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.
Civil society has engaged itself broadly against the report of Rudy Salles regarding a strategy for the Council of Europe to battle "sects". It is amazing that the French model is still being considered as an option after decades of massive critique from a human rights perspective.
Soteria International is among the 31 organisations and 33 civic societies and religious leaders who have signed this joint statement to the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council, Anne Brasseur.
The letter is available for download and also published below.
On 7th April the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will vote on a report regarding “the protection of minors against excesses of sects”. The rapporteur Rudy Salles (France) recommends for Europe to adopt the french anti-sect line, in order to protect children from abuses. In the report he juxtaposes the French and the Swedish ways to relate to minority religions and surprisingly finds that the much criticised french anti-sect line with MIVILUDES and FECRIS would be better suited for the future of Europe.
We consider that an adoption of the report would only contribute to stigmatise new religious movements, and fail to essentially protect the childrens’ fundamental rights.
For more information please see article by sect expert DiMarzio on her blog "Spirituality, religion and sectarianism"
Background and information from Coordination of Associations and Individuals for the Freedom of Conscience (CAP)
On 10th of March 2014, in Islamabad, Pakistan, armed men burnt down a yoga center inaugurated by a world famous Indian Hindu guru who once offered to teach inner peace to the Taliban. The Art of Living center was torched on Saturday night in the a suburb of the capital. A police official told AFP some eight to nine people men armed with pistols and guns were involved in the attack. They tied up three employees on duty that day and spread petrol, burning the place down. Happily, the employees survived.
At the end of 2013 the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs sent a report to the European Commission referring to some weak points of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), among which was the fact that the actual EAW is not taking into consideration as priority the respect for the human rights. Now, the executing party has the right to reject the request of extradition if there are Human Rights issues involved.
On 27th February 2014 two ground-breaking resolutions were presented.
The European Commission was prompted to set up a new system to monitor objective and permanent compliance with the EU accession criteria, commonly known as the "Copenhagen criteria". This new "Copenhagen mechanism" should serve to set indicators, draw up binding recommendations and impose penalties – such as freezing EU funding – for countries that fail to comply.
Soteria International was present at the European Ombudsman Interactive event ”Your wish list for Europe” with President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz and European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly moderated by editor of The European Voice Tim King.
Soteria International attended the conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief “The state of freedom of religion or belief in the world” held in Brussels on the 12th of February 2014, where the European Parliament Working Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief (EPWG on FoRB), represented by MEPs Peter van Dalen (ECR) and Dennis de Jong (GUE/NGL), presented its first annual report on freedom of religion in the world.
In what is already becoming an established tradition, the International Human Rights day of December 2013 did not pass unnoticed and last December Soteria International co-hosted a new conference in Copenhagen, this time on the topic of freedom of conscience, entitled “Freedom of conscience and belief at a crossroads in Europe - self-determination and spiritual teachings”.
The sixth edition of Spiritual Human Rights Conferences was the first one to be co-organized with partner institutions, namely the following: Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience (CAP), European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF), European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO), Dansk Interreligiøst Forum (DIF) and Youth for Human Rights (UFMR, Denmark).
One of the main speakers in our conferences, coming from France was Eric Roux (EIFRF). He talked about the laws regarding the so-called manipulation on the European level, and particularly in France, which is not subject to much criticism worldwide. The video footage and his speech is to be found below.