans, Chair of Council's Working Party on Fundamental Rights, Citizens Rights and Free Movement of Persons (EU accession to ECHR) - Kristīne Līce, Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice - Kokott, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights - Muižnieks, and Amnesty International. The second session focused on specific threats to fundamental rights in the European Union, rallying the Fundamental Rights Agency, organisations of civil society and several experts. One also presented the recent study on "The impact of the crisis on fundamental rights across the Member States of the EU," conducted at LIBE's request.
The First Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights, Frans Timmermans participated to the „Inter-religious Dialogue” event which took place in the European Parliament on 24 March 2015.
Here is his intervention in its entirety:
“That was a very powerful speech (referring to the intervention of Mr. Schulz, the President of the European Parliament), I don’t know what we might add to what you already said. Just to underscore what Martin Schulz has just said. I profoundly believe in his message. I also profoundly believe in the fact that we face arguably the biggest challenge to European society since the end of the Second World War.
It is an element of human nature and especially an element in European history that whenever we are in trouble we go and look for someone to blame and traditionally we start with the Jews. You would have thought, 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz that we would have lost that part of our tradition, but apparently we haven’t.
On Tuesday, 24th March, in Brussels, the European Parliament hosted a conference of MEPs and religious community leaders with a very actual subject in debate, namely “The rise of religious radicalism and fundamentalism and the role of inter-religious dialogue in the promotion of tolerance and respect for human dignity”.
The conference has been opened by the Parliament’s First President, Mr Antonio Tajani and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mrs Federica Mogherini.
The event had 2 parts, first part was about “The rise of religious radicalism and fundamentalism” led by Mr Elmar Brok, the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the second part presented the subject „Promoting tolerance and respect for human dignity” led by Mr Claude Moraes, the Chairman of the Committee on Civil liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
Following the regrettable events that took place lately in Paris, Verviers or Copenhagen, high representatives of various religions, Christians, Jews, Islamists but also of the laity, together with important political figures, by the side of four thousand citizens, all united under the common slogan “Together in Peace – Liberté et respect” have demonstrated in Brussels, hand in hand, on the 15th of March 2015, against any act of terrorism. The demonstrators have passed on their route by a number of places of worship in Brussels, as the El-Jadid Mosque, the Orthodox Cathedral on the Stalingradlaan, the Our Lady of the Zavel Church and Brussels’ main Synagogue on the Regentschapstraat.
Soteria International is pleased to see that the European Parliament adopted the Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy done by The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance.
In this report, important religious global issues are being addressed, such as the escalating persecution of religious or belief minorities by ISIS and the continued human rights violations of Rohinya Muslims in Burma.
However, we hope coming reports will include also other religious and spiritual groups whose rights have been violated, such as Yoga practitioners, Baha’is and other less publicised spiritual and religious minorities.
Also, it is a striking lack that the EU does not make any report on the blatant and increasing violations of freedom of religion and belief inside the European Union.
At the OSCE HDIM 2014 Soteria International presented several situations where volunteer work is abusively prosecuted as human trafficking and labour exploitation, when undertaken by spiritual seekers. Since the side event in Warszaw, the topic has been further highlighted in interreligious roundtable discussions in Brussels.
In January 2015 Soteria International composed a letter signed by 36 NGOs and indiviuals, religious leaders, human rights advocates and practitioners addressed to the European Commission. The letter presented briefly cases from Italy, Germany and Romania.
The First Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr Frans Timmermans, answered in the begining of March 2015 making reference of the principle of subsidiarity.
After more than 10 years, the Romanian court completely acquitted the 21 people from MISA yoga school, accused of human trafficking. For ten years, the media has continued a witch hunt on MISA yoga school, who is now fully acquitted of all accusations. The decision found much of the evidence put forth by the prosecution to be unfounded or illegal. Again we face a large scale fake-trial against a spiritual movement, with grave violations of the fundamental rights of thousands of yoga practitioners.
The trial was part of the internationally questioned Romanian campaign against the MISA yoga school. The campaign started in 2004 with the largest police action in post-communist Romanian history. Under the pretext of national security, 300 armed gendarmes raided 16 private houses belonging to yogis.
