On Thursday, March 23, an “Exchange of Views with Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief Outside the EU” was held in the European Parliament. Mr. Ján Figel was invited to share how he interprets his mandate and to share the issues that he has been focusing on.
A current issue outside of the EU is the growing number of atheists and their lack of freedom to choose not to believe in spiritual concepts or to neglect to follow a religion. The Member of European Paliament hosting the event, Sofie in t’ Veld, shared her sense of “internal rebellion” in the discussion of Freedom of Belief because she feels as though the beliefs of atheists are excluded. She, therefore, emphasized the importance of remembering the concept of Freedom of Conscience due to the rising number of atheists worldwide. The Special Envoy agreed that Freedom of Conscience is essential, because human dignity is impossible without it, and this is the value that should unite all people, regardless of their belief. Freedom of Conscience is necessary for the achievement of basic human dignity, and Freedom of Religion and Belief can only truly occur as a result of the achievement of the Freedom of Conscience.
The position of Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief Outside the EU was created as a response to the genocide and mass atrocities occurring currently in Syria and the Middle East, as well as, the implications this is having in Europe with respect to the refugee crisis and migration. The current Special Envoy stated that, “either we do something or we’re commentators” and, therefore, his role is to bring constructive change with respect to Freedom of Religion and Belief in countries not currently displaying this. His work is based around territorial and thematic problems. Territorial focuses include, among others, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Pakistan, Morrocco; and thematic focuses include, the issue of persecution prior to conviction as seen in North Korea and non-state operates, such as, ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda, the elimination of ‘liquidation’ due to blasphemy, or anti-conversion laws forbidding people from leaving their religion under punishment. Many of these issues revolve around the lack of freedom to choose to not ascribe to the predominant faith in a culture or geographic area.
The first conference of our 2017 Spiritual Human Rights series, hosted by Soteria International and ENAR Denmark, was attended by a variety of representatives from multiple fields, including spiritual practitioners, academics, law, students, and human rights activists.
This round table event focused on the topic of whether diversity of religion and belief in Denmark and Europe is tolerated, accepted, and/or understood. During the introduction, the moderator from Soteria International, showed a short clip in order to illustrate a current point of discussion in Danish society, which is the question of what is and isn’t attributable to Danish identity. The clip was produced by Gorilla Media, a Danish production group, which powerfully illustrated the implications of discussions recently held in the Danish parliament with regards to acceptance of diversity. The video depicts interviews with four children, who speak perfect Danish, identify themselves with Denmark and feel Danish, but are not blond haired and blue-eyed. The interviewer proceeds to tell the children that they are not Danish and the audience experiences their defeated reactions to this information. You can see this video here.
This is Part III of the case of the Aumist Religious community in Mandarom, France.
The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS and can be accessed in it's original language (French).
(...) The Mandarom is in essence a monastery with monks and nuns. Those who wish to dedicate a part of their life to spirituality, in this context, take vows of chastity and poverty, but do not pronounce this for eternity... "this is no longer suited to modern society," said SHM.
(…) Aumiste vegetarianism is explained by the concern of taking as little as possible from Nature, because any disturbance disrupts a process of reincarnation... The more is consumed from the higher levels of the hierarchy of the plant or animal Kingdom, i.e. the closer it is to humanity, and the more one must pray.
(…) We are under the impression that, for the aumistes, nothing is common place. Cooking, eating, doing the dishes, etc., although seemingly profane, for many, become acts associated with spirituality.
This is Part II of the case of the Aumist Religious community in Mandarom, France.
The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS, which can be accessed in it's original language (French).
Continuation of Part I:
(...) The story of this research cannot be silent about the pressures that I suffered throughout this work.
(…) In 1998, I received a letter from the president of section 38 (CNRS) - dealing with ethnology. She said, among other things: ' your projects have emerged as insufficiently (...) observed; where the fear... that your voluntarily relativistic approach is used for thetrivialization of movements such as the one you are studying.”… She (Editor's Note: the commission) judged before even knowing, and for a commissioner of science this is disturbing... This story highlights a serious phenomenon: there were subjects which were taboo for the majority of ethnologists who sat, at that time, in the commission of the CNRS.
(…) The president of the University of Provence refused for me to organized a symposium on the theme of "sects" in this University, although he had agreed as a first step, stating that we would be closely monitored. I proposed for my lab to set up a centre for research and documentation on new religious movements. My lab, in agreement at first, then changed its mind. Public institutions say they are interested in observing sects, yet how is one to understand these contradictory messages, if not as a deliberate attempt not refuse knowledge?
Throughout history, smaller groups have often been misunderstood by society. In this way, the new approach that some spiritual groups have undertaken, different from the old dogmatic religious style has, therefore, entered into conflict. This situation has been raised several times in multiple forums. Although this concept is understood and has been raised by officials, the situation has not been solved and Soteria International considers it important to continue to raise the topic for debate. As an example of a case in which a small group was poorly understood, we are publishing the story of the Aumist community in Mandarom, France, through excerpts from a book written by the ethnologist, Maurice Duval who spent intimate time in the group conducting participant observation. The original article can be found on CICNS' website.
Maurice Duval’s book has two aims: the first is to highlight the difficulty in discussing or studying, in peace, everything related to what is called—in a biased and stigmatizing way—a "sect" in France. The second, is the ethnological study, itself, of the Mandarom.
Due to the purpose of the Information Center of the Council of New Spiritualities (CICNS), the extracts that follow, strive, particularly, to give an overview of the pressures and difficulties that Maurice Duval encountered during his study. The reader is, however, encouraged to read the book for the two aspects that strike his/her interest.
The Story of a Study
(...) This book reflects a single ethnological research...From the inside of the sect Mandarom, located atroughly 1200 m altitude in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (France)... The director of the laboratory to which I was then attached suggested to start a study of this group... Frightened by the idea of studying a sect, I initially declined... Upon learning that a Catholic nun in Montpellier was a "sect" specialist, I made an appointment with her. The nun... explained her way of dealing with these groups in order to "bring their members on the right path", meaning her path... The fact that she could get there without trouble, led me to believe that I should be able to go.
Soteria International is hosting a series of events in order to foster a positive social environment for practitioners of different religions and members of minority cultures. This is the first of the 2017 series of Spiritual Human Rights Conferences!
During Soteria International's Spiritual Human Rights Conference in December, the effect of Globalization on the Freedom of Religion and Belief in Denmark and Europe was explored. Many questions and problems related to how tolerance, acceptance, and understanding of others' freedom of conscience, thought, and belief affects the application of fundamental human rights, on both a societal and institutional level were raised. We have therefore chosen to host another conference on this topic.
This will be a round table event where human rights activists and guests will openly discuss the topic of tolerance, acceptance, and understanding of religion and belief in Denmark and Europe.
The European Arrest Warrant (EAW), an instrument of collaboration between the police services of all European Union member states, has uncovered various angles regarding the abuse of fundamental human rights. Although Soteria International has raised the issue of the faults within the EAW in multiple forums, the problem has yet to be solved. Many other human rights organizations, and our collaborators, are concerned with this issue.
On February 7, Finnish MEP Hannu Takkula, in collaboration with Human Rights Without Frontiers, organized an event at the European Parliament, titled “European Arrest Warrant in Question: Cases in Romania and Other Countries.” The aim of the event was to revive the discussion of the flaws of the European Arrest Warrant, which although an important tool for combatting crime, can also be seen as undermining the basic principles of fairness and justice.
On January 26, the President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Guido Raimondi, presented the activities of the ECHR in 2016 and the state of affairs in Europe (Press Conference Speech by President Guido Raimondi (in French) and Press Release). In his introduction, he highlighted the non-refoulement as a principle of international law and the role of the courts in its implementation. This is particularly relevant to a case monitored by Soteria International, which involves the refugee Gregorian Bivolaru, who was extradited to Romania in 2016 by France, although having been granted refugee status by Sweden and, at the time, residing there.
On January 25 in Brussels, a panel of experts, was invited to discuss the “European Union, United Kingdom, and Commonwealth: Cooperation in the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief”. Professor Neville Roshow from the European Union Office of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quoted Martin Niemoller to emphasize the importance and urgency of taking a stand for the rights of others:
Therefore, on the importance of the subject of work and advancement within the Freedom of Religion and Belief, Rochow stated, that an infringement on the rights of any one person is an infringement on our own rights, as we all risk being tomorrow’s victim.
For many years, Soteria International has had a successful collaboration with Human Rights Without Frontiers International. Our organizations have worked on many cases together, and more recently, over the past year have been studying the Framework Decision of the European Arrest Warrant and the Lisbon Treaty in order to understand the different angles and levels of applicability of the European Arrest Warrant. Considering the flaws in the law that are observed when applying the European Arrest Warrant for petty crimes or in unusual conditions as, for example, in the case of a refugee, it became an apparent necessity to establish a round table in the European parliament. Thus, on TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 7 from 12pm-2pm, Soteria International will be participating in an event titled: “The European Arrest Warrant in Question: Cases in Romania and other Countries” hosted by MEP Hannu Takkula, in collaboration with Human Rights Without Frontiers.
The practice of Freedom of Religion and Belief in Russia has recently taken a turn towards a lack of respect of practitioners of a spiritual faith. The recent Yarovaya Law (2016) in Russia has greatly increased the regulation of the dissemination of information pertaining to a religious belief by a religious association, or private practitioner, to non-members for the purpose of recruitment. A component of this law pertains to the limiting of the expression of religious belief and freedom of speech and is proving to be implemented in a highly subjective manner.
How Universal is the UN declaration of Human Rights?
Secretary General – EMISCO
President- Advisory Council – ENAR
Nowadays Human Rights are discussed in almost all political and social forums of debate in Denmark and in the Western World. Politicians, the intellectuals, scientists, students, craftsmen and the man in the street, everybody talks about Human Rights in China, in Pakistan, in Nigeria and every other country outside this Western World. The discussion usually ends up in raising more questions, than answers.
People in the West are asking:
Why people of the developing World do not respect Human Rights, and the sanctity of human life?
Why are they so undemocratic and why are these cultures oppressive and violent?
For the 2016 Spiritual Human Rights conference titled “How Universal is the Universal Declaration?” we received a contribution from LAYMS, the League for Antidefaimation of Yoga and Spiritual Movements, who was unable to attend but, nonetheless, wished to provide their view on the topic.
1. Can the law make exceptions depending on intent and culture?
Laws are a system of rules that are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior. Law shapes politics, economics, history, and society in various ways, and serves as a mediator of relations between people. It is a way of resolving disputes between two or more parties with concrete effects.
Law also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness, and justice. There is an old saying that 'all are equal before the law', although Jonathan Swift argued that 'Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.'
As a continuation of, both, our Witch Hunt Series, as well as, a previous article published by FOREF on the Twelve Tribes community we would like to detail the cases of militarized raids on this spiritual community.
Our organization has studied the case of the Twelve Tribes communities, both through direct discussions with the impacted communities, as well as, studying published material on the cases. As mentioned in Part 3 of our Witch Hunt series, a recent book, Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities, published by two sociologists, Stuart A. Wright and Susan J. Palmer also details the militarized raids of these communities in various countries.
On the subject of our latest conference, the 9th Annual Spiritual Human Rights Conference “How Universal is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?” and as a revitalization and continuation of a previous series of articles published on our website, “Witch Hunt Effects in Society”, we present an obvious violation of human rights in the trend towards the unjustified use of militarized raids of non-traditional religious movements.
