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Salles Report: Considerations on the works of the Plenary Assembly of COE 

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Five Questions and one Proposal

 

 

Article by Raffaella Di Marzio

 

 

Read also the Review on the Discussion

 


 

Preliminary remarks

 


On April 10, the Plenary Assembly of the Council of Europe rejected the Recommendation proposed by the French MP Rudy Salles, aimed to “protect minors from excesses of cults” and approved the pertinent Resolution, heavily amending it, so much that Salles himself stated that the resolution voted by the Assembly was no longer the one he proposed, because completely “distorted” by the 42 amendments tabled by the opponents.

 

Media did not comment upon this important discussion. Even the news service of the Council of Europe Television, that reports on the weekly works of the Assembly, made no mention of this discussion, while reporting on others having to do with different issues, debated that same week.

 

Same for Italy, an absolute silence, with two exceptions: Agenzia Radicale and the Corriere della Sera. Also the choice of “not speaking” means something: not speaking about a certain issue, means to remove it from public scrutiny and, therefore, from critics. Unfortunately for somebody, this strategy works all right with mercenary press (which is almost all of them), but not with the NGOs and the associations monitoring the violations of human rights that, on the contrary, did everything possible to shed light and expose what was going on at the Council of Europe. 

 

 

After having followed the live broadcast of the Assembly’s works, which I reviewed in the article Rudy Salles’ Report: Discussion at the Council of Europe, and after having rejoiced for the win that the NGOs and the European citizens achieved with the reject of the French policy against “cults”, there are still some important questions left unanswered, which leave however a bitter taste in my mouth, because this victory is not safeguarding completely religious and spiritual minorities from other draconian and discriminatory legislations.

 

 

 

Five Questions for the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe

 

The danger still exists, unless we do not succeed in giving a clear-cut answer to some questions and, consequently, to impede that such an attack to civil and democratic liberties reoccurs. The “Rudy Salles” seated in the parliaments of the member States, are always ready to try it again, when nobody expects it, and this can occur also due to the laziness, ignorance and/or bad faith of those who gave Salles the mandate to prepare the draft of his report, attached to the resolution and the recommendation: The protection of minors against the excesses of cults

 

More than once, during the Assembly, the French MP stated that the Council of Europe had appointed him to prepare the report “The protection of minors against the excesses of cults”. His, therefore, was NOT a mandate from France,but from the Council of Europe. He responded so to the objection of other MPs (not French ones) that the report was nothing more than the attempt to export the French anti-religious policy against cults to Europe. Therefore, I believe that first is necessary to ask ourselves:

QUESTION 1: Why the Council of Europe appointed exactly Rudy Salles?

The second element that came up during the discussion – which I find incomprehensible – is the fact that in the title and throughout the text of the report, of the resolution and recommendation, not yet amended, the word “cult” appeared frequently. A term, this one, that the Recommendation 1412/1999 of the Council of Europe expressly forbade to use because discriminatory and stigmatizing for the minorities. The recommendation indicated the use of another more consonant terminology to indicate the groups at issue. So I wonder:

QUESTION 2: How could the concerned Committee approve and forward to the Assembly this report and the draft of the resolution and recommendation which are in total contradiction with a previous Report of the same body, namely the Council of Europe?

I would like to make the third consideration on the representativeness of the Assembly which I witnessed last 10th April. Out of 318 members just a little more than 50 were present. The impression I got from the entire discussion is that the Plenary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in that circumstance, was acting as a branch of the Belgian and French parliaments. The decisions taken, however, would have gained a general value and would have been transmitted to the member States like if they had been taken by the majority of the MPs of all the 47 member states. From this reflection comes my third question:

QUESTION 3: How is it possible that such decisions affecting man’s fundamental rights, are taken by such a small minority of MPs, moreover largely part and representatives of the same member State, repeatedly condemned by the ECHR for the violation of religious minorities’ rights?

