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Home arrow In Brief arrow ECHR f.Jurisconsult prof.V.Berger: Religious Freedom at Risk by Salles'Report on Sects+minors at CoE

ECHR f.Jurisconsult prof.V.Berger: Religious Freedom at Risk by Salles'Report on Sects+minors at CoE

Written by ACM
Tuesday, 08 April 2014

vberger_on_salles_report_religious_fredom_particularly_of_new_movements_400 

 *Strasbourg/CoE/- Religious Freedom could be "undermined" and exposed to undue "Risks" because of several Controversial points contained at a Draft Report on Sects and Minors, prepared by MEP Salles, which is scheduled to be debated and voted at CoE's Parliamentary Assembly on Thursday, denounces the experienced ECHR's former Jurisconsult, Vincent Berger, professor at the European School of Bruges, in a CoE sidelines' event organized by the President of its PanEuropean Parliamentary Assembly's Social, Health and Development Committee, MEP Valeriu Gihletchi from Moldova, of the ChristianDemocrat/EPP Group. 

Exceptionaly, without endorsing any side's position without a thorough examination of the respective arguments at debate, but given the Timely proximity of Thursday's debate and vote at CoE's Assembly, "EuroFora" publishes Berger's critical presentation (that he read and discussed at a special Hearing in the CoE and kindly gave us) in full , so that all those interested at this issue can have a chance to form their final stance by taking into account also these Legal observations :

vincent_berger_ 

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THE PROTECTION OF MINORS AGAINST EXCESSES OF SECTS:

THE SALLES REPORT1

Note by Vincent Berger
2

(24 March 2014)


1. Obviously, the protection of minors is a legitimate concern in the democratic societies composing the Council of Europe. The Salles Report is however far from responding to this concern satisfactorily.

A. Diversion targets

2. Despite its title, the Salles report contains many passages which are of general scope and suggest that minors are used as a collateral or a pretext for an offensive against "sects" .

a) A specific target

3. The draft recommendation
3 deals exclusively with the protection of minors. It therefore corresponds to the official purpose of the report.

b ) A general target

4. As to the draft resolution, it is aiming at a much larger target
4. Indeed, half of its points do not refer to children and teenagers: they concern "religious and spiritual sectarian groups" (§ 6.3) , "sectarian excesses" (§ § 6.6, 6.7 and 6.8) and "cult phenomenon" (§ 6.6).

5. This is also the case with the explanatory memorandum, including important developments that have no relationships with minors (§ § 11-13 , 22-26 , 28, 35 , 37 and 42-44) .

6. The same applies to the summary of the responses by parliamentary delegations of Member States to the questionnaire sent by the Rapporteur (§ § 1 a) -d) and 2 b) - d)), which was also often of a general nature .

B. Unfounded premises

7. Salles report is based on premises whose relevance is questionable, whether explicit or implicit.

a) Explicit premises

8. A European approach is necessary to protect minors: this is far from obvious, to the extent that, according to the Rapporteur himself, many countries do not face serious cases of "
sectarian excesses" affecting minors and that the vast majority of the States deem useless to legislate on this issue.

9. The "
sectarian excesses " against minors are a "deeply worrying phenomenon" (explanatory memorandum, § 38) and "remains very worrying" (explanatory memorandum, § 46 ): this is contradicted by the available data on rare abuses recorded in some States.

b) Implicit premises

10. "Cults" present a priori a danger to minors: this discredits and throws suspicion on all non traditional churches and communities and on all new religious and spiritual groups, while only a tiny minority of these entities may – or may have in the past – given rise to such criticism.

11. The legislation of Member States, and particularly criminal law, is not sufficient to protect minors: this is a serious accusation against national legislators, suspected of negligence, or even complacency, towards dangerous groups.

12. Public services of Member States do not perform their duties properly, in particular to ensure schooling and health of minors: here again, this is an accusation aimed at national authorities.

