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Pagina principale 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

Scritto da 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 recent paradox of freezing EU Talks with front-runner Croatia, while continuing controversial EU - Turkey talks, despite Zagreb's acceptance of Refugees' Human Rights to return, that Ankara refuses fex. in Cyprus, while both have "Good Neighborhood" problems vis a vis Slovenia, or Greece, Cyprus and Armenia respectively, can it be justified by the non-fullfilment of EU criteria, as Slovenia says, or, is it "Double Standards" ?    

The question became unavoidable after statements by Presidents of Slovenia and Croatia, Tuerk and Mesic, respectively, to "EuroFora", exclusively or among Strasbourg's journalists this week at the CoE, on the sidelines of its 2009 Summer University for Political Schools, which topically brought them together as successive key-note speakers.


    Comming only a few Months before EU checks Turkey's compliance to its commitments on Cyprus, etc., scheduled for December 2009, this obviously has a special importance for the coherence of EU Enlargement's principles.

     Suspension of EU Negotiations is a normal consequence in case of a Candidate Country's failure to fullfil EU Conditions, such as "Good Neighborhood relations", stressed at first Slovenian President Danilo Tuerk, current CoE's chair.

    But, regarding EU's Criteria,  there shouldn't be any "Double Standards",  reacted Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, commenting the fact that Turkey's controversial EU negotiations continue, while they were recently "freezed" in the case of Croatia, an "unquestionably European Country", which oficially accepts to respect Refugees Human Rights, contrary to Ankara's notorious refusals or reluctance.                                       

imag0475_400
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           - "EU itself has set as a Criterium (for EU Enlargement) the "Good Neighborhood relations",  and their absence justifies the "Suspension" EU Negotiations, (f.ex. with Croatia), because of a Border dispute affecting the territorial integrity of an EU Member Country, stressed Slovenian President, Danilo Tuerk, CoE's Chairman in office (May - November 2009), speaking to Journalists in Strasbourg including "EuroFora".    

Questioned earlier what "consequences on EU's Enlargement policy" can have the "Ban on EU Membership Negotiations", imposed to Croatia, Tuerk replied that "this question comes down to the fulfillement of (EU) Criteria for membership. One has to look at each Candidate Country ., from the point of view whether it fullfils the Criteria that EU has set. One of them are Good Neighborhood Relations, I'd like to remind. And also, there are other factors, such as Justice, Home affairs, Rule of Law, and others".


    - "Now, ..Candidate Countries are at Different Levels of fulfillement of Criteria", he observed.

    - " Croatia is obviously the closest to that. I'm rather optimistic : I think that in the coming Months we'll have an opportunity to look at all these issues constructively and hopefully we'll be able to make progress". "My main concern, at this point, is the situation in Bosnia : We haven't seen enough progres domesticaly. We haven't seen enough during ..political parties within their country.We need a New Energy, a new energetic move towards the Candidature for EU membership. "Other (Western Balkan) Countries (Serbia, Montenegro, FYROM, Albania) have been making soaring Progress, and I think that they should be ready, in a few Years, for the Candidate status".

    - "As far as the Western Balkans are concerned, .. nobody should be left outside" the EU, Slovenian's President concluded, ommitting to mention Turkey's controversial EU bid.

    - "This process may be seen as Slow, but..  Slovenia has also has also been exposed to various "Booms of Slowness" in our accession period. But now we can say that the process was relatively quick, because changes which occur after becoming EU member, are quite large, and they require proper Preparations before the (EU) membership becomes a new factor, an impacting line for a new (EU) member country".
----------------------------

EU "Solidarity" ?
------------------------------   

Slovenian statements made some participants from certain 3rd Countries as FYROM, etc. claim that "the Principle of EU Solidarity" would "produce a.. rising European Union Nationalism (sic !), against Non-EU Countries", as they said, asking unhappy foreign countries to form a "bloc" to exert pressure on the EU...    

But Croatian President Stjepan Mesic dismissed that, supporting "EU Integration", "after the Economy also in Political" issues, as "the achievement" of our times. In EU there is "diversity, but it's United", he stressed, "EU has to be United so that it can become a central factor of Peace" also at the surrounding areas, he replied.

croatian_president_mesic_ 

Speaking later exclusively to "EuroFora", the experienced twice President of Croatia, former President of the International "Non-Aligned" movement, denounced "Double Standards" in the way EU treats recently Croatia compared to Turkey :   

 - "I think that there shouldn't be Double Standards", stressed the Croatian President, in reply to a Question comparing the freeze of EU - Croatia talks, with the continuation of EU - Turkey talks, despite the fact that Croatia is an "unquestionably European country", while Turkey's EU bid is notoriously controversial.


    Mesic was reacting to the observation that, even if he confirmed his "respect of Refugees' Human Rights to return, etc. (See infra), nevertheless, EU talks are suspended with Croatia.. While for oher, controversial candidates, who refuse to respect Refugees' Rights to return, etc., as fex. Turkey does in occupied Cyprus and elsewhere, EU negotiations continue".

    - "I believe that Croatia's accession will confirm that all European Countries who fulfill all of the Conditions and achieve European Standards, have to join the EU. There shouldn't be any Double Standards", went on to add in reply President Mesic.

    In this relation, Croatia's President found "of paramount importance", CoE's "mechanisms enforcing ECHR's judgements"
    
    - "On Refugees and Displaced persons, the process will be completed only after the last person demanding to return will be allowed to do so !", President Mesic Croatia stressed earlier, setting a general standard of obvious importance also for otherr candidates, as f.ex. Turkey, often accused to exclude or heavily restrict Greek Cypriot Displaced persons' return to their Family Homes and ancestral land, provoke difficulties to Turkish-Kurd IDPs return to their home regions at the South-East, etc.

    Some "2.000 People are still reported Missing" in former Yugoslavia, for some Years, (as in Cyprus, modern Europe's oldest case, for 3 Decades. Nagorno-Karabach, Tcecnya in Russia, etc, more recently), and Investigations "will only be completed after establishing the fate of the last one of them", he added.
    
    Speaking earlier on "War Crimes", President Mesic stressed that "Leaders are responsible for (the) Wars (of the Past), not the People", and called against Impunity :  "Individuals have to be held Responsible for Crimes. International Penal Tribunals have to persecute those individuals", perpetrators of War Crimes, he underlined.

    Such statements naturally made Mesic rather popular at ECHR, whose President, French EuroJudge, Professor Jean-Paul Costa, looked particularly smiling when he welcomed him later on Wednesday afternoon, after Slovenian President Daniko Tuerk earlier this week.
           

***

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