Review of the Discussion on the Report “The protection of minors against excesses of cults" held on 10th April 2014 at the Council of Europe
The discussion on the Report "The protection of minors against excesses of cults”, of the French parliamentarian Rudy Salles took place on 10th April 2014, at the Council of Europe, during the Plenary Assembly.
La dott.ssa Raffaella di Marzio has followed the entire live broadcast of the discussion, on which she made a few comments with the aid of some videos. Three of them are in English, the others in Italian. It’s also possible to watch the whole discussion in English.
First, she notes one aspect that needs to be underlined. The idea usually one has of the Council of Europe is that of an organization
formed by 47 States, playing an important role for our continent. Studied in depth the matter, it can be realized that, in reality, the Council of Europe is just one of the many expensive unwieldy bureaucratic organizations that we, the European citizens, contribute to support with our money. The aims of this Institution would even be sharable, but the facts and the results are not what one would expect.
There are 2,200 people working in the seat of Strasbourg, without counting the various external offices with which the institution is connected. That is the seat were our parliamentarians are supposed to go to take a stand and vote onimportant issues related to lawfulness, human rights, defense of minorities, and so forth. The recommendations approved by the Council of Europe should be put into practice by all the members States.
The reality is quite different. On 10th April 2014, I assisted to a plenary assembly attended just by 55 – 59 European parliamentarians out of the 318 foreseen. The fact alone that the session was held and decisions have been taken by such a scarce number of parliamentarians, says a lot on the importance given to this institution and, unfortunately, to the issues being debated. The latter, however, are of great social and political importance and should be addressed in assemblies representing all the 47 member States, and therefore, should be democratic and pluralistic
The skimpy assembly I saw expressing itself on 10th April, on the contrary, seemed like a small branch of the French Parliament, in which were seated also some representatives of Belgium and Switzerland. This strong and cohesive group was opposed by few others: two British parliamentarians, one Moldavian, one Norwegian and one Ukraine. The rest of the huge venue was semi-desert and the rest of the few parliamentarians present, limited themselves to vote without intervening, also due to the many amendments under examination and the tight time left for interventions.
This “desert” was supposed to be the place where a resolution and recommendation to the member States had to be discussed and adopted, that concerned an issue of great relevance for the defense of religious freedom on one hand, and for the protection of minors, on the other.
The final outcome of the works can be synthetically summarized in two documents:
- The adoption of a resolution that was strongly amended compared to the one proposed by Rudy Salles, so much that he himself stated, after the approval of a good portion of the 42 amendments, that his “creature” had been “completely turned upside down”
- The rejection of the recommendation, prepared by Salles and friends, that should
have been sent to the Member States.
The Assembly opened with the report of Salles who immediately took the opportunity to complain about the avalanche of letters, complaints, protests, declarations, statements, clear stands and, if that weren’t enough, of a petition of over 10,000 people asking the President of the Assembly to impede the approval of his report.
In fact, in the days leading up to 10th April, more than 80 human rights organizations and experts in criminal law and religious freedom around the world, had sent to President Anne Brasseur and other important members of the Parliamentary Assembly, dozens of letters asking them to reject both the recommendation and the resolution presented by Salles, because, if approved, they would have put the religious freedom of minorities in Europe at stake. In addition, the President had also received a petition signed by more than 10,000 people, asking for the same thing.
In this excerpt of the introductory intervention of Salles, the interesting aspect is that he defined the dozens of letters sent to the Council of Europe, which surely ended all up on the table of the Commission to which he himself belongs, as “very vehement complaints”, “unacceptable pressures”, “a too organized offensive to be a spontaneous one”.
Hon. Rudy Salles (excerpt of the presentation- Italian)
Immediately after Salles’ intervention, that of Michel, French, a tireless supporter of the report. I have been particularly impressed by some of the statements contained in the speech of this parliamentarian, among which his assertion that other parliamentarians and him would have been put ”under pressure”. In his speech, though, Michel gives reason to what the famous letters put in evidence, i.e. he admitted that, with regard to the sectarian drifts, “statistical data are lacking, information is missing, the term cults and sectarian drifts are not well defined and there is shortage of case law on this issue by the European Court of Human Rights”.
