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.
Several Human Rights Organisations, including Soteria International, are involved in unveiling the misleading statements of anti-sect organizations. The issue of anti-sect organizations is raised each year at the OSCE HDIM, however, due to the lack of interest in addressing the issue, the problem is a continuous reality.
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, and this year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), CAP brought forth the case of FECRIS, which is a, supposed, non-government organisation, claiming to be fighting against the abuse of individuals by 'sects/cults', and whose work is entirely funded by the French state.
Soteria International is part of a network of scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates and practitioners, who collaborate together in order to raise awareness of the growing number of people adapting a spiritual perspective on life, and who often meet a resistant misunderstanding in a society of newly emerging values and principles. In some cases, this misunderstanding leads to governmental and institutional intolerance and misunderstanding towards new spiritual and religious movements.
Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) is a well-known and dynamic organisation working out of Brussels. This year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), HRWF brought forth the case of Jaroslav Dobes ('Guru Jara') and Barbora Plaskova, two Czech nationals who are currently detained in the Phillipines due to their inability to acquire valid Czech passports.
This is a case, which Soteria International has followed closely, and done extensive fact-checking and advocating for, in the period of 2014-2016. At last year's OSCE HDIM, Soteria International presented an intervention on this case.
This year, HRWF chose to, once again, bring the case to the attention of the OSCE member organisations and delegates.
On September 27, Soteria International presented an intervention at the OSCE HDIM 2016 plenary session on the Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion, or Belief, in the presence of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religon or Belief, the ODIHR Human Rights Department, OSCE member country delegates, the United States Mission to the OSCE, and numerous civil society organisations.
Soteria International argued that in our globalized society, we are witnessing a restriction on the freedom to choose a spiritual path. This restriction arises due to the fact that society understands the actions of individuals in a local paradigm of behaviour that is appropriate to the rules of social life in the respective region.
On September 22, Soteria International presented an Intervention at the OSCE HDIM 2016 plenary session on the Rule of Law. Soteria International argued that the EU Judicial Collaboration leads to violation of International Law and the 1951 Geneva Convention for Refugees. One of the core principles of the rule of law when referring to the respect of refugee status is foreseeability. This is a concept, which implies that, as meticulously as possible, the rule of law must be proclaimed prior to implementation and the effects of the rule of law must be foreseeable. A case in which the EU judicial collaboration has failed to adhere to the foreseeability principle is seen in the discrepancy between International Law and the Geneva Convention for Refugees. In particular, non-refoulment entails the prohibition of all signatory states of the Geneva Convention for Refugees to force refugee or asylum seekers to return to the country in which they risk persecution, and to respect the decision of another signatory state to grant refugee status to a person. However, the framework decision of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) fails to stipulate the course of action in the case of intra-EU refugees. This leads to the fact that the same individual can be considered, both, a refugee and a fugitive within the same judicial system.
On Thursday, September 22, Soteria International attended the Open Dialogue Foundation's Side Event at the annual OSCE-HDIM 2016 on the reform in INTERPOL and the rights of victims of politically motivated extradition requests.
The panel discussed the collaboration between countries, in the OSCE region, that do not adhere to human rights standards, in order to apply politically motivated, and false, criminal accusation of individuals.
Cases, such as those of the Nadiya Savchenko, Yuriy Soloshenko, and Gennadiy Afanasiev, who were all Ukranian nationals held in Russia for politically motivated reasons.
Another issue is that of refugee’s appearing on INTERPOL’s ‘Red Notice’ list, a list of international arrest warrants. This is possible due to an incompatibility found in between International Law and the Geneva Convention for Refugees.
This means that, in fact, an individual may be granted asylum, while appearing on INTERPOL’s list of fugitives. Therefore, a state which has signed the Geneva Convention, is both, prohibited to force a refugee, or asylum seeker, to return to the country in which they are persecuted according to the convention, as well as, required to extradite an individual back to the country of persecution. This discrepancy leads to open interpretation, as to which of the laws to respect.
Spiritual human rights are a building block for the maintenance of peace. When the freedom of spiritual belief becomes a human right, engrained in the collective conscience, creating a social environment in which there is an acceptance and understanding of the spiritual freedoms that all humans deserve, including differences and similarities, peace will be a natural byproduct.
World peace has been an age-old aspiration of many of the inhabitants of our globe throughout time. Although there is still a clear struggle to uphold a state of peace among and within nations and people, the United Nations has accorded a day, each year, specifically to commemorate this cause.
September 21 marks the International Day of Peace, which provides us the opportunity to bring World Peace to the attention of the international community.
Ambiguities in the EU legislation regarding the status of refugees lead to abuses that undermine the fundamental principles of European democracy, as illustrated by the 1951 Geneva Convention. The case of the Romanian refugee Gregorian Bivolaru exposes such dangerous flaws.
Gregorian Bivolaru, Romanian citizen, was granted political asylum in Sweden in January 2006, as the Swedish Supreme Court considered that the refugee “will not receive a fair trial and his life will be endangered in Romania due to his religious and political beliefs”.
In February 2016 Gregorian Bivolaru was arrested in France, following a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Romanian authorities in June 2013. The EAW is a direct continuation of the persecutions for which he was granted asylum.
As the framework of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) does not consider the possibility of political asylum between the EU member states, this flaw in the EAW framework seems to make way for violations of fundamental rights.
On the 8th June 2016 Cour D’Appel de Paris decided to hand Mr. Bivolaru over to continued persecution in Romania, disregarding the refugee’s protection according to the Geneva Convention of 1951.
The Swedish position presented to the Cour d’Appel de Paris leaves no room for interpretation: Sweden considers that the status of political refugee of Mr Gregorian Bivolaru is and remains justified. Sweden stands up for the refugee’s asylum and does not consider revoking the protection from Romanian persecutions, even if Romania is now part of EU.