With globalization comes the spread of diverse new knowledge, practices, and beliefs, a consequence of which is a social condition, which can be favorable to conflict due to the heterogeneous nature of populations. This is the current case, where partisan misunderstanding of the practices of non-traditional religious movements, or simply the resistance towards a non-conventional religious group, has led to a biased overreaction through government means, which violates the basic rights of practitioners.
Friday, 9th of December Soteria International hosted the Spiritual Human Rights conference in Copenhagen. The Spiritual Human Rights conference is an annual conference focusing on Human Rights from a spiritual perspective.
This year the conference was co-hosted by Youth for Human Rights, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), and the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO) with the theme “How Universal is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?”.
Aaron Rhodes, the President of the Forum for Religious Freedom (FOREF) -Europe writes a strong piece questioning the effect of multilateralism on human rights. He argues that the creation of such International Institutions actually just serves as a facade through which the actual human rights issues are cast aside. 'Symbolic activity,' as he calls it, is undertaken by individuals in prestigious high level positions which are completely removed from what is actually happening on the ground. These institutions, have virtually no power, and essentially, waste their time with mechanisms and processes that show no results in the end. Rhodes, therefore, argues that Nation States must avoid this current bureaucratization of human rights in order to make a true and concrete difference for those who are currently suffering from violations and abuses of their rights.
Date & Time: FRIDAY, 9 DECEMBER 2016 from 13.00 – 17.30
Address: NØRRE ALLÉ 7, 2200 KØBENHAVN N
Globalization implies that people from different religious tradition share the same society and law. AS national law and society has local historic roots, it may fail to properly recognize unfamiliar religious practice, from an unfamiliar cultural background.
Working in the field of freedom of religion and belief, Soteria International comes across an increasing number of cases, worldwide, where the individual religious practice is restricted by national law and prejudices of society.
The 9th annual Spiritual Human Rights conference in Copenhagen aim to map religious freedom in Denmark and Europe from this perspective. We invite religious practitioners to share experiences, concerns and hopes with politicians, scholars and human right experts.
The conference is hosted as a round table, and we will aim to present the conclusions in a briefing to the Danish Parliament.
During the event, we will raise and debate a variety of questions, such as:
From 30th October to 2nd November 2015, Soteria International conducted a fact-finding mission in Helsinki to directly observ the situation of yoga practitioners from Jooga- ja Tantrakuolu Natha and to have meetings with the association’s representatives and management board; surveys and interviews with students and teachers; observations of meetings of members of JTN; surveys of media attention on the case; interviews with practitioners whose houses were raided by the police in 2012 and being part of the ensuing judicial proceedings.
The humankind experience so far demonstrates that often legality prevails over righteousness, but when things are considered just as an exclusive result of legislative decisions, the human rights can miss ethic and moral dimensions. and moral dimensions from a common sense of
Justice as a fruit of the triptych love-right-solidarity naturally existing among the members of a community.
We recognised patterns in how the Finnish authorities have dealt with this case, in other countries which commit abuses towards religious minorities considered as “sects.” It appears as though the authorities are in danger of being influenced by the media and a socially accepted discrimination of certain groups, which are publicly described as strange or subversive. Within the EU there is a continuous fight to let go of the “sect” stigma of smaller religious groups, based on, and fuelled by, popular intolerance and ignorance.
In 2011, the Hungarian government passed a law which reduced the number of legally recognized churches from over 200 to merely 14. Within the year, the number of recognized churches doubled due to international pressure, however, even following a decision made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in 2014, Hungary has failed to reinstate recognition for the remaining unrecognized churches.
Forum for Religious Freedom (FOREF) Europe is an NGO defending the right to freedom of conscience, religion, and belief, as found in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They aim to protect, promote, monitor, advocate, and support within the field of freedom of religion and belief. FOREF addressed the case of the Hungarian Church Law at the OSCE meeting in Warsaw this year.