A last important consideration. During the discussion, two French MPs made very serious statements on the European Court of Human Rights, one of the Council of Europe’s Institutions. MP Michel defined the ECHR “Liberal and not so reliable”, showing his dislike for the rulings that repeatedly condemned France for the violation of human rights, occurred precisely because of the anti-religious policy of his country. For its part, Salles, the rapporteur, had no hesitation in criticizing the ECHR in his report:

"The  case-law of the European Court of Human Rights regarding “sects” could be described as very liberal. Firstly, the Court refrains from giving a definition of “sects” and recognizes the existence of religious minorities in general.  Secondly, the Court has never ruled on the issue of the prohibition of any religious movement. Even when evidence concerning  practices of sects which are punishable under criminal  law is brought before it, it confines itself (being unable to do otherwise because of its very specific role) to analyzing the lawfulness, necessity and proportionality of the measures taken by the national authorities"

Listening and reading these statements of the two French MPs, I wondered:

QUESTION 4: How is it possible that a report in which the French MP Salles launches these “sanctionary” statements toward the ECHR – accused of being too “liberal” – made it all its way to the Assembly?

And most of all:

QUESTION 5: How is it possible that those same statements, repeated during the Assembly by the French MP Michel, have not raised an avalanche of protests, first of all by the President on duty?

It is my belief that, unless we get satisfactory answers to these and other questions, we won’t be able to prevent that other reports like that of Salles, are proposed again in the future and that – due to the laziness of many – they reach the Assembly as soon as the clamor created by the tens of thousands signatures collected and the mobilization of more than eighty between NGOs and experts in this field will be appeased.

I believe that this might happen because, in my understanding, the “octopus head” is not in Strasbourg, and because what I saw at work in the Council of Europe on April 10, 2014, was just one of its numerous tentacles.

 

 

Does the Council of Europe promotes something it should forbid?

 

On the site of the Council of Europe we read:

The Council of Europe advocates freedom of expression and of the media, freedom of assembly, equality, and the protection of minorities. It has launched campaigns on issues such as child protection, online hate speech, and the rights of the Roma, Europe’s largest minority. The Council of Europe helps member states fight corruption and terrorism and undertake necessary judicial reforms. Its group of constitutional experts, known as the Venice Commission, offers legal advice to countries throughout the world.

Looking at the session of April 10, 2014, I’ve had the impression to be watching the wrong session. In reality, the Plenary Assembly was working to amend and adopt a resolution and a recommendation that nothing had to do with the defense of the rights of children in all social contexts, family included, but rather with the instigation to discriminate religious minorities labeled as “cults”, in flagrant violation of a previous recommendation.

The subject of the discussion were the alleged abuses or excesses supposedly taking place in the alleged “cults” without any data or specification given about it. The rapporteur has not been able to give a definition of “cult” or of “excess” or to clarify why it would be necessary to protect children from abuses taking place in the religious minorities and not in the traditional religions …

In addition to these considerations, which make Salles Report absolutely unreliable, there is also the opinion of the MIVILUDES itself that, in 2009, in its report on cults – after a survey done on the incidence of abuses against children in the “cults” in Europe – concluded that in the UK, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Portugal, Nederland, Greece, Ireland, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Finland, Albany, Malta and Luxemburg, there were no reports about particular criminal activities, nor a real problem on the specific phenomenon of child abuses in the “cults”.

 

 

A Proposal

 

In truth, my opinion is that to be faithful to its true purpose, the Council of Europe should instead entrust some MPs to prepare a report with a similar title: “The protection of religious minorities against the excesses of the anti-religious organizations in Europe”. This Report, unlike that of Salles, would contain reliable information, indisputable data, actual cases of discrimination, scaremongering and stigmatization against several religious minorities in Europe.

The Report would also be backed up by documents, court rulings and studies carried out on the ground – just to give an example – by Human Right Without Frontiers, performing since many years an unremitting activity of denunciation of violations against the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB). In fact HRWF, as it should be, deals with discriminations taking place to the detriment of all religious groups, especially when they are a “minority” in certain contexts.

The Council of Europe would then be able to make use of the data collected in recent years by human rights activists in the majority of the member States and see how children can become victims in very different contexts, also because of the anti-religious campaigns that prevent parents to exercise the right to educate their sons or who take them away from them by force and without any reason.

I hope that some of the MPs present at the Plenary Assembly that in a commendable way spared no effort to amend the resolution, opposing Salles’ recommendation, will pick up this suggestion. There are 12,365 European citizens who signed the petition against the French report who would be happy to support them in this initiative.

 


 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

 

 

 

Religious Freedom in Europe

Concern for Rudy Salles report

Council of Europe: Recommendation 1412 (1999)

Council of Europe: Resolution 1992 (2014)

Debate: Protection of minors against excesses of sects