Last Articles

OSCE HDIM 2017: Intervention on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

The Individual Responsibility for a Harmonious Society

Working Session #9 of the 2017 OSCE HDIM was based on the concepts of tolerance and non-discrimination, with a focus on the critical role that education plays in promoting tolerance, countering racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, aggressive nationalism and other forms of intolerance, including against Muslims, Christians and members of other religions.

Soteria International considered it important to inform the 57 delegates of the OSCE and the representatives of civil society, of the opinion that in order to decrease and eliminate discrimination and non-tolerance we need to look more profoundly to solve the sources that are generating such attitudes on the individual and social level. In this forum, Soteria, therefore, addressed the fact that inner conflicts are generating external conflicts and vice versa. Thus, we must incude a greater understanding and  knowledge of others, their traditions, and their spiritual beliefs, thereby eliminating the source of the conflict.

The intervention can be accessed on the OSCE website, as well as, read below:

OSCE – HDIM 2017

WORKING SESSION 9 – Tolerance and non-discrimination, 15 Sept 2017

The Individual Responsibility for a Harmonious Society

It is a major obligation of all OSCE member states to combat discrimination and substantial resources are invested to diminish the symptoms of discrimination and non-tolerance.  Still, discrimination and non-tolerance continue to challenge our societies. 

Discrimination and non-tolerance are often considered to be the offspring of inner conflicts in society, and it is the inner conflicts of individuals which are reflected in the outer conflicts of society.

Soteria International would like to suggest that we consider the inner conflicts of individuals as the basis for discrimination and non-tolerance.

Finding coherence in one’s own being is the only way to reach a deep sense of meaning in life and harmoniously integrate in society. A society without discrimination and non-tolerance is possible only when individuals become actively aware of their feelings, thoughts, words, and actions. Ultimately, only inner transformation will ensure proper fulfilment in life, allowing peace and harmony to come, thereby, opposing discrimination and non-tolerance at all levels.

Addressing the outer conflicting situation as the base of discrimination and non-tolerance disregards the seed inside the individual, always awaiting the right conditions to grow into outer conflict. Conflicts can only be addressed at the individual level, by engaging the individual as a whole, centred in the heart.

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OSCE HDIM 2017: Intervention on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

Freedom of Expression and Religious Rights: Rights and Obligations

Working Session #7 of the 2017 OSCE HDIM was based on the concepts of tolerance and non-discrimination, with a focus on combating racism, xenophobia, and discrimination; combating anti-Semitism and intolerance and discrimination against Christians, Muslims, and members of other religions; and prevention and response to hate crimes in the OSCE area.

Soteria international addressed the fact that freedoms come hand in hand with obligations, or responsibilities. We cannot just claim our rights without considering, also, our obligations and the consequences of our actions. Words have power; even in the physical world. What we say can affect the physical welfare of a person, a group of people, or even a nation. We, therefore, suggest, that holding ourselves accountable to what we say and do with our opinions or ideas is the solution in correctly implementing the freedom of expression. Exercising self-control by learning how to control our speech, while also considering the fact that we all have different capacities to handle words or criticism. It is limiting someone’s freedom of speech when asking them to behave properly, with common sense, and with respect for others.

The intervention can be accessed on the OSCE website, as well as, read below:

OSCE – HDIM 2017

WORKING SESSION 7 – Tolerance and non-discrimination 1, 14 Sept 2017

Freedom of Expression and Religious Rights: Rights and Obligations

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Expression are points of concern in all OSCE member states. The complex interaction between these fundamental freedoms has changed in the last decade, through the impact of social media and demographic changes related to immigration. Freedom of expression and Freedom of thought, conscience and belief often seem to clash in the form of blasphemy, discrimination, hate-crimes etc. Still, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and belief are two sides of the same fundamental inner human need to express and live by ones’ own heart, without denying anyone else the same freedom.

All who engage in social media need to be aware that freedom of expression is not an absolute right in the public sphere.

Freedom of thought, conscience and belief is a central commitment in all OSCE member states, and constitute the basis of tolerance and non-discrimination. Despite many national and international efforts, individuals and religious or belief communities face a range of issues characterized by intolerance, discrimination, and hate speech towards their beliefs. These challenges have profound roots in the lack of education at a social level.

At the core of the human rights dimension lies the commitment to combat all forms of intolerance and discrimination, including hate crime, and to promote mutual respect and understanding.

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Freedom of Expression & Religious Rights: Struggles & Challenges

Soteria International's Perspective

Both the Danish Institute for Human Rights, in their Status Report for 2016-2017, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, who published his observations from a visit to Denmark in 2016 this March, have stated that freedom of expression and freedom of conscience, thought, and belief  are under pressure in Denmark. So there’s an argument to address both of these freedoms in the Danish context.

Let’s first establish a common understanding for the basis of what we’re discussing today. Firstly, human rights law protects the rights of everyone and is based on the principle of non-discrimination. The rights we have are interrelated and equally important, yet are legally implemented in different ways due to the principles of proportionality and the pursuit of a legitimate aim. Any interference with our protected rights must therefore be embedded in national law and be made public in order to protect citizens from inconsistent or unclear rulings.

Secondly, the freedoms we have are composed of both rights and responsibilities that are our obligation to uphold, promote, and encourage at all times. It is also the responsibility of individuals, groups, and associations to promote respect for and foster knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.