On 27th January 2015, Soteria International attended an event at the European Parliament with the subject of ‘What do MEPs do with their beliefs?’ It was an event hosted by the Intergroup on Freedom of Religion and Belief and Religious Tolerance. This included a presentation of a survey amongst MEPs by Professor Foret, coordinator of religion at the European Parliament Project.
Dennis de Jong MEP, the host of the event, emphasised the importance of this study saying that it was the first time that religion was looked at in the life of an MEP. He said for many MEPs religion remains something that they keep at home and there is also a consensus to leave things as they are and to regulate spirituality at home i.e. for some they choose to see that the EU is not the place for religious affairs. He observed that possibly new member states are more conservative and less secularised that old member states. And he mentioned that we should be aware to differentiate between religious influences and cultural differences e.g. in the case of Turkey. He also underlined that the survey is not entirely reliable when only 20% of the MEPs completed the survey.
Throughout the years, Soteria International have encountered several situations where volunteer work is prosecuted as human trafficking and labour exploitation, when undertaken by spiritual seekers. We will present here briefly cases from Italy, Germany and Romania.
The idea of this common letter surfaced during discussions at the latest roundtable at the IRF (International Religious Freedom), where amongst many other matters we discussed the difficult situation of voluntary work in our society, when performed as part of a spiritual or religious path.
We will address the European authorities to solve this principle violation of fundamental rights.
This common letter will be signed by a large number of NGOs from the IRF and elsewhere, and sent to the European Commission.
If you want to support this project, please send us an email before Friday next week (30 January 2015), in which you mention your organization, or if you individually, will be amongst those signing this joint letter.
On 23rd October 2014, during discussions at the latest Roundtable at the IRF (International Religious Freedom Roundtable), amongst many other matters, we were informed by the representatives of „Twelve Tribes” of their difficult situation in Germany.
The IRF Roundtable is an informal group of individuals from non-governmental organisations who gather regularly to discuss IRF issues on a non-attribution basis. It is simply a safe space where participants gather, speak freely in sharing ideas and information, and propose joint advocacy actions to address specific IRF issues and problems.
Not very late after this discussion, we received the report done by FOREF - Forum for Religious Freedom Europe regarding the “Twelve Tribes” case.
Here is part of this report:
GERMANY: Controversy Surrounding “Twelve Tribes” – Sociologist Warns against Targeted Misinformation by Sect Experts - FOREF Reports Exclusively
FOREF (01.01.2015) - A good 20 years ago, a branch of the religious community "Twelve Tribes" was established in Germany. In August 2013, the community was prohibited from running a school of their own since they discipline their children corporally - although in a soft manner, as the community emphasizes.
Since last summer, Soteria International is one of the members of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FoB) which is a free society of culture and information independent from any party. The association is inspired by the principles of democratic participation, of solidarity and social promotion, of autonomy and responsibility.
Recently, FoB took action regarding the continuous misunderstanding or misuse of some terms, eg “cult”.
Here it is the open letter:
FOB (Freedom Of Belief) wishes to express their deep shock at the article “Cults and gurus grow up – the institutions turn a blind eye” by Carmine Gazzanni, published by your magazine on the 8th of January 2015. The word “cult”, whose use was already discouraged as long as fifteen years ago by the Council of Europe, is devoid of any scientific value and is used solely to arbitrarily stigmatize some religious minorities. This kind of propaganda already generated several violations of human rights in our continent as well as in our country: since two years the Italy case is being carried out at the OSCE, due to the persecution of harmless groups labeled as “cults”.
The conflict can be solved by communion of the hearts and not by rearranging the same forces that have initially triggered the conflict.
As humans, we have our senses – they connect us with the material, outside world. We have our reason, that connects us with the subtle world of ideas. All our theses, positions, opinions, truths reffer to this mind of ours, this reason. The mind takes hold of what the senses provide and build for us the rational world we usually live in.
