Several freedoms and rights guaranteed by UN instruments were violated in French and Japanese cases of abduction, confinement for the purpose of forceful religious de-conversion. However, the treatment of such cases was very different in France and in Japan.
Freedom of religion or belief for all
Freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed by Article 18 of the ICCPR to all citizens whatever their beliefs or lack of it. In its General Comment n°22, the UN Human Rights Committee says:
2. Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, a well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terns “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility o the part of a predominant religious community.
In the French case, the law enforcement forces and the judiciary have taken the necessary steps to protect the right of Marie Truong to adhere to a new religious movement and have initiated criminal proceedings against her abducting parents. The sentencing of the perpetrators by the French court is sending a strong and deterrent signal to other possible candidates to abduction or so-called “rescue operations” for the purpose of religious de-conversion.
In Japan, the law enforcement forces have systematically failed to protect the rights of members of the Unification Church or Jehovah’s Witnesses because of their prejudice towards these new religious movements, have sympathized with the parents’ concerns and in some cases have even been instrumental in the abduction. Prosecutors have refused to prosecute the perpetrators and courts have failed to give appropriate dissuading sentences. Hence, this illegal practice has been lasting for decades.
Freedom of movement
In the case of Marie Truong, France has protected her freedom of movement guaranteed by Article 12 of the ICCPR.
In Japan, the authorities have not ensured the freedom of movement of all the over age women who were abducted in various circumstances by their parents and relatives and confined at an address unknown until they would recant their faith. These facts remained unpunished.
In its General Comment n°27, the UN Human Rights Committee stated:
6. The State party must ensure that the rights guaranteed in article 12 are protected not only from public but also from private interference. In the case of women, this obligation to protect is particularly pertinent. For example, it is incompatible with article 12, paragraph 1, that the right of a woman to move freely and to choose her residence be made subject, by law or practice, to the decision of another person, including a relative.
In its General Comment n°28 about Article 9 (Right to Liberty and Security of the Person), the UN Human Rights Committee also stated:
16. With regard to article 9, State parties should provide information on any legal provision or any practice which restricts women’s right to freedom of movement, for example the exercise of marital powers over the wife or of parental powers over adult daughters.
Right to marriage
In France, the judicial authorities recognized the right of Marie Truong to live with the man of her choice whatever his beliefs and denied her parents any form of legitimacy to interfere in her choice and separate her from her beloved.
In Japan, many abductions took place when adult children belonging to the Unification Church were about to get engaged or married to another member of the Church. In some cases, they tried or managed to extort from them the annulment of their marriages. Toru Goto was abducted after getting engaged with a Unification Church female follower and confined for over 12 years. These violations of the right to marriage remained unpunished.
In General Comment n°19, the UN Human Rights Committee found:
5. The right to found a family implies, in principle, the possibility to procreate and live together.
Declaring the disappearance of the kidnapped person
In the French case, the informant was not married to the missing person but was then her boy-friend she was living with, and the police duly registered and validated his declaration.
In Japan, the police have systematically disregarded requests for investigation coming from fiancés who belonged to the same new religious movement. In one case known to Human Rights Without Frontiers, the declaration of disappearance of Emiko Motoki made by Tushik Kim, her South Korean husband, was ignored by the law enforcement forces despite his insistence. When Tushik Kim involved the Korean embassy in Tokyo in the issue, the police rushed to the place of confinement and released the victim of abduction.
More recently, Ms. M.M. disappeared on March 28, 2013. Apparently she had been confined by her parents who opposed her faith in the Unification Church. Her fiance, Mr. S.O. asked the police to search for and rescue her. However, the police just contacted her parents and rejected Mr. S.O.’ request to find her whereabouts without confirming M.M.’s will. On April 13, Human Rights Without Frontiers sent a letter to urge the police to act on the case of M.M. as a matter of priority. It requested the police to take all appropriate measures to establish M.M.’s whereabouts and take all steps within its power to ensure that no pressure is put on her to renounce her faith. However, the police did not respond to this request.
In France, the victim of abduction could rely on a fully fledged trial to have her rights respected. The presiding judge Marie-Josèphe Muracciole recalled that the Antoinist movement was not sectarian according to French standards. Furthermore, the procurator Julie Colin, who did not believe the “repenting show” performed by the kidnapping mother, asked for two years in prison against her (therefore 18 months suspended): “Today the masks must fall: they put shackles on Marie, they drugged her and brought her by force in a delirious state of mind: this is very serious.” Working up a case where the mother wanted to “control everything”, the attorney recalled that the young woman only wanted to be independent of her family. “This family is like a sect, it is not an act of love,” she concluded with panache and asked for 18 months with 10 suspended against the father and the son.
In Japan, all known complaints filed jointly against abducting parents and deprogrammers involved in the forced change of religious affiliation have been declared ineligible for criminal proceedings by prosecutors. Human Rights Without Frontiers knows 24 cases for which there were criminal complaints between 1980 and 2008[ii].
The European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms that 47 countries have signed and ratified and which contains strikingly similar freedom of religion or conscience provisions to the ICCPR, has ruled that the State cannot participate or endorse such abductions for forced de-conversions by private actors.
In its decision Riera Blume and Others v. Spain of 14 October 1999, the European Court found a violation of the European Convention by the Spanish State even though the abduction and “deprogramming” had been performed by the parents and an anti-sect association, Pro Juventud.
Furthermore, the European Court has also ruled that the right to religious freedom has to be protected no matter the hostility expressed by relatives towards one’s religious choice[iii].
[i]Antoinism is a healing Christian-oriented religious movement founded in 1910 by Louis-Joseph Antoine (1846-1912) in Belgium. With a total of 64 temples, over forty reading rooms across the world and thousands of members, it remains the only religion established in Belgium whose notoriety and success went outside the country. Mainly active in France, the religious movement is characterized by a decentralized structure, simple rites, discretion and tolerance towards other faiths.
Raised a Catholic, Antoine worked as a coal miner in his youth and then as a steelworker. Deeply influenced by Allan Kardec’s writings, he organized a spiritualist group in the 1890s. In 1893, the death of his son marked the definitive loss of his faith in Catholicism. In 1896, he explained his Spiritist views in a book, then discovered the gifts of healing. Quickly known as a healer, he gathered many followers, mainly among workers disappointed by Catholicism or medicine. In 1906, he broke with Spiritism and started a religion, then published three books outlining his doctrine and consecrated the first Antoinist temple. After his death in 1912, his wife ensured the continuity of the religion, promoting a centralized worship around the person of her husband and providing additional rules in the organization. When she died in 1940, some differences happened between the French and the Belgian temples.
[ii]For full details about the cases in Japan, see Human Rights Without Frontiers Report “Japan: Abduction and Deprivation of Freedom for the Purpose of Religious De-Conversion” (See website address below).
[iii] In its landmark decision of 10 June 2010 Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia, the European Court reasserted the right to conduct one’s life in a manner of one’s own choosing and in particular the right of self-dedication to religious matters.