Throughout the years, Soteria International have encountered several situations where volunteer work is prosecuted as human trafficking and labour exploitation, when undertaken by spiritual seekers. We will present here briefly cases from Italy, Germany and Romania.
The idea of this common letter surfaced during discussions at the latest roundtable at the IRF (International Religious Freedom), where amongst many other matters we discussed the difficult situation of voluntary work in our society, when performed as part of a spiritual or religious path.
We will address the European authorities to solve this principle violation of fundamental rights.
This common letter will be signed by a large number of NGOs from the IRF and elsewhere, and sent to the European Commission.
If you want to support this project, please send us an email before Friday next week (30 January 2015), in which you mention your organization, or if you individually, will be amongst those signing this joint letter.
On 23rd October 2014, during discussions at the latest Roundtable at the IRF (International Religious Freedom Roundtable), amongst many other matters, we were informed by the representatives of „Twelve Tribes” of their difficult situation in Germany.
The IRF Roundtable is an informal group of individuals from non-governmental organisations who gather regularly to discuss IRF issues on a non-attribution basis. It is simply a safe space where participants gather, speak freely in sharing ideas and information, and propose joint advocacy actions to address specific IRF issues and problems.
Not very late after this discussion, we received the report done by FOREF - Forum for Religious Freedom Europe regarding the “Twelve Tribes” case.
Here is part of this report:
GERMANY: Controversy Surrounding “Twelve Tribes” – Sociologist Warns against Targeted Misinformation by Sect Experts - FOREF Reports Exclusively
FOREF (01.01.2015) - A good 20 years ago, a branch of the religious community "Twelve Tribes" was established in Germany. In August 2013, the community was prohibited from running a school of their own since they discipline their children corporally - although in a soft manner, as the community emphasizes.
Since last summer, Soteria International is one of the members of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FoB) which is a free society of culture and information independent from any party. The association is inspired by the principles of democratic participation, of solidarity and social promotion, of autonomy and responsibility.
Recently, FoB took action regarding the continuous misunderstanding or misuse of some terms, eg “cult”.
Here it is the open letter:
FOB (Freedom Of Belief) wishes to express their deep shock at the article “Cults and gurus grow up – the institutions turn a blind eye” by Carmine Gazzanni, published by your magazine on the 8th of January 2015. The word “cult”, whose use was already discouraged as long as fifteen years ago by the Council of Europe, is devoid of any scientific value and is used solely to arbitrarily stigmatize some religious minorities. This kind of propaganda already generated several violations of human rights in our continent as well as in our country: since two years the Italy case is being carried out at the OSCE, due to the persecution of harmless groups labeled as “cults”.
The conflict can be solved by communion of the hearts and not by rearranging the same forces that have initially triggered the conflict.
As humans, we have our senses – they connect us with the material, outside world. We have our reason, that connects us with the subtle world of ideas. All our theses, positions, opinions, truths reffer to this mind of ours, this reason. The mind takes hold of what the senses provide and build for us the rational world we usually live in.
The french thinker Pascal though, in the 17th century, thought that us, as human being, are possesed of yet another organ that further expands our world, our knowledge: the heart. He reasons that when we are in love, or have done somthing terrible, or in other such cases, the reaction that we feel we experience it in the region of the heart, in the middle of our chest. Its not something you feel it belongs in the head, or in the feet – its something that’s connected to the heart.
Some years ago, Soteria International started a collaboration with various spiritual associations and organisations defending spiritual human rights.
Thus, the first step was made i.e. working closely together and giving a louder voice within modern society, becoming more visible to policy makers and other important social bodies. Also, such initiatives became a source of inspiration for similar groups to manifest among other spiritual organisations or organisations defending spiritual rights. The debates were focused on different topics, as for example, last year, where the danger of mind manipulation was explored and its influence upon the human ability of self-determination and on how it could be counter balanced by a strengthened freedom of thought, conscience and belief.