The most disturbing aspect of his utterances, in my opinion, is the one that emerged from his assessment of ECHR jurisprudence, which he defined “liberal and scarcely reliable”. A similar statement, done in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe seems at least strange… yet the president of the Assembly did not flinch…
Hon. Michel (full intervention- Italian)
After Michel’s intervention, the list of speakers envisioned that of Hon. Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova), one of the parliamentarians most critical about Salles’ report. In his place, though, the President called to speak Schneider, another French rapporteur in favor of the report, and whose intervention was scheduled after other five.
Michel’s intervention was followed by that of Binley (United Kingdom), the first speaker critical about the Report. In his intervention he underlined how it “proposes twisted information, stigmatizes minority groups, is an accrual of banality and vague accusations that, however, in France have caused serious damages to families and children”. It is of interest listening to his intervention in which he is reporting about some real cases.
Hon. Binley (Full speech- English)
This rapporteur’s speech was followed by those of two French parliamentarians who defended Salles’ report claiming that cults are different from religions, without explaining why and proclaiming themselves advocates of freedom of others. In particular, in a cult “young people are alienated”, said Hon. Karamali (France), and “they are no longer the masters of themselves and it is our duty to protect their conscience and their freedom”.
During the speeches of his colleagues, Hon. Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova) – ousted from the list – succeeded in reaching the table of the Presidency and claiming his right to speak, protesting for the attempt of censorship suffered, at the beginning of his speech, which is recommend to see in full.
In the critic of Ghiletchi, the strong point is that in the Recommendation 1412/1999 the Council of Europe urged the member States not to use the word “cult” but a less stigmatizing word, that of “religious, esoteric or spiritual groups”. The rapporteur rightly pointed out that the Assembly could not agree of using the word “cult”, as this was contradicting a previous recommendation”. Also Ghiletchi, like other speakers, reminded to his colleagues the numerous letters of protest received by the Assembly, the negative opinions by leading members of civil society engaged in the defense of human rights and the concern of the NGOs, as well as the results of the petition earlier mentioned. The intervention is interesting and worth listening to in its entirety.
Hon. Ghiletchi (full intervention- English)
The intervention of Hon. Wold (Norway) was along the lines of those of Ghiletchi and Binley. He spoke of an “explosion of oppositions” to the Salles’ Report and recalled that the French policy against cults and the use of this word to stigmatize minorities was also condemned in the Special Report of the United Nations in 2005 (see Document at pages 48-50). He also pointed out that Salles “works with antireligious groups, such as the MIVILUDES, fact which he himself confirmed to the press”.
Hon. Wold (full intervention - English)
In his reply Salles should have responded to the critics of his colleagues, but he didn’t, preferring instead to complain about the “counter-truths” he just listened to, and stated that his Report was not a French report, that the MIVILUDES was a public entity and showed to be annoyed by the fact that cults are associations and cannot be prohibited.
Hon. Salles (Reply- English)
Very interesting and precise were the speeches of the United Kingdom deputies Hon.
Binley and Lord Anderson. Salles failed to oppose their arguments with satisfactory
answers, just uttering irrefutable slogans and dogmas.
Hon. Binley (On amendment #33 –Italian)
Lord Anderson (On amendment # 34- Italian)
The discussion continued on the issue of the word cult, for which there is not an agreed upon definition. In response to these critics, Salles always replied the same thing: this was not his problem, but that of his colleagues that did not understand that the phenomenon exists, “they do not want to recognize the truth”, “they deny the phenomenon”, etc.
Ai critici del rapporto si è aggiunto anche l’On. ucraino Sobolev che, molto opportunamente, ha puntualizzato il fatto che chiunque, anche gli ebrei, potrebbero essere accusati, in un Hon Sobolev from Ukraine joined the chorus of critics of the report and, quite rightly, pointed out that anyone, even the Jews, could be accused, in a given contest, of being a “cult”.
Hon. Sobolev (Full intervention- Italian)
Alle successive richieste di Ghiletchi, che si è associato all'intervento di Sobolev che ha proposto di cambiare il titolo della risoluzione eliminando la parola "setta", Salles ha risposto che “le sette vanno aldilà di quanto ha detto Ghiletchi”, che “ci sono delle sette sportive, mediche e non rientrano nel quadro di quanto ha detto”. Poi ha accusato il collega di voler “snaturare il testo” e del fatto che “non riesce a capire cosa si intende quando si parla di «sette»".