We would like to argue that the two rights we will speak about today, the Freedom of Conscience, thought, and belief and freedom of expression, go hand in hand and cannot be seen as independent and separate rights, but instead we can say that freedom of conscience is a form of freedom of expression and vice versa.

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Conference Summary

Freedom of Expression and Religious Rights: Struggles and Challenges

The second conference of our 2017 Spiritual Human Rights series, hosted by Soteria International and ENAR Denmark, was attended representatives with a variety of backgrounds, including spiritual practitioners, academics, law, students, and human rights activists.

Konrad Swenninger, of Soteria International, moderated the conference and set the stage by stating the need to raise the level of the conversation that is being had on the topics of the freedom of expression, and the freedom of conscience, thought, and belief.

The speakers of the panel included: Josephine Carlson from Soteria International, Jens-Peter Bonde, a former member of the European Parliament; Siri Tellier from the University of Copenhagen; Advaita Stoian representing Natha Yoga Center; Jette Møller from SOS Against Racism; Anette Refstrup from the Church of Scientology in Denmark; and Bashy Quraishy representing European network against racism ENAR.

The general theme was the unfortunate and actual situation in many European countries where the rights of minorities, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression seem to clash due to social tensions that manifest as hate speech and defamation of certain cultural and spiritual groups. Each one of the participants brought their unique view to the table, and the audience participated with comments and questions.

Josephine Carlson, the representative from Soteria International, defined freedom of expression and religious freedoms and stated that they don’t necessary have to be seen as conflicting. In the both of these freedoms the core idea is everybody’s right and ability to express him/herself and to live in his/her own truth from the heart. She also pointed out that the verbal violence is a form of violence that also can have severe consequences and that it’s important for all people to aim to respect the principle of “do no harm.” According to Carlson, the mature merging of these two fundamental rights is possible when human beings take a higher perspective upon them and cease to see them as opposing.

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Press release - The Romanian yoga teacher, Gregorian Bivolaru, is released from prison

The Romanian yoga teacher, Gregorian Bivolaru, has been released from prison in his country of origin. The conditional release was requested and granted after serving one third of the sentence.

Thousands of yoga practitioners suffered the consequences of persecution in Romanian as the yoga movement was targeted, beginning during the Ceausescu times and culminating in 2004.

The yoga teacher, Gregorian Bivolaru, has had refugee status in Sweden since 2006, based on his religious persecution, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. In 2016, however, he was arrested in France and extradited to Romania. Thus, international laws were jeopardized, when Romanian authorities defied EU regulations by continuing the persecution and issuing a European Arrest Warrant in 2013. This created a unique and controversial situation within the EU judicial collaboration, where the refugee was simultaneously protected and persecuted.

The much awaited release of Mr. Bivolaru does not reflect an official change in the ongoing persecution of the yoga teacher.

The relief of his release cannot take away from the importance of the abuses committed in the case, and the struggle for justice within the Romanian system should continue. 

Soteria International has been following this case since 2007 and shares the joy of Mr. Bivolaru's long awaited release. May his release inspire international human rights activists, politicians, and experts to further engage themselves in the defence of human rights.


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OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2017

Invitation to Side Event

Soteria International & Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience (CAP) invite you to our upcoming conference, hosted at the OSCE HDIM 2017: 

Date & Time: Friday, September 15 from 8:30-9:45am

Venue: OSCE HDIM 2017, National Stadium, Meeting Room 2

Address: Aleja Poniatowskiego 1, 03-901 Warsaw, Poland

Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion as two points of concern in Europe. The complex interaction between these two freedoms is becoming more apparent in our diverse society, where the cultural norms are being challenged by globalization. Europe is, thus, standing at a crossroads, where on one hand, it wants to maintain a well-functioning society, while also integrating diverse groups that reside here in a congruent way.

Freedom of religion or belief is a central commitment in the OSCE area, in direct relation to the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination, to raising awareness of religious diversity. In the present, individuals, religious or beliefs communities face a range of issues that continue to be challenged by intolerance and discrimination towards their beliefs, with profound roots in the lack of education at a social level.

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The Order of the Solar Temple

A Summary of the Case

The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS, which can be accessed in it's original language (French) here.

The Order of the Solar Temple

A Summary by CICNS

TFI stated in 2001, that "the various massacres linked to the Order of the Solar Temple, occurring at the same time as various other international scandals linked to sectarian movements, have strongly contributed to a stronger movement against sects in France."

Today we can see how these highly publicized tragedies cause panic and affect judgments and hatred. The public is poorly informed with regards to the grey area of all these cases. They are only provided with the perspective that incites fear.

The Order of the Solar Temple, or OST, became notorious with five murders: on September 30, 1994, five members of the Solar Temple died in a house fire in Morin Heights, Quebec. On October 5, 1994, 48 charred bodies were found in Switzerland, 23 in Cheiry, and 25 in Granges-sur-Salvan, including the two masters of the Solar Temple, Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro. On December 15, 1995, 16 people burned in a clearing in the Vercors, including 3 children, and the wife and the son of Jean Vuarnet. March 22, 1997, five followers of the Solar Temple, including three French, were charred in Saint-Casimir, Quebec.

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