December 20, 2010
The Hon Robert McClelland MP Attorney General
Canberra ACT 2600
Dear Attorney General McClelland:
I am the public spokesperson of CAP (Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience — Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience). CAP is an association created in 2000 to unite minority religions in France in order to counter discrimination concerning the right to freedom of conscience and belief and to alert the public to acts and speech violating human rights or which are threats to fundamental liberties. Members of CAP include adherents to numerous minority faiths targeted for discriminatory measures as so-called “sects” or “sectarian movements” by the French government. CAP regularly attends Human Dimension and Religious Freedom Sessions of the inter-governnnental body, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as an OSCE NGO.
In the September 2010 Senate Economics Legislation Committee Report entitied Tax Laws Amendment (Public Benefit Test), the Committee included the following recommendation.
In relation to the activities of cuit like organisations and the consequences for individuals and society of failing to tale steps to protect the community from unacceptabie behaviour by cuit like organisations, the Committee believes that sufficient evidence was put before it to suggest that the behaviour of cuits should be reviewed with a view to developing and implementing a policy on this issue that goes beyond taxation law. The Committee notes the evidence in relation to the response of the French government and the establishment of Miviludes.
The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department provide a report to the Committee on the operation of Miviludes and other law
enforcement agencies overseas tasked with monitoring and controlling the unacceptable and/or illegal activities of cuit-like organisations who use psychological pressure and breaches of general and industrial law to maintain control over individuels. The report should advise on the effectiveness of Miviludes and other similar organisations, given issues that need to be addressed
to develop an international best practice approach for dealing with cuit-like behaviour.”
Senate Report at page 3-4.
CAP is making this submission to set the record straight regarding MIVILUDES true nature, its systematic violations of fundamental human rights instruments, and its repeated discrimination of minority belief groups and their members in France. The Committee has not received accurate and complete information regarding religious freedom in France and the activities of MIVILUDES in particular.
The reality is that it would severely undermine the democratic principles of religious freedom and human rights in Australia to adopt the French mode! or create an institution similar to one as reviled by religions and advocates for human rights as MIVILUDES. This paper and the attached submissions on MIVILUDES that CAP has submitted to the UN and the OSCE detail why.
Background : The French approach
International human rights organizations have warned that the French government has retreated from its mandate toward respecting religious pluralism. In spite of the principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment, the French government has determined to arbitrarily classify religious groups into two separate categories: 1) religions viewed as law-abiding and beneficial to society; and 2) “sects” or “sectarian movements” viewed as dangerous to society, which are the targets of oppressive and discriminatory measures, and which the government declares must be “fought” against.
No Western democracy would admit to being intolerant of minority faiths or being opposed to religious liberty. The tactic used to discriminate against targeted minority faiths in France is to redefine the notion of “religion” to exclude disfavored minority groups. Although the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Religious Freedom, the Human Rights Directorate of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, human rights groups, scholars and experts in the field have all called for a broad, inclusive definition of religion which is consistent with notions of pluralism, minority rights, freedom of conscience and religious liberty consistent with standards mandated by human rights instruments, the French government has adopted a restrictive classification system designed to marginalise, ostracize, and stigmatize targeted minority faiths.
This type of classification has resulted in the stigmatizing and blacklisting of 173 religious groups as “sects” in France. There is no rational justification for such classification. Indeed, classifying religious groups into “religions” and “sects” is itself a violation of religious human rights standards. It is impermissible and arbitrary for the government to confer benefits on groups it classifies as “religions” while denying benefits and enacting oppressive measures against groups it classifies as “sects.”
The United Nations, religious experts, and UN treaty-based bodies have consistently found that the expression “religion or belief,” as well as the individual terms “religion” and “belief,” must be construed broadly to include non-traditional religions and ail forms of belief. This was the opinion articulated in two studies prepared by the first two Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion of the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, and expressly confirmed in the Working Paper, drafted by the third Special Rapporteur.
Likewise, the Human Rights Committee has found that freedom of religion is not limited in its application to traditional religions and that 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 by a predominant religious community, contravenes Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief, The terms 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 by a predominant religious community.
General Comment No. 22 on Art. 18 (Para 2).
Moreover, the 1996 Annual Report by the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom to the United Nations Human Rights Commission provides the Rapporteur’s opinion on the broad scope of the term religion and the need for equal treatment of all religions, including so called “sects.” The Special Rapporteur notes that:
Religions cannot be distinguished from sects on the basis of quantitative considerations saying that a sect, unlike a religion, has a small number of followers. This is in fact not aiways the case. It runs absolutely counter to the principle of respect and protection of minorities, which is upheid by domestic and international Iaw and morality. Besides, following this line of argument, what are the major religions if not successful sects?
*** *** *** ***
Again, one cannot say that sects should not benefit from the protection given to religion just because they have no chance to demonstrate their durability. History contains many examples of dissident movements, schisms, heresies and reforms that have suddenly given birth to religions or religious movements. As to governmental efforts to distinguish between religions and sects, the Rapporteur concludes that: “All in all, the distinction between a religion and a sect is too contrived to be acceptable. A sect that goes beyond simple belief and appeals to a divinity, or at the very least, to the supernatural the transcendent, the absolute, or the sacred, enters into the religious sphere and should enjoy the protection afforded to religions.
Nevertheless, the French government has determined to create a suspect category of religious groups under the pejorative term “sects” or more recently “sectarian movements” as part of a political misinformation campaign to convince the public that these religious minorities should not be treated as religions and instead are dangerous ideologies necessitating criminal investigation and prosecution and requiring excessive control and eventual prohibition by the State.
Unlike France, most Western European countries do not consider the issue of “sects” a national problem or a threat for the State. In fact even in Germany, where like France the government has targeted certain minority religions for adverse government action, the Bundestag Enquete Commission concluded that new religious groups “all in all [present] no danger for the state and society, nor for important branches of society, