HUMAN RIGHTS WITHOUT FRONTIERS
RUE DE LA PRESSE 5
PRESSS AND INFORMATION SERVICE
Section "Religious Intolerance and Discrimination"
October 28, 1998
OSCE IMPLEMENTATION MEETING IN WARSAW
Speech delivered by "Human Rights Without Frontiers"
HRWF (26.10.98) - In my capacity as chairman of "Human Rights
Without Frontiers" in Brussels, I would like to
talk briefly about a sensitive issue with regard to
religious freedom in the European Union: the cult issue.
In the last few years, official enquiry commissions have been set up. France was the first country to create a parliamentary
enquiry commission on cults. Its methodology was very
controversial and was heavily criticized by
sociologists and historians of religions. The French parliamentary
report led to the creation of an Observatory of Cults and this
month to an Interministerial Mission on Cults that will carry out a more aggressive policy. Two laws are now to be voted by the
National Assembly. The first one is meant to control
the finances of "cults" more strictly. The
second one is dealing with the control of homeschooling practised
by the children of members of so-called "cults".
On April 28, 1997, the Belgian parlieamentary commission on cults
released its report in which you can find a list of
189 "controversial" movements, including
inside the Catholic Church. In the recommendations, it was even proposed to introduce into the Penal Code an article
providing for a sentence of 2 to 5 years in prison
and/or a fine for those who use beatings, violence,
threats or psychological manipulation to persuade an individual
of the existence of false undertakings, imaginory powers or imminent
On June 19, 1998, after 2 years' work, the German Enquiry Commission
passed its report with a large majority. It was
surprisingly less negative than it had been feared
after the interim report. The German Commission was also the
first to approach the issue from the viewpoint that it is the State's duty to protect consumers against illegal or unfair
practices of cults and psychogroups. The Commission
also recommended to keep Scientology under observation
but in its conclusion, it stated that cults and psychogroups do not represent any danger to the democratic state. Another
positive point was that it strongly recommended to
drop the terminology "cult" or "sect" because
of its bad connotation. The European Parliament unsuccessfully
tried to draft a report of its own but on two occcasions in six months' time, it was rejected by the plenary session.
The Council of Europe is also preparing a report on cults but in
September it was rejected and sent back to the
Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for
further examination. After the failure of the European Parliament's
report, it now seems that the Council of Europe does not know
any more what to do and where to go with its report.
Since the creation of parliamentary commissions, the publication of
their reports and the setting up of observatories of
sects, the mandates of which are ambiguous and open
the door to dangerous and harmful deviances, a number
of media have been libelling minority religions, circulating rumors and false information, inciting religious intolerance with
On this background, a threefold pattern of real persecution is
Firstly, those minority religions have been marginalized, stigmatized
and lynched. Access to public halls for meetings has
been denied to a number of them, has been more
difficult or more expensive than for other organizations.
Officials have become pernickety in fulfilling their administrative
duties. Children at school and adults in their neighbourhood have
Secondly, we now see "unpopular" minority religious isolated
from all the others and targeted by the fiscal
administration: Jehovah's Witnesses and the
Evangelical Pentecostal Church of Besancon. The reaction of public opinion or its lack of reaction may be a testing ground for
the treatment to be applied tomorrow to other minority
Thirdly, it can be feared that plans are being carried out to crush and kill minority religions one by one.
Despite this dark description of the process of deterioration of
religious liberty in the European Union, two recent
events may encourage all those who are concerned about
the future of religious freedom on our continent. This
month, two more reports have been published: one in Sweden and one in Tessin, a canton of Switzerland. Both reproach France and
other countries to wage war against their minority
religions and "to make common cause with the
anti-cult movement". The Swedish Parliament has chosen to follow the opposite direction, to promote dialogue between the State
and society on the one hand and minority religions on
the other hand.
The way is now open to a new generation of reports on cults and to new
more peaceful strategies. Let us hope France, Belgium,
Germany and others will give up their aggressive
methods towards cults and will listen to the voice of
wisdom coming from Sweden.
IMPLEMENTING MEETING IN WARSAW STATEMENT
OF THE INTERNATIONAL HELSINKI FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS FREEDOM
OF RELIGION IN WESTERN EUROPE
HRWF (28.10.98) - The IHF is concerned about clear attempts on the part
of EU and national governments in Western Europe to
adopt new legal provisions to "protect"
individuals from "new religions" (or "sects") which are deemed harmful, and to support "traditional religions".
On 30 April 1998, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives adopted a
draft law regarding the establishment of an
information and advisory center on "harmful
sectarian organizations". The center will scrutinize 189 religious organizations listed in the Belgian Parliamentary Sect
Report. An inappropriate methodology in preparing the
report resulted in making a virtual "black list
of sects" among which are a number of Protestan churches
and organizations to which about 50 percent of the Belgian Protestant
population belong. The publication of the Parliamentary Sect Report
triggered slanderous reporting in some Belgian media, based on
erroneous information and resulting in increased religious intolerance.
In France, increasing intolerance and discrimination against "new religions" is also being observed.
In January 1996, the National Assembly published the Guyard report,
which listed 172 cults deemed harmful and dangerous.
This resulted in media reports libeling minority
religions, the circulation of rumors and false information,
and incitement of religious intolerance.
The fact that the Greek constitution gives the Eastern Orthodox church
the status of an official religion continues to be a
major human rights concern.
In a judgment against Greece for violation of article 9 of the European Convention on human rights, the European Court of Human
Rights criticized in 1996 Greek legislation for
"allowing far-reaching interference by the political,
administrative and ecclesiastical authorities with the exercise of religious freedom" and for "imposing rigid or
indeed prohibitive conditions on the practice of
religious beliefs by certain non-Orthodox movements,"
concluding that there is "a clear tendency on the part of the administrative and ecclesiastical authorities to use these
provisions to restrict activities of faiths outside
the Orthodox Church."
The IHF deplores that since this clear judgment, no progress has been
made by the Greek legislature to modify legislation
that run counter to international human rights law.
The IHF is calling upon OSCE delegations to give due attention to the increasing religious intolerance in the Western part of the
continent and propose concrete steps to reverse this