Its been ten years. Soteria International has grown steadily in the pursuit of securing fundamental freedoms and Spiritual Human Rights for all.
We want to celebrate a decade of success, as our perspectives have been heard, shared and spread all over Europe. Experts, politicians and human rights activists have shared their faith in our principles and commitment!
Despite the reach of our ideas and the positive feedback that followed, we have witnessed a growing trend in the society towards distrust, fear and suspicion regarding the intrinsic value of spiritual human right. Moreover, this trend is fuelled by mainstream media, and the law-makers and governments around Europe seem more inclined to listen to fear-mongers and social media thought-police.
The risk here is that, for fearing the spontaneous and creative nature of man's spirituality, the State is inclined to trample over the individual's basic human right, and far too often this is done in the name of the 'greater good'. As such, we have witnessed a decade of increased surveillance, increased xenophobia and an ever narrowing perspective on what is considered” normal” and acceptable within the society.
So, while celebrating our success in defending the spiritual rights of people all over Europe, we must also be prepared to live up to the increased challenges that are already here. Let us prepare for a decade of effective actions, not just words. Let us explore new ways to awaken the courage needed to live life fully, as complete and free human beings.
The tenth Spiritual Human Rights conference calls on all of us to be the guardian of the fundamental rights of people around us no matter their religion and culture, and never to let fear and ignorance be the measure of our hearts and freedom of conscience.
With the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for the Czech Republic coming up next month, a Round Table National Pre-Session for the UPR of the Czech Republic was held in Prague on October 4, 2017 in order to provide foreign country delegates with the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding the current human rights situation in the Czech Republic. This autumn, the delegates will meet in Geneva in order to present their recommendations in this international forum.
In Section C- Anti-discrimination legislation from the National Report submitted at the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Fourteenth session, Geneva, 2012, at point 29, we find references to the Anti-discrimination legislation, which is based on the constitutional principles of equality in dignity and rights, and on the prohibition of discrimination on illegitimate grounds.
As religion, belief, or world view are among the rights which should be protected and not grounds for discrimination, the event served as an opportunity to raise the attention of participants to a possible misunderstanding of religious practice in the Czech Republic.
Soteria International, the only foreign organization present, was invited to speak on the topic of the effects of globalization and new religious movements on the development of freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, within the national framework of a case that is currently taking place in the Czech Republic.
Along with a network of scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates and practitioners, Soteria International collaborates in order to raise awareness of the growing number of people adopting a spiritual perspective on life, who are often met with a resistant misunderstanding of newly emerging values and principles in society. In some cases, this misunderstanding leads to governmental and institutional intolerance and misunderstanding towards new spiritual and religious movements.
This year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), HRWF brought forth, once again, the case of Jaroslav Dobes ('Guru Jara') and Barbora Plaskova, two Czech nationals who are currently detained in the Philippines due to their inability to acquire valid Czech passports. This is a case, which Soteria International has followed closely since 2014, having conducted an extensive fact-checking mission and subsequent advocacy for.
Here are some excerpts from the intervention presented by HRWF at Working Session 13: Rule of Law II/Right to a fair trial of the 2017 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw by HRWF Int'l:
Detained for 2 1⁄2 years in the Philippines as forcibly undocumented by the Czech authorities
Two Czech citizens, Barbora Plaskova and Jaroslav Dobes, have been respectively detained in the Immigration Detention Center of Bagong Diwa in the Philippines since April and May 2015 on the grounds that their passports were no longer valid.
Jaroslav Dobes and Barbora Plaskova have been living and working for years as yoga teachers in the Philippines and each of them has a child born in the country.
On 14th April 2015 Barbora Plaskova went to the Czech consulate in Manila, in the Philippines, to prolong the validity of her passport but she was denied a new one and she was kept in the Immigration Detention Center in Manila where she still is.
On 15th May 2015, Jaroslav Dobes, was arrested in Surigao del Norte, in the Philippines, where he openly exercised his activities of yoga teacher because his passport was not valid any more. He was immediately sent to the Immigration Detention Center in Manila where he still is.
Both Czech citizens were hereby left “undocumented” by their embassy in the Philippines.
In Prague, the authorities requested and obtained from Interpol the issuance of an international arrest warrant against Jaroslav Dobes and Barbora Plaskova.
Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) International is a reputable NGO seeking to influence "European and international policy in ways that strengthen democracy, uphold the rule of law and protect human rights globally." The organization often takes a particular focus on freedom of religion or belief and publishes an annual World Report on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The following excerpts were presented by HRWF at Working Session 6: Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief of the 2017 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw:
Russia: 170,000 Russian citizens forbidden to practice their faith
Intervention by Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), in cooperation with the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe (FOREF)
Our organization, along with the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe, takes this opportunity to raise once again what is arguably the most flagrant assault on religious freedom to occur in the Euro-Atlantic region since the end of the Soviet Union and its satellite communist regimes in Eastern Europe – namely, the Russian Federation’s illegal ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As we meet here today, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are charged with membership in an “extremist” organization, are being prosecuted for no other crime than their religious faith.
The ban was confirmed by the Russian Supreme Court on the 20th of April 2017. The law makes it a crime for about 170,000 Russian citizens to practice their faith. The denomination has faced increasing persecution in Russia for decades. Indeed, we have warned about the growing persecution of members of this group in Russia for 13 years.
Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen, was arrested for attending a religious meeting of Jehovah’s Witness and was sentenced to a 2-month pretrial detention that has been extended until 23 November. Russia is thus incarcerating a prisoner of conscience in this case.
Still, this unprecedented restriction on the fundamental human right to freedom of religion, a right the Russian Federation is committed to protect as a signatory to the Helsinki documents, and under legal treaty obligations, has been met with only limited and muted criticism. More often than not, the ban has been met by silence indicating indifference. International reaction has not been consistent with the gravity of this massive violation of human rights.
Along with Soteria International, many other NGOs working towards the respect of human rights are involved in revealing the harmful activities and impact of anti-sect organizations. Each year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, the issue of anti-sect organizations is raised with yet new examples of abuses committed since the last meeting. Does the problem persist due to a lack of political will?
Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers Pour la Liberté de Conscience (Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience, or CAP) is one of the organisations with whom Soteria International collaborates. At this year's OSCE HDIM, CAP exposed, yet again, the harmful impact of FECRIS, a supposed non-government organisation claiming to be fighting against the abuse of individuals by 'sects/cults', yet whose work is almost entirely funded by the French state.
Following is the statement made by CAP at the OSCE HDIM 2017:
Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM)
Working Session 6: Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief Warsaw, 11 – 22 September 2017
It has NGO consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. During the last OSCE session on freedom of religion or belief in September 2016, CAP exposed the harmful activities of FECRIS (the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Sectarianism) in Russia and its integral financing by the French Government.
Members of FECRIS and of its Russian branch, the Saint Ireneus of Lyons Centre for Religious Studies which is affiliated to the Orthodox Church, have been waging for years a campaign against non-Orthodox minorities in order t o eradicate them from the Russian territory. Alexander Dvorkin, Vice-President of FECRIS and Director of the Saint Ireneus of Lyons.
[Dvorkin] is the major spokesperson and activist in th is campaign against religious minorities in Russia.
For years, NGOs have been advocating for and warning about the dire situation of women around the world being accused of, and subsequently abused, on the grounds of witchcraft.
In 2014, the United Nations reported that witchcraft accusations that are used to justify extreme violence against older women were reported in 41 African and Asian countries...[and] older widows are often those most at risk.” Due to the fact that elderly women are especially at risk of being targeted due to discriminatory attitudes and practices, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Member States to “enact and enforce stronger laws and strategies to address all aspects of this under-acknowledged social, public health and human rights issue.”
Cross-culturally, it is difficult to define the terms ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft,’ which can signify various different traditions or faith healing practices depending on the context. With a lack of definition, there is also no normative framework or formal mechanism which ensures effective response or monitoring of human rights violations based on ‘witchcraft’.
21-22 September 2017, has marked a ground-breaking step towards prioritizing this issue. The United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva—in collaboration with multiple Permanent Missions to the UN in Geneva, NGOs, and Lancaster University—has hosted an expert workshop on witchcraft and human rights, gathering civil society, country representatives, UN experts, and academics to discuss solutions to this practice.
As stated in the report “Anti-sect movements and State Neutrality," published by Dresden University, the activities undertaken by anti-sect organizations are often personally motivated, run by a small number of individuals, and are given an undemocratic position as experts within many European judicial systems.
Patricia Duval is an International Human Rights lawyer in Paris, France who has defended the rights of religious minorities in national and international cases. She has defended and spoken before institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union, and the United Nations.
At this year's OSCE HDIM, Mrs. Duval spoke to the OSCE, country delegates, and civil society representatives regarding anti-sect movements and organizations in France.
Here you can read the entire intervention prepared by Patricia Duval:
The European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Sectarianism (FECRIS) has 3 member associations in France which are all three financed for over 90% of their budget by public funds. FECRIS itself has been financed nearly entirely by the French State with a ratio over 92% of public funding compared to its private memberships since 2001.
How these associations were created and what they are up to
In the 1980s, private anti-sect associations started to appear in France, created by parents who disagreed with the choice of their overage children to adhere to minority belief groups. Such was the case of UNADFI (the National Union of Associations for the Defense of the Family and the Individual) and CCMM (the Center Against Mental Manipulations).
The first Association for the Defense of the Family and the Individual (“ADFI”) was created in France in 1974 by a Doctor (Champollion) whose son of 18 joined the “Unification Church”.
Dr Champollion and his wife studied the basic books of the group and disagreed with the beliefs they outlined which contradicted their own, as they deemed that the group’s literature contained unfounded statements on the history of humanity (since the Creation) and the Biblical Exegesis.
Mr. and Mrs. Champollion met other parents whose children had also joined the Unification Church. They started to have long discussions with them, Bible in hand, to try to have them recount their newly acquired faith.
As these followers were over age, there was no possible legal action and this is why they created the first Association of Defense of the Family and the Individual (ADFI) to lobby public authorities against this particular group.