If last year the debates were still oriented more to identify problems or conflicts coming from outside, this year the approach was different, going towards a more functional and very efficient solution: what do we need to do in order to make these external problems and conflicts be significantly reduced? The Greek Γνώθι σεαυτόν (Gnothi seauton) or, temet nosce in Latin was the incentive that seemed to inspire all participants in their speeches and sharing experiences: know thyself and you will know the Universe together with all its laws, its hidden energies and forces. Briefly, solving inner conflicts appears as being the best possibility to significantly reduce outer conflicts.
Spiritual Human Rights 2014 Conference
Soteria International in collaboration with:
Ananda Assisi Italy - http://www.ananda.it/en
Damanhur - http://www.damanhur.org/
FOB - European Federation for Freedom of Belief - http://freedomofbelief.net/
LAYMS –League for Antidefaimation of Yoga and Spiritual Movements - http://www.layms.net/
Truth Seminar – http://www.truthseminar.net
SRS - Spirituality, Religions and Sectarianism - http://www.dimarzio.info/en/
invite you in the heart to participate to this process of finding coherent ways to solve the conflicts during the 7th Spiritual Human Rights conference.
Spiritual Human Rights 2014 Conference
Copenhagen, 10th December 2014, from 10.00 - 16.00
„New paradigm of conflict management based on the concept of Concordia, or coherence of the hearts
The conflicting state is the product of unilateral actions, lacking the horizon opened up by the understanding of other different viewpoints than our own.
Nature itself is a permanent regaining of the state of harmony and balance, an action of permanent compensation of apparently conflicting forces. The universe provides us with the most eloquent example of transformation of conflicting forces into complementary forces, the difference between the two aspects being as big as that between death and life.
Spiritual systems say in unison that there is a fundamental unity of the universal consciousness, a unique origin of everything that exists. The purpose of spirituality in general is to provide the path for regaining this universal, unifying factor, starting from the individual consciousness.
During our side event „Shamanic Practices and related health and spiritual issues”, we had with a Danish shaman in apprenticeship from the Amazonian Sipibo-tribe, Jan Hansen, which is now convicted to 6 month imprisonment due to his beliefs.
Here is his story:
„My name is Jan Hansen, and I am a Danish shaman. After many years of meditation, psychotherapy and living with Buddhist monks in Thailand I came to Peru in 2007 to learn shamanic tradition from the Amazon’ Shipibo-tribe. After some years my Maestro invited me to be his apprentice, and since then I have practiced as a shaman. (...)
There are spiritual traditions, as the shamanic practices, that are spread around the globe, in Asia, South and Central America, and even Europe. These systems have roots going back hundreds and even thousands of years.
We had as guest at “Shamanic Practices and related health and spiritual issues” side event OSCE – HDIM 2014 a Sami shaman, Jungle Svonni.
Here is his presentation:
„My name is Jungle Svonni, and I am a Sami shaman. We Sami are the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula. Currently our land is occupied by Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. My family migrates with our reindeers between Sweden in winter and Norway in summer.
Our ancestral culture and religion is shamanic. However, the colonizing countries, like Sweden and Norway, have for centuries acted to exterminate our religion. By cutting our spiritual connection to nature through shamanism, the connection of all our culture is lost.
In an increasingly globalised society religions will influence each other. New relations and situations will appear organically.
Practitioners of certain spiritual traditions risk their human rights and even their freedom due to ambiguous, unspecific legislation regarding the regulation of illegal food and substances.
In the case of shamanic practitioners using herbs, they may risk to find themselves convicted and imprisoned due to the ambiguous the legal status of herbs and other ingredients of shamanic ritual practices.*
Another special guest of our side event "Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society" was Mr Advaita Stoian.
Advaita Stoian talked on behalf of M.I.S.A. yoga school from Romania where he has been a student for the last 25 years when he began his spiritual path. From the perspective of a practitioner, he pointed out some aspects related to voluntary work, the topic of one of the side events organised by Soteria International within the OSCE – HDIM held on 30th September 2014, in Warsaw.
