The work of human rights defenders is essential for the advancement of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Human rights defenders play a central role in making state policies human rights compliant and authorities accountable. Human rights defenders are also instrumental in defending victims of human rights violations and ensuring their access to redress and remedy. Human rights defenders are key partners of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Civil society human rights activists face numerous obstacles in their work, including: legal and administrative restrictions impeding the registration of NGOs and their access to funding; excessive financial and reporting requirements; judicial harassment; smear campaigns; threats and intimidation; abusive control and surveillance; confiscation and destruction of working materials; unlawful arrest or detention and ill-treatment. In some cases, human rights defenders are kidnapped or even killed. The absence of effective investigations into violations committed by state and non-state actors against human rights defenders targeted because of their human rights work remains a major problem. This results in the impunity of perpetrators and the recurrence of violations, which also facilitate reprisals.(http://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/human-rights-defenders)
The Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament had recently a meeting, on 17.02.2016, , where issues regarding the violence against human right defenders (HRDs) were approached. Even if put in very difficult situations, even if they are regularly subject to persecutions, punishment, arbitrary arrest or detention especially in countries lacking an effective rule of law, these entities (either individuals or different type of organisations, the main being the NGOs) prove the courage to continue their actions of defending human rights. In this context, it is very important for the EU to urgently adopt new resolutions in order to control these situations.
F.O.B. (European Federation for Freedom of Belief) supports the initiative of Soteria International aimed to know the truth about the case of Bivolaru, political refugee arrested in France last February 26 in violation of the international law.
Gregorian Bivolaru – persecuted by Ceausescu’s regime – received a criminal conviction in Romania within an extremely controversial trial, marked by documented violations of basic human rights. Since 2005 he has been granted political asylum in Sweden; the spiritual movement which he founded, MISA Yoga, was completely acquitted of all charges on December 11, 2015.
The legal actions against the group have been the center of interpellations and reports at international level, from the EU Commission to the OSCE/ODIHR, to which also F.O.B. contributed by intervening on both the Romanian and the equally controversial Italian appendix of the case and which was brought to the attention of the Parliament in 2012.
The Romanian yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru was arrested in France on February 26 2016, in violation of his protection as a religious refugee in Sweden.
Following a history, spanning decades, of persecution in Romania for his spiritual beliefs, Gregorian Bivolaru, was convicted in what clearly seems to be an unjust manner, within a controversial and prejudiced court case, in Romania, where there appeared noticeable violations of human rights, not only of Mr Bivolaru but also of members of M.I.S.A yoga school. In 2005, Mr Bivolaru was granted political asylum in Sweden.
This case has drawn international attention particularly due to the controversies raised by the lack of coherence between the actions of Romania and the International Protection offered by the European Union and marked by the Geneva Convention, for the Human Rights of Mr Bivolaru.
The Bivolaru case is again in the centre of European attention, challenging the EU-collaboration as one country, Romania, continues a persecution that another EU-member state protects the refugee from.
Taking in consideration the unicity of the Bivolaru’s case, the question about Mr Bivolaru situation was addressed in different occasions at the European level including to the former president of the commission Jose Manuel Barosso, and also to the former vice-presidents Viviane Reding and Cecilia Malmstrom., .
This film from 2015 presents background of the persecutions as well as perspectives on how to handle today's unique situation.
On Friday, January 29, EUROPOL published “Europe’s most wanted fugitive” list. The list features 43 fugitives, who hide in other EU member states. Most of them are wanted for murder, armed robbery, rape or organized crime. But one of them is not a hiding fugitive at all, but a Romanian refugee with asylum in Sweden.
The Romanian accusations were tried by the Swedish Supreme Court, who found them to violate his human rights. In 2006 he received Swedish asylum as religious refugee. In recent years Romania have taken up the persecutions of the refugee, now within the EU collaboration. In 2013 a European Arrest Warrant was issued on his name, and now he appears on Europol's most wanted fugitives list.
Judicial protection between EU member states is rare and sensitive. The Romanian/Swedish case has been discussed at highest EU level. The European Commission has requested Swedish authorities first of all to protect the refugee's rights, allowing Sweden to ignore the European arrest warrant.
How can it be that Europol now side with Romania against the Swedish asylum and the Geneva Convention?
Recently Soteria International participated to an important event about the secularism and freedom of belief in Italy – presentation hosted by European Federation for Freedom of Belief in Rome.