C. Questionable models

13. In a veiled yet clearly way, the draft resolution and especially the explanatory memorandum are campaigning for combative systems against "
sectarian excesses", that are supposed to be effective and valid throughout all of Europe.

a) The French "model"


14. The French system, in particular, is presented as a model that should be adopted by all other Member States. But it has not proven its effectiveness, as shown by the paltry number of abuse cases reported by Miviludes. As to the About / Picard law, it has aroused the concern of the Parliamentary Assembly, which invited the French government to reconsider it (Resolution 1309 (2002) Freedom of religion and religious minorities in France, § 6), without success. However, the draft resolution advocates repression – without, however, any reference to minors – of the "abuse of psychological and / or physical weakness of persons ". This is a concept that lies at the heart of the French law but is devoid of scientific value.

b) The German "model"

15. The German system is also portrayed favorably, although less emphasized. Catholic and Protestant churches play an important role in "
counseling victims of ‘sectarian excesses’ and gathering information on sectarian groups" (explanatory memorandum, § 38). The Rapporteur encourages the authorities to grant them financial support for this purpose. However, we can question the neutrality of such churches, which are in direct competition with "cults". One must also consider the risk for the State to delegate its powers to private institutions, to the point that they become the armed branch of public authorities.

D. Redundant initiatives

16. Apart from the aforementioned dangers and drawbacks, the Salles report does not provide any "added value" to the works of the Parliamentary Assembly on the issue and is often only repetitions.

a) Previous works

17. The works of the Parliamentary Assembly on the protection of children against abuses led to Resolutions 1530 (2007) and 1952 (2013) and Recommendations 117 (2007) and 2023 (2013). They have a triple character. First, they are very recent. Then they remedy what seems to appear, in the eyes of the Rapporteur, a deficiency of the European Parliament in the considered field. Finally and most importantly, they cover all issues related to violations of the physical or moral integrity of children. They appear therefore amply adequate.

b) The draft resolution

18. On a general level, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendations 1178 (1992) and 1412 (1999): the first is about sects and new religious movements, the second about the illegal activities of sects. Yet the draft resolution includes two invitations that are already contained in Recommendation 1412 (1999) (§ 8 and § 10 ii and iv.) "
to provide teaching in the history of religions and the main philosophies in schools" (§ 6.4) and "to make sure that compulsory schooling is enforced and ensure strict, prompt and effective monitoring of all private education, including home schooling"(§ 6.5).

E. Inaccurate assumptions

a) The explanatory memorandum

19. The Salles report notes that "
The ECHR has never issued judgments directly concerning minors who have been victims of the influence of sects either directly or through their parents or persons caring for them" (explanatory memorandum, § 14). He explains this in part by "the specific nature of proceedings before the Court" and the "lack of legal capacity to act" of minors under domestic law ( ibid.). He adds that " it is hard to imagine a situation in which parents or legal guardians – followers of a sect – would turn to the courts to protect the children concerned against themselves" (ibid.). He thus suggests that children are helpless, which is incorrect .

b) The Strasbourg jurisprudence

20. States party to the European Convention on Human Rights have a positive obligation to protect individuals. This obligation applies primarily to minors and may be invoked before the national courts by relatives who deem that they are in danger. It is the same in Strasbourg: an indirect victim of a violation of the Convention can complain since he/she has a specific and personal connection to the direct victim. This would be the case of close relatives such as grandparents and aunts or uncles. The absence of ECHR judgments concerning minors affected by "
sectarian excesses" is therefore not explained by any impossibility to file applications meeting the conditions of admissibility.

F. Conclusion

21. If they were adopted as such by the Parliamentary Assembly , the draft resolution and the draft recommendation would be likely to seriously undermine religious freedom and freedom of association guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, they cast aspersions on all new religious and spiritual groups that have emerged in Europe alongside traditional churches and denominations, in suspecting them, a priori, of "
sectarian excesses" unlawful and harmful to minors.

----------------------------------------

1 Report by M. Rudy Salles, Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

2 Attorney at law at the Paris Bar and professor at the Collège d’Europe in Bruges and Warsaw; former jurisconsult of the European Court of Human Rights.

3 Adopted by the Committee on March 3, 2014.

4 Adopted by the Committee on March 3, 2014.

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The official presentation of a "Program" respecting People's choices voted in the June 7, 2009 EU Elections, to be debated in EU Council and EU Parliament during its 1st Session on July in Strasbourg, is the No 1 Priority, according to Democratic principles, for the Franco-German axis, said the main winners at the ballot box, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angie Merkel.