It is known that in the traditional yoga system, voluntary work is called karma yoga and it represents in itself a complete system of spiritual evolution or individual transformation. As a yoga practitioner, Advaita has often noticed how society and even the Romanian authorities have misinterpreted these spiritual practices currently used in M.I.S.A yoga school, tending to judge them from an individualistic perspective - this perspective excludes individual transformation and tends to preserve the individual status irrespective of its problems.
In the proceedings of our side event regarding “Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society”, we also had as guest speaker Mr Willy Fautre, the director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, NGO based in Brussels.
Mr Fautre expressed his concern regarding the freedom of spiritual groups and their practices, by presenting the case of a yoga practitioner from MISA yoga school in Romania.
Recently, the European Court of Human Rights convicted Romania in the case of the yoga practitioner Dana C. who was taken by force, kept against her will at a psychiatric hospital where she was force-fed heavy medicine against Schizophrenia. After some months of abuses, Dana C. managed to escape her captivity.
The conviction in the ECHR and human right organisations making her story public highlight the gravity of human rights violations and confirms the social dimension of the yogis’ case in Romania, going beyond an individual and affecting the life of thousands.
We invite you read the presentation of this case made by Mr Fautre.
During our side event at OSCE regarding “Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society” we have had the opportunity to listen to NARYA TOSSETTO – the representative of Ananda Assisi, Italy.
He shared with us important information about what happened to the Ananda Assisi community from Italy, a few years ago.
Here is a short description of his story and you will also find his video – presentation.
Synthesis of the voluntary work side event OSCE - HDIM – 2014
Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society
During our side event regarding voluntary work, in which we wanted to find out if the judicial system is misused to persecute spiritual movements because of their voluntary work, we started by clarifying some questions:
Why people do voluntary work?
Voluntary work has existed in all societies and in all times and currently it is popular all over Europe: in Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK.
Along the whole human history, voluntary work has been perceived as an altruistic activity, intending to promote goodwill and goodness, improve the quality of human life and develop fundamental human qualities such as compassion, love, helpfulness, empathy, detachment, self-worth and self-respect. Society recognizes the value of voluntary work and welcomes it, generally respects it and many times even promotes it.
SIDE EVENT OSCE – HDIM 2014
1st OCT, 6 PM, WARSAW, POLAND
Shamanic Practices and related health and spiritual issues
Does European law violates fundamental rights of shamans? Are contemporary laws still based in an out dated separation of body and soul, science and religion?
After a thousand years of Christian hegemony, Europe is today a melting pot of different spiritual and religious traditions. Some are easily incorporated in society; others stick out with uncomfortable edges, challenging preconceived ideas of society. Some traditions as so fundamentally different that they seemingly collide with the practice of law.
As the spiritual practices are rapidly growing in the OSCE member states, it is of paramount importance to highlight the human right situation of shamanism, as the freedom of religion and health is today obstructed by judicial practice that has not been adapted to a modern religious landscape.
SIDE EVENT OSCE – HDIM 2014
30 SEPT, 6 PM, WARSAW, POLAND
Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society
Diverging perspective on Voluntary Work in contemporary society and the incrimination of VW performed within spiritual groups and organizations
Along the whole human history, Voluntary Work has been perceived as an altruistic activity, who's intent and effect is to promote good will and goodness, improve the quality of human life and, moreover, to develop in those practicing it such fundamental human qualities as compassion, love, helpfulness, empathy, detachment, self-worth and self-respect. As such, there have been inspiring figures who serve as benchmarks for the ideal human development and realisation, figures that become remarkable also due to their unabated VW performed for the benefit of others. Such figures include Gandhi, Mother Theresa, St. Francis of Assisi and many others.