Here is the synthesis of the event as presented by FOB.
On December 21, 2015, the European Federation for Freedom of Belief held its presentation conference at the Chamber of Deputies.
The event, organized in the prestigious “Hall of Globe” of Montecitorio Palace thanks to Hon. Luciano Ciocchetti, was attended by about seventy people, among whom also representatives of nine religious and spiritual minorities:
Also attending the conference, the representatives of three European and one Italian NGOs, all of them members of FOB: Soteria International, European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience, Forum for Religious Freedom Europe and theInternational Association for the Defense of Religious Freedom.
This year, Soteria International’s conference focused to bring the human rights in our daily life. The open dialogue with the participants started analyzing one by one different subjects as: What are human rights? ; Freedom of religion, conscience and belief – article 9; The term “sect” and marginalization of unfamiliar spiritual practice; The free conscience as spiritual practice and concluded with the practical approach of What can we do to support human rights in our society?
In the first topic, What are human rights? we raised the attention on the fact that the human rights are based on the morality. Morality is humanities attempt to formulate guiding principles, discerning right action from wrong action.
We briefly spoke about the history of the Human Rights, how they appeared and why. Human Rights were originally formulated after studying the common morality of different cultures in order not to be arbitrary and any claims that they make, attack the very foundation of human nature.
On Monday, 21th of December 2015, Soteria International is having the pleasure to participate as a guest at the conference held by FOB (European Federation for Freedom of Belief) in Rome.
Soteria International is member of FOB and together we organized conferences and seminars, sustaining a deeper understanding and a broader perspective on the freedom of conscience and belief.
FOB (European Federation for Freedom of Belief) is a European non-party and non- denominational federation, composed of associations founded in different member States of the European Union, created to support freedom of religion and belief.
During the conference FOB will present its own activities to the Italian public. The purposes of FOB substantially fit in the support to the FORB program passed by the European Union.
During this meeting, reports and suggestions by FOB will be investigated; wide room will be given to the speeches from people who have been involved with and committed to the defense of religious freedom for decades. Moreover evidence of cases in which such fundamental freedom has been seriously violated will be provided. Final aim is to let citizens become aware of the actual situations within this field giving them the knowledge and information needed to promote and sustain the respect of fundamental human rights.
The event will take place:
Monday 21th December 2015, at 10 am, in Rome, Palazzo Montecitorio. Sala Aldo Moro - Piazza di Montecitorio, 00186 Roma.
Many people have suffered social marginalization due to a media campaign against their belief system.
In Czech Republic, observation of Jaroslav Dobeš and his followers’ case revealed complexities that call for a thorough investigation on how it was handled by the Czech authorities.
Also, there is a need to address the remnants of totalitarian practices surfacing in this case. There is a certain risk that, if unaddressed, the case of Jaroslav Dobeš will be a dangerous precedent for a faulty political and governmental interference in the development of pluralism and fundamental freedoms, particularly in the field of conscience and belief.
Furthermore, the results of the observation stated that Czech society is prone to stigmatization and ostracism of those who choose to live differently from mainstream principles, as is the case of Jaroslav Dobeš’ followers, and that is by and large due to the inability of the Czech authorities to properly address and prevent human rights violations.
Soteria International invites you to the 8th edition of the
SPIRITUAL HUMAN RIGHTS CONFERENCE 2015:
9TH DECEMBER 2015, hours 6.00 pm - 9.00 pm
Venue CONCORDIA, Address: Nordre Fasanvej 230, 2200 Copenhagen
Human Rights and Spiritual Practice
The seminar offers a practical approach to support human rights, at individual and societal level. The participants are invited to an open dialogue.
1. What are human rights?
2. Freedom of religion, conscience and belief – a hot potato in EU today!
3. The term “sect” and marginalisation of unfamiliar spiritual practice
4. The free conscience as spiritual practice – to stand up for your heart!
5. What can you do to support human rights in your society?
During the event, we will share knowledge on how practically to deal with violations of spiritual human rights, including how to build an inner spiritual attitude facing such violations.
In the spring of 2015 Soteria International visited the Buddhist Tibetan organization Ogyen Kunzang Choling which is situated in the middle of Brussels.
Their story is impressive due to the fact that it has taken almost 2 decades for police to conclude their investigation. Also, their case follows the same line that Soteria International has noticed before; a pattern of behaviour towards new spiritual groups in our society.
