Synthesis of the SHR 2013 Conference

On 10th December 2013, Soteria International co-hosted a conference on the subject of “Freedom of conscience and belief at a crossroads in Europe – self-determination and spiritual teachings”. It is already an established tradition of Soteria International to observe the International Human Rights day by organizing public conferences and roundtables.

In 1950, the United Nations declared 10th December a day to celebrate human dignity, equality and respect, a day to remind governments and politicians that the paramount emphasis of all their actions should be the human dimension. Soteria International decided to further the scope of the human rights’ discussions and to bring perspectives from various spiritual traditions, embraced by more and more people. In 2007 the first Spiritual Human Rights conference took place in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The sixth edition of Spiritual Human Rights Conferences was the first one to be co-organized with partner institutions. In our advocacy and awareness-raising work, both on national level in Denmark, and on the European level, we have encountered human rights activists and experts working in the area of freedom of religion and belief (FORB). It was often voiced that, despite numerous declarations of freedom and respect, societies still struggle with diversity of beliefs. The main axis of the FORB discourse revolves around traditional religions, however religious discrimination impacts greatly also the new religious and spiritual movements. Unfortunately, instead of trying to bring fairness and coherence to the issue, governments not only fail to recognize the situation of NRMs, but in some cases, fuel discrimination and support the violation of human rights due to improper legislative acts.

Together with Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience (CAP), European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF), European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO), Dansk Interreligiøst Forum (DIF) and Youth for Human Rights (UFMR, Denmark), Soteria International decided to bring awareness to the subject and dedicated the SHR-2013 to discuss the situation around the so called “mental manipulation” legislation and how it affects the right to self-determination and the freedom of conscience and belief. The scope of the conference was to unite efforts in finding constructive solutions and to design a joint action plan against any unconstitutional legislation and against any form of discrimination, but also ways to promote acceptance of religious and spiritual diversity in society.

Invited speaker from France, Eric Roux (EIFRF), shared with the audience the historical perspective on the emergence or reemergence of laws against so-called manipulation both on the European level, and particularly in France. His conational, Thierry Valle (CAP) gave concrete examples of misapplication of the law and the concept behind, and thereafter to violations perpetrated by MILVILUDES (French inter-governmental agency) and FECRIS (French-based NGO umbrella). Their presentations were seconded by the Italian speakers: Roberto Zambrenti (Atman Federation) spoke about the persecution he personally faced because of disproportionate reaction of Italian police in result of an unverified complaint from an Italian anti-sect organization; Camillo Maffia, an independent Italian journalist shared how difficult it is to have a professional coverage of new religious movements in Italy, as Italian media is dominated by sensationalistic trends and discriminatory behaviour. Raffaella di Marzio, an Italian psychologist of religion, and a contributing partner to the Brussels based NGO Human Rights without Frontiers, stated that discrimination towards new religious and spiritual movements in Italy is rooted in the institutional field, since Italian governmental agencies and police are working in close cooperation with anti-sect movements, whose opinions and actions are heavily biased and carry vested interests against NRMs.

While the first session of the conference focused on concrete examples aimed to portray the current situation regarding mind-manipulation discourse and new religious and spiritual movements, the second part of the conference focused on a collaborative effort to tackle this situation in a constructive way. The key contributions in the section were given by the practitioner in the field of Human Rights, Danish politician and president of EMISCO, Bashy Quraishy and by the practitioner of spiritual disciplines and a spiritual activist, Advaitananda Stoian, director of Natha Yoga Center of Denmark. Advaitananda reminded the audience that the key concept in the subject of mind manipulation is that an individual’s mind cannot be controlled by anyone if the individual is in control of his own mind and stressed that the spiritual practice is in essence the solution for any discourse on mind manipulation, while states currently apply the contrary measure, hitting on movements promoting spiritual practice. Bashy Quraishy also stressed on the absolute right of self-determination and vehemently stepped against any form of criminalization in case of those who exercise this right. He also stressed on the importance of education, including spiritual education. Speakers from Danish Interfaith Forum, the Evangelical Church of Denmark, Universal Peace Federation joined the discussion sharing their opinions and conclusions after decades of experience in Danish field of freedom of conscience and belief. Participants, including those who joined the conference online, spread into 5 working groups, focusing on how to effectively and constructively interact with institutional organizations, media, academic world social and grassroots activists in order to promote spiritual teachings in respect to the right of self-determination.

All participants expressed that there is an impetuous need to act in this respect and to create a common platform to coordinate actions and to facilitate interactions with European Institutions. Already on the second day after the events many participants joined in a working meeting to set the statutory concepts of the Human Rights Platform to be established in Denmark.

Video-coverage, the text of contributions and the conclusions from the working groups will become available on our website shortly.


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