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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS, which can be accessed in it's original language (French) here.
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.
This is Part II of the case of the Case of the Community of the Beatitudes in France.
The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS, which can be accessed in it's original language (French) here.
Continuation of Part I:
The community has filed a number of complaints for defamation: "There have been around ten complaints against media: TV channels, national or regional daily new, weekly news, free newspapers, and even a website" (La Depeche, January 20, 2009).
Following the statement of a member of the community in Vaumoise, fearing that the community replaces medicine, Bernard Grenier, the vicar general of the Beauvais bishopric, says: "This isn't the case! They take those who ask for help under their wing. I think that the man who was alarmed and thought it was a cult had to have been surprised by the apparent fervor of religious individuals. Maybe we invited him to participate in prayers, and perhaps this was misunderstood?" A similar remark was made by the Mayor of Vaumoise, Germain Nicolas, for whom this is an unfortunate misunderstanding. "We’ve been living with them for twenty years. Thanks to them, some communes, deserted by the priests, have gotten an office. Healing offices do exist, but in no way do they treat the people with prayer. They are called Patient’s Offices and take place approximately once every four months. People come here to pray for those who feel convicted or who have a serious illness that medicine has failed to cure. They are looking for comfort, that's all. In fact, those who have questions about this community can come to their open house on September 16." There is nothing to hide." (Le Parisien, August 8, 2007).
This is Part I of the case of the Case of the Community of the Beatitudes in France.
The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS, which can be accessed in its original language (French) here.
The Community of the Beatitudes has been the subject of significant media coverage in recent years due to a number of complaints. This is a summary of these events and a highlight of the role of the media in the construction of a negative image of this group, regardless of the blame placed on certain members whose cases are currently being processed by the court.
"The community was founded in France in 1973, under the charismatic movement, with the name "Community of the Lion of Judah and the Slain Lamb." Gérard Croissant, called Brother Ephraïm, a married man, founded the community along with another couple. In 1987 the community decided to change the name to the 'Community of the Beatitudes' becoming official in 1991. Today, it is located on five continents and in 65 dioceses. "An international association of those faithful to the pontifical right since 2002, the community is part of the pontifical Council for the laity and not only for those directly from their diocese of origin" (La Croix, June 24, 2008). "The Community of the Beatitudes was recognized "ad experimento" (provisionally, Editor's note) in 2002 by the Vatican for a period of five years." Its final recognition was not accepted, although the provisional status was extended for two years, Father Jean-Baptiste Tison, a member of the community of our Lady of Bonnecombe, told AFP" (AFP, October 17, 2008).
Soteria International & ENAR Denmark Invite you to our upcoming conference:
Date & Time: Wednesday, September 13 @ 8pm
Address: Nørre Allé 7, Copenhagen N
This conference will be a series of short presentations and debate where human rights activists and guests will openly discuss the issues related to Freedom of Expression in a religious context in Denmark and Europe, and will focus on questions such as:
1. What role can education play in raising awareness regarding how to maintain freedom of expression, while ensuring the respect of one another’s reputation?
2. How can education help raise awareness with regards to the thin line between the Freedom of Religion and Belief and the Freedom of Expression?
3. How can an open society engage and work towards ensuring the Freedom of Expression, while respecting the moral and ethical code?
4. Should there be ‘checks and balances’ in relation to Freedom of Expression in a religious context?
5. How can we resolve these issues together?
Since the United Nations established the Declaration of Human Rights in 1954, people have been attempting to incorporate the rights of others into their actions. One of the current challenges concerns the freedom of religion and belief and the discrimination that often appears when certain religious groups are not understood in society. With regards to this issue, the Directorate General for Internal Affairs Policy Department on Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs of the EU, along with the experts Chiara Favilli and Nicole Lazzerini from the University of Florence, produced a study on “Discrimination(s) as emerging from petitions received.” These are guidelines and interpretations, which can be found in their entirety here.
Here we provide a reproduction of the section on Religion or Belief:
Art. 19 TFEU, Art. 21(1) CFR and Directive 2000/78/EC mention religion amongst the prohibited grounds of discrimination. The word religion is associated with the term belief. The prohibited ground of discrimination must therefore be interpreted by considering both concepts which equally appear in international conventions aimed to recognise freedom of religion (notably Art. 9 ECHR and Art. 18 ICCPR). Based on the case law of the ECtHR, which must be considered under Article 52(3) CFR, the terms should be interpreted broadly, notably as encompassing also the discrimination of churches or, in general, groups around which a religious activity is organised. These terms must be understood as providing protection in relation to any belief, not only those connected in any way to a deity, but also non-religious belief systems, i.e. sets of ideas and opinions on life and lifestyle. The concept of non - violence and pacifism offers an example because it goes beyond the conceptualisation of peaceful relations between states and rather involves various aspects of human relations. By contrast, mere opinions do not fall within the protected scope of the ground concerned.