It is of no matter that Buddhism and Yoga are millenary traditions, spiritual practices for those wishing to follow their hearts, but in some parts of the world they are perceived as new spiritual movements. Ogyen Kunzang Chöling (OKC) is a spiritual organisation, following the Buddhist Tibetan tradition. OKC was qualified as a “sect” by the Parliamentary Commission of inquiry on cults, in France in 1995 and then, in Belgium, in 1997.
As a result of this unsubstantial qualification, very strong mediatised judiciary investigations started in 1997 against this association, which in order to show their innocence, had to release numerous documents proving so.
On 30 September 2015 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, had a debate about the Freedom of religion and belief and the discrimination that sometimes happens in Europe. We quote from their press release and resolution.
„Religious communities should be able to exercise the right to freedom of religion “without impediment and without discrimination” and to practise their faith publicly and freely in accordance with their own rites, said PACE, which is concerned about the tensions generated in Europe by the development of many beliefs and churches.
The Assembly noted that certain religious practices remained controversial within national communities and underlined that the wearing of full-face veils, circumcision of young boys and ritual slaughter were divisive issues.
In addition, the Assembly called on states to seek “reasonable accommodations” for controversial religious practices, in particular in the workplace, the aim being to guarantee effective equality in the right to freedom of religion.
European Federation for Freedom of Belief, FOB, it is a Federation of Associations that advocate freedom of thought, religion and belief. It has been intended as an initiative to support the EU FORB program.
Soteria International is part of FOB since its creation and we work together for a place where all the people live together enjoying fairness and equality too, dispite their religious or belief.
FOB openly stands against every form of religious discrimination, including any arbitrary distinction between "religions" and "cults"; across the decades in fact such a stigma has become largely discriminatory and indeed has been employed to discriminate against religious and spiritual minorities.
At the same time FOB also condemn every kind of abuses and illegalities as well as any type of violence occurring at any place, inside any religious or non-religious environment; and for this very reason we reject any distinction based on early ideological assertions.
This year, during the OSCE/HDIM 2015, FOB expressed openly its position in the session about „Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief”.
Soteria International subject this year at HDIM was on the derogative term “sect” and the role of “anti-sect movements” in discrimination and hate crimes against small spiritual groups.
In our work, Soteria International is often in contact with the outcasts of religions - the so-called “sects”. The word “sect” describes religions that are so openly and generally discriminated that it is considered normal to do it. A “sect” is someone we all know is strange and subversive, without needing to know anything about them. “Sect” is the N-word of religious discrimination. What is a “sect” today may well be a normal religious practice in another place or time, just as many of today's normal religions were once considered “sects”. The arbitrary use of the term “sect” illustrates society's lack of insight, substantial discourse and personal experiences in the field of spiritual life.
We continue with the 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.
In nowadays, it takes very little to create a campaign against spiritual groups. Behind the media campaigns, we most often find just one or two testimonies against the group, while thousands are still in favor. Most often these accusations come from apostates as part of personal vendettas within the groups. (For the role of apostates and media in these judicial campaigns please see our report “The Impact of Apostates’ Activities on the Suppression Associations of Conscience or Belief”, 2012 http://www.soteriainternational.org/sr1205the-impact-of-apostates-activities-)
The police are rightfully obliged to look into any criminal accusations. In the case of spiritual groups, media campaigns as well as police investigations often turn against the whole group, also because the accusations usually are vague.
We have here, a modern version of witch hunts, with a few unreliable witnesses who have managed to create a wave of fear in society.
Since 2012 the course “scientific yoga” has been offered to the students of the University of the Republic of Uruguay (UDELAR). The course has become very popular among both students and teachers. The success has been internationally appreciated as a novel way to increase study results at the University.
Last week the psychologist Farias together with the priest Pastorino accused the yoga course to be “sectarian”, both members of SEAS - Servicio de Estudio y Asesoramiento en Sectas del Uruguay.
While visiting the University they created panic by spreading the rumour that three students, who are presently at a yoga retreat in Europe, had been kidnapped by a European sex sect. Soteria International has been in contact with the students, who managed to assure their worried families and friends that the rumours are unfounded.
The non-democratic and subversive role of anti-sect movements was highlighted in the report “Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality” (Dresden University, 2012). Exhibiting a strong bias and acting as if driven by vested interests, the psychologist and priest have posed as experts in front of media and authorities, instigating hate and staging contemporary “witch-hunts” in media."
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!”