They stressed  that the New EU Commission's President must have a "Program" in favor of an EU which "protects" its Citizens, regulates financial markets and aims at a "Political" Europe" : a wording they have used as incompatible with Turkey's controversial EU bid.

They also declared ready for a "political" endorsment of "Mr. Barroso's candidacy" in June's EU Council, considering that an official decision would have to be made after EU Parliament's debates and votes, possibly from next month (July), with the legally necessary final acceptance shortly after Lisbon Treaty's entry into force, hoped for September or October.


- "A Program, and Mr. Barroso" : This resumes, in substance, the anouncements made by Sarkozy and Merkel, on the question of current EU Commission's President, Barroso's declared wish to succeed to himself for a second mandate, to be extended during the following 5 years.

 In their 1st meeting after EU Elections, they observed that "the Franco-German axis counted in European Elections' campaign... But, we both keep a realistic view : We saw the number of those who abstained, and we must absolutely give them an answer. We also see the disilusionment of an important number of Europeans vis a vis Europe, and we are aware of the responsibilities we have".

sarko

 - The "Duty" of the new EU Commission's President, after June 7, 2009 EU Elections' result, "is to act for a Europe which protects the Europeans, to commit himself into working for a better Regulation of Financial transactions, ... and to have a Political will for Europe", underlined Sarkozy.

Therefore, "we have asked M. Barroso... to clarify, to officialy present the intentions he has", he anounced.

- "We want to speak also about the Programme", explained Merkel.

- "It's important that for the next EU Parliament's mandate (2009-2014) we take the right Decisions for Europe.  Obviously on Persons, but mainly Decisions on Issues", she stressed.

- "It's not simply a question of a Person, it's also a question of a Programme". We are "really asking Mr. Barroso to commit himself on a Program, and on Principles, on Values", Sarkozy added.

EU President-in-office, Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, accepted the Franco-German stance :

- "Barroso must present his Programme. The Czech Presidency agrees with that", Fischer reportedly said later, after meeting Sarkozy.

But Press reports from Brussels claimed that Barroso had preferred to be officially appointed by EU Council since June, (i.e. next week), "because this was implied by the current Treaty of Nice, according to him", and considered any delay until the possible ratification of the new, Lisbon Treaty on September/October, as "undemocratic".

- "At any case, independently of what Germany and France ask, it's also EU Parliament's wish". "We shall propose Mr Barroso's candidacy... But even in the framework of Nice Treaty, EU Parliament has to be associated in this Decision", the French President observed.

If this is correctly done, then "we support Mr. Barroso's candidature", and "if the (EU) Parliament agrees, we might ratify this decision since July", (i.e. next month), they both said.

smerkem_400

- "France and Germany support Baroso's candidacy, But we want to speak also on the Program. We believe that this Program should be established in close cooperation with EU Parliament, and that's why we have followed an appropriate way", said Merkel.  - If EU Parliament wants, this election can take place on July,  but this must be done in full agreement.

- "We shall support Mr. Barroso's candidacy, without doubt", said Sarkozy. "But we have asked from Mr. Barroso, as I told him yesterday, to put into detail.. his intentions, at the eve of his 2nd mandate, if the situation avails itself.


    France and Germany "don't want to take an Official Legal Decision by writting" during "the next (EU) Council" (on June 18-19), declared Sarkozy.  Because they prefer, at this stage, only "a Political decision" on June, "so that we (EU Council) can work together with EU Parliament", which starts to meet only Next Month, since July in Srasbourg, "leaving a Legal decision by writting for later".

    - "If the Conditions are fuillfiled in EU Parliament, we (EU Council) are ready to give the agreement and make it offficial", said Merkel

    - "But, now we are working in the base of Nice Treaty. If tommorow we want to work in the spirit of Lisbon Treaty, we have to find a proper way", she added.