The french thinker Pascal though, in the 17th century, thought that us, as human being, are possesed of yet another organ that further expands our world, our knowledge: the heart. He reasons that when we are in love, or have done somthing terrible, or in other such cases, the reaction that we feel we experience it in the region of the heart, in the middle of our chest. Its not something you feel it belongs in the head, or in the feet – its something that’s connected to the heart.
Some years ago, Soteria International started a collaboration with various spiritual associations and organisations defending spiritual human rights.
Thus, the first step was made i.e. working closely together and giving a louder voice within modern society, becoming more visible to policy makers and other important social bodies. Also, such initiatives became a source of inspiration for similar groups to manifest among other spiritual organisations or organisations defending spiritual rights. The debates were focused on different topics, as for example, last year, where the danger of mind manipulation was explored and its influence upon the human ability of self-determination and on how it could be counter balanced by a strengthened freedom of thought, conscience and belief.
If last year the debates were still oriented more to identify problems or conflicts coming from outside, this year the approach was different, going towards a more functional and very efficient solution: what do we need to do in order to make these external problems and conflicts be significantly reduced? The Greek Γνώθι σεαυτόν (Gnothi seauton) or, temet nosce in Latin was the incentive that seemed to inspire all participants in their speeches and sharing experiences: know thyself and you will know the Universe together with all its laws, its hidden energies and forces. Briefly, solving inner conflicts appears as being the best possibility to significantly reduce outer conflicts.
Spiritual Human Rights 2014 Conference
Soteria International in collaboration with:
Ananda Assisi Italy - http://www.ananda.it/en
Damanhur - http://www.damanhur.org/
FOB - European Federation for Freedom of Belief - http://freedomofbelief.net/
LAYMS –League for Antidefaimation of Yoga and Spiritual Movements - http://www.layms.net/
Truth Seminar – http://www.truthseminar.net
SRS - Spirituality, Religions and Sectarianism - http://www.dimarzio.info/en/
invite you in the heart to participate to this process of finding coherent ways to solve the conflicts during the 7th Spiritual Human Rights conference.
Spiritual Human Rights 2014 Conference
Copenhagen, 10th December 2014, from 10.00 - 16.00
„New paradigm of conflict management based on the concept of Concordia, or coherence of the hearts
The conflicting state is the product of unilateral actions, lacking the horizon opened up by the understanding of other different viewpoints than our own.
Nature itself is a permanent regaining of the state of harmony and balance, an action of permanent compensation of apparently conflicting forces. The universe provides us with the most eloquent example of transformation of conflicting forces into complementary forces, the difference between the two aspects being as big as that between death and life.
Spiritual systems say in unison that there is a fundamental unity of the universal consciousness, a unique origin of everything that exists. The purpose of spirituality in general is to provide the path for regaining this universal, unifying factor, starting from the individual consciousness.
During our side event „Shamanic Practices and related health and spiritual issues”, we had with a Danish shaman in apprenticeship from the Amazonian Sipibo-tribe, Jan Hansen, which is now convicted to 6 month imprisonment due to his beliefs.
Here is his story:
„My name is Jan Hansen, and I am a Danish shaman. After many years of meditation, psychotherapy and living with Buddhist monks in Thailand I came to Peru in 2007 to learn shamanic tradition from the Amazon’ Shipibo-tribe. After some years my Maestro invited me to be his apprentice, and since then I have practiced as a shaman. (...)
There are spiritual traditions, as the shamanic practices, that are spread around the globe, in Asia, South and Central America, and even Europe. These systems have roots going back hundreds and even thousands of years.
We had as guest at “Shamanic Practices and related health and spiritual issues” side event OSCE – HDIM 2014 a Sami shaman, Jungle Svonni.
Here is his presentation:
„My name is Jungle Svonni, and I am a Sami shaman. We Sami are the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula. Currently our land is occupied by Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. My family migrates with our reindeers between Sweden in winter and Norway in summer.
Our ancestral culture and religion is shamanic. However, the colonizing countries, like Sweden and Norway, have for centuries acted to exterminate our religion. By cutting our spiritual connection to nature through shamanism, the connection of all our culture is lost.