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.