    - "Of course it's Legally complicated, because we are going to make a Political proposal to the forthcoming Council, for an EU Commission's President, on the basis of Nice Treaty : So, we (EU Council) will not appoint the Commissioners. Only the President.  If EU Parliament agrees, it could endorse this position on July", explained Sarkozy.

    But, on Autumn, "if Ireland ratifies Lisbon Treaty, there will be, at any case, a 2nd Decision, to appoint the Commission's President, this time on the basis of Lisbon treaty, and then, we, the EU Member States, would have to appoint (also) the EU Commissioners", he added.

    As for the precise Timing :  - "Everything is suspended until the Irish vote... Now, we must all make everything possible to help Ireland to say "Yes"" to Lisbon Treaty... The Irish Referendum, ..will take place either on September or on October. It's a Question which depends on the Irish. And,  then, we shall have the Choice of the Candidates for the permanent Institutions of Europe".

    However, "if Ireland says No, we, French and Germans, have to assume our responsibilities, and we'll do so", he concluded.

    But British and Swedish governments were reportedly eager to have a final EU Council decision on Barroso since this month, on June's European Council. While the other EU Member Countries are divided, several of them preferring to wait until EU Parliament pronounces itself, on July, and/or until Lisbon Treaty might be ratified by Ireland at the beginning of the Autumn. Barroso's current mandate ends on November.

    There are also various, contradictory and/or unpredictable reactions inside EU Parliament vis a vis Barroso's wish to continue a 2nd mandate, because many MEPs are openly or secretly opposed, reluctant, or hesitating.

    In the biggest EU Countries, as France and Germany, EU Citizens voted on June 2009 EU Elections for a renovated, non-technocratic but Political Europe which cares for its Citizens, with an Identity, Values and Borders, declared incompatible with Turkey's controversial EU bid, by mainstream, pro-European Governing Parties. Similar choices were also supported in several other small or medium EU Countries.

    On the contrary, whenever, in other Countries, Governing and other mainstream Parties didn't make these choices or eluded them, EU Citizens massively voted for euro-Sceptics whenever they were the only ones to to promise anti-bureacratic change and oppose Turkey's demand to enter into the EU, (f.ex. in the UK, Netherlands, etc).

    It's seems to be an Open Question whether Sarkozy and Merkel's conditions will be really accepted by Barroso, who was appointed on 2004 in a different political context, (with Socialist Prime Ministers in Germany, France, etc), had rejected in the Past the idea of EU becoming "equal to the USA" as "ridiculous", and pushed for Turkey's contoversial EU bid, trying to "soften" or contain the changes desired by the People who voted for Merkel and Sarkozy with another policy vis a vis Turkey on 2005 in Germany and on 2007 in France, as they did all over Europe on 2009.

    In addition to many EPP Governments, it's 3 remaining Socialist Prime Ministers : Gordon Brown in the UK, Zapatero in Spain, and Socrates in Prortugal, who support Barroso, as well as Liberal Swedish Prime Minister Reinfeldt. But their Parties lost the June 2009 EU Elections.

    Questioned whether there was still "Time" for "other" possible "Candidates", Sarkozy and Merkel did not deny, nor made any comment on that, but simply said that "it's not for us to make publicity for any candidates. We anounced our choice ("A Program, and Mr. Barroso"). But we respect any other candidate".

    Among various other names cited are former Belgian Prime Minister Verhofstadt, former UNO's Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson of Ireland, Italian former EU Commission's vice-President Monti, etc. Meanwhile, Luxembourg's PM Juncker, (who had been unanimously accepted by EU Council for EU Commission's Presidency on 2004, but refused), announced his intention to resign from "EuroGroup"'s Chair. Thus, he might be available for another Top EU job.

    As "EuroFora"'s "opinion" said (See publication dated 9/6/09) : - "If the current candidates (i.e. Barroso, etc) to the Top EU jobs promise and guarantee to respect People's democratic choices, then, it's OK".

"Otherwise, Europe must find new candidates, really motivated and able to implement these democratic choices of the People."

    Because, "in Democracy, the forthcoming choices for EU's Top Jobs,...should be made according to EU Citizens' Votes in June 7, 2009 European Elections, and main EU Governments' strategic policies".
        

***

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