It is doubtful whether sects may also be granted protection under the rules on freedom of religion as well as under the rules concerning discrimination on grounds of religion. Generally speaking, the term ‘sect’ refers to a group which, under the mantle of religion, carries out activities which are illegal or even harmful to its followers, sometimes violating their dignity. In its 1996 resolution on cults in Europe the European Parliament affirmed that freedom of religion can be limited when an organisation commits acts of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or involves serious forms of psychological subjugation, thus urging countries to be cautious in granting the status of religious confession to sects whose methods are seriously questionable.
Freedom of expression is a human right, a universal requirement and freedom that all individuals should enjoy. As a requirement for membership in the European Union (EU) a country must respect human rights, as outlined in the Copenhagen Criteria (Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights). The same is true for non-EU countries who want to enter into trade agreements with EU countries.
In addition to human rights, the European Union also considers the rule of law to be of the utmost importance. In fact, it is one of the founding principles and fundamental values upon which the EU is based. The rule of law was implemented in order to established agreements and bring coherence into the European and national communities in order to protect citizens and create harmony in society.
Through our research, we have encountered many instances in which one or more European Union member states have distorted the rule of law in order to reach political interests. One of the most simple trends is the use of labeling, such as has been done in the examples used in the conference when the individuals were accused of being “terrorists.” Such labeling can discredit an individual or group instantly in our social media society where access to information is immediate and where anyone can express anything they want and disseminate it to millions. Therefore, when a state labels an individual or group as something dangerous or undesirable, it quickly becomes accepted and can permanently devastate the reputation and future of a person or group.
Our organization has observed this phenomenon in the use of, in particular, two words which immediately discredit new spiritual movements. The first is the use of the word ‘sect,’ which leads the general public to instantaneously disregard anything being said or done by the group which has been labeled as such. The second is the labeling of volunteer work as ‘human trafficking.’ This term has obvious legal consequences, if indeed true. However, due to the recurrent misinterpretation of volunteer work, which in fact is an integral part of a spiritual practice in many spiritual paths, including Christianity, it has become apparent that this is extensively damaging to the reputation of those accused. It is doubtful that members of the general public will do their research to understand whether or not these allegations are true, whether a person or group is labeled a terrorist, a sect, or perpetrators of human trafficking. The impact on the lives of those individuals suffering from such labels are far reaching, including, impacts on their mental health, financial stability, family relationships, etc.
On June 22 & 23, 2017, the OSCE hosted a Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) in Vienna, Austria focusing on "Freedom of Religion or Belief: Issues, Opportunities, and the Specific Challenges of Combatting Anti-Semitism and Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians, Muslims, and Members of Other Religions," bringing together representatives of governments and civil society.
Academics and experts presented their findings and opinions in the beginning of the event. The following article, published on OSCE's website, highlights a point brought up in the meeting that social cohesion and peace are currently being threatened by social forces hostile towards certain religious or belief communities and the importance of addressing these challenges.
VIENNA, 22 June 2017 – Freedom of religion or belief, and tolerance and non-discrimination are essential to ensuring peace and security in the OSCE region, participants said today at the opening of a two-day OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting in Vienna.
The Meeting, organized by the OSCE’s 2017 Austrian Chairmanship and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), brought together representatives of governments and of civil society organizations working on issues related to the freedom of religion or belief from the Organization’s 57 participating States.
Michael Georg Link, Director of ODIHR, highlighted to Meeting participants current challenges to efforts to build flourishing, open, tolerant and inclusive societies, telling the meeting that hostile social forces, which are intolerant of and foster dangerous environments for particular religious or belief communities, endanger social peace and cohesion. Also, the practice in some OSCE participating States of limiting the free exercise of the universal human right to freedom of religion or belief to a list of religious and belief communities pre-defined and approved by the state is also of particular concern.
At the level of the European Union, freedom of belief and freedom of expression are given a great deal of attention and respect. Denmark prides itself on being an open society, characterized by a flexible structure, the freedom to believe what one chooses, and the widespread dissemination of information. The Danish Constitution states: "Everyone is entitled to publicly express his/her thoughts, in writing and speech." It is a society which encourages critical debate and respects diverse opinions.
The Danish Institute for Human Rights recently published their 2016-2017 Status Report which deemed Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion as two points of concern in Denmark. The complex interaction between these two freedoms is becoming more apparent in our diverse society, where cultural norms are being challenged by increased globalization. Denmark is facing a crossroads in maintaining a peaceful society, which upholds the values upon which the country is built, while also integrating diversity in a congruent way.
Most expression is completely harmless and, therefore, protected under the right to freedom of expression without interference by the state. However, in recognition that expression does indeed have the capacity to harm, Freedom of Expression is not an absolute right. One may freely express one’s self, but in doing so, one should not damage the rights or reputation of others, by making false and misleading statements. Unfortunately, this recommendation is largely ignored, and, thus, often not respected across all levels, whether in governmental institutions, the mass media, or on the individual level.