Since the beginning of the existence of humanity, people have gathered together and worked for a better life and improved living conditions. Their togetherness was named or interpreted in various ways; as tribes, villages, countries and even as the unification of different countries. Guided by love and understanding of each other, or guided by material interests, people worked together, for their own good, for the good of others or for the good of society.
Kindness, helpfullness, compassion, giving without receiving or expecting to receive anything back have been considered as honourable qualities of a human being. It’s at the core of most religions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, profoundly exemplified by the main propagators of these teachings in practice in real life and are considered as examples to follow by our modern civilization in spite of an increased emphasis upon selfish behaviour and catering for our own modern day material needs.
During 2013/2014 Soteria International has grown in number of members, collaborators and staff. As many of us are based in different countries, we decided to have a week together in the beautiful Danish countryside, in connection with the general assembly.
During the week Soteria International collaborators and staff took time to look into new areas of work and collaborations, at national and international levels. The plan of action for 2014/2015 was discussed and elaborated. The week also offered individual presentations and studies, deepening the understanding of spiritual human rights and the platform of our work.
The general assembly was kept available on Skype, in order to facilitate for more members to join. The Skype facilitating generated the biggest number of members so far to join a general assembly. Many members also stayed online after, for Skype discussions on relevant topics, prepared by the board. The discussions were equally inspiring for the board as for new members and collaborators!
We heartfuly welcome our new members, collaborators and staff members! The work year of 2014/2015 offer us new challenges and opportunities to go further in the fight for spiritual human rights for all!
First meeting in Europe, 28 June 2014
On 28th of June, 2014, in an atmosphere of openness, mutual respect, tolerance and friendship, an informal group of NGOs, religious communities and denominations met in Brussels, led by a common aspiration to create a free space for dialogue and work together on specific religious freedom issues and problems.
Even if having different opinion on many religious aspects, all the NGOs attending the meeting were unanimous on the belief that religious convictions are to be freely expressed and on the necessity to work together for this.
Soteria is part of this initiative unique in Europe and opening concrete collaboration regarding the freedom of thought, conscience and beliefs.
Soteria is confident that the new born platform has the potential of a think tank for sharing best practices as well as developing new practices related to the way the spirituality should be perceived and accepted, as a constructive element for our future Europe.
Soteria Interational participated at the The European Anti-Racist Convention - Setting the Movement in Motion! kept by European Network Against Racism (ENAR) in Brussels 20-21st June. The convention was also the General Assembly of ENAR.
Participants from all over Europe came to the convention to discuss common strategies for the coming years. Soteria International emphasisied the importance of recognising diversity as complementary, not antagonistic. It is time to leave the simplified view on equality based in ”sameness” behind, and instead work towards a natural co-existence in a diverse reality.
ENAR is one of the biggest NGO networks in Europe and the General Secretary of five European Parliament groups were present to initiate dialogue for the coming mandate period; Mr Martin Kamp (EPP), Mr Jacob Moroza-Rasmussen (ALDE),Mrs Paraskevi Tsetsi, (Green) Mrs Anna Colombo (S&D) and Mrs Maria Dalimonte (GUE). Soteria International’s focus on EU responsibility and sanctions when human rights are not respected within EU member states, as well as the misuse of of EU policies, were among the issues heard and discussed. The General Secretary of all five groups affirmed their commitment to put the sanctions into action, as well as keeping a continued dialogue with Soteria International regarding specific cases where such measures are called for.
The IRF Roundtable (IRF = International Religious Freedom) is an informal group of individuals from non-governmental organizations who gather regularly to discuss IRF issues on a non-attribution basis. It is simply a safe space where participants gather, speak freely in sharing ideas and information, and propose joint advocacy actions to address specific IRF issues and problems.
Meetings will be open to all civil society members and every NGO that share concerns about religious freedom issues and are committed to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The non-attribution basis means that if a report of the discussions during the meetings is done, no specific quote or position will be attributed to anyone, making the roundtable a safe space for expressing views and sharing ideas.