On the subsequent requests of Ghiletchi, in support of the intervention of Sobolev proposing to change the title of the resolution eliminating the word “cult”, Salles replied that “cults go beyond what Ghiletchi said”, that “there are sports, and medical cults and they do not fall within the framework of what he said”. He then accused the colleague of wanting to “distort the text” and that “he cannot understand what is meant by 'cults' ”.
In view of Salles’ inconsistent responses, a motion was tabled to ask for the text to be sent back to the commission so as to get this point clarified. The motion was rejected and the voting started.
The resolution 13441, heavily amended, was adopted with 29 votes in favor, 14 against and 11 abstentions. Of particular note is the removal of the very dangerous point #6 in which Salles was asking to the member States to fund private groups to study the phenomenon of “cults”, a policy that France has been following since many years, so much that it is the main financing body of FECRIS, federation of the European anti-cult groups. Here is the part deleted from the resolution:
6.6. to carry out awareness-raising measures about the scale of the phenomenon of sects and excesses of sects, in particular for judges, ombudsmen’s offices, the police and welfare services;
6.7. to adopt or strengthen, if necessary, legislative provisions punishing the abuse of psychological and/or physical weakness, and enabling associations to join proceedings as parties claiming damages in criminal cases concerning excesses of sects;
6.8. to adopt or strengthen, if necessary, legislative provisions punishing the abuse of psychological and/or physical weakness, and enabling associations to join proceedings as parties claiming damages in criminal cases concerning excesses of sects;
The amended and improved resolution, in essence, expresses a general concern about abuses of minors, but it also recommends the respect of the rights of children and parents to freedom of religion or belief and freedom from discrimination.
For the sake of completeness you can read the evaluation of this document in the press release of HRWF.
The second part of the session was held to amend/adopt the recommendation for which 15 amendments were submitted. These amendments were tabled by Binley, Ghiletchi and Lord Anderson, on the following issues:
- The word “cult”, unusable, according to the speakers mentioned before, based on the recommendation of the Council of Europe 1412/1999 and on the verdict of the United Nations of 2005
- The term “excesses” to be replaced with “violation of the law”
- The word “concern”, too general in the text
- The rights of parents to educate their children
A further suggestion that the MPs provided to the Assembly was to seek the advice of the Venice Commission, which, in their view, would help the Council of Europe to clarify the terms used in this recommendation. Salles replied, cutting short, that “the Venice Commission has no jurisdiction in merit”.
To fully evaluate Salles’ response, it is necessary to clarify what the tasks of the Venice Commission are. This entity, founded in 1990, is composed of experts in constitutional and international law, of supreme or constitutional courts judges and of members of national parliaments. The Venice Commission is the European Commission for democracy through Law, an advisory body of the Council of Europe on constitutional matters. It plays an important role in the defense of Europe’s constitutional heritage and has gradually expanded to become an example of independent juridical meditation, internationally recognized.
Despite this, French deputy Rudy Salles believes that the Venice Commission has no jurisdiction in this matter.
Salles himself, in response to the insistence of Mr. Binley who accused him of arrogance because he insisted in using the word cult without being able to define it, who was suggesting to involve legal experts to help clarify the definition of such a delicate and complex matter, replied verbatim
“He refers to leading experts … well, the great cults pay the best experts and draft the best reports in favor of sectarian movements. So, beware, we have to be really careful.”
We do not know to which experts Salles was referring to in his reply, the only certain thing is that Binley was referring to the legal experts of the Venice Commission. It is hoped that Salles was not referring to them when speaking of experts “paid” by cults.
The following interventions were all about the impossibility of recommending to the member States to take action on such an elusive matter and on aggregations for which there was not even an agreed upon definition. Salles responded to all his colleagues’ interventions with repetitive and contemptuous slogans asserting that they “did not understand”.
When the session was coming to its end, honorable Ghiletchi and Lord Anderson made two very valid, effective and pertinent interventions, which is opportune to listen to in full, not only for their absolutely sharable content, but also for the impact that their words have had on the Assembly.
Hon. Ghiletchi (intervention on amendment #28 - Italian)
Lord Anderson (intervention on amendment #31- Italian)
At the end of the works, the recommendation was disapproved because the two thirds of favorable votes was not reached: 28 votes in favor, 18 against and 13 abstentions.
The French “model” against “cults” is thus rejected by the Council of Europe.
Video of the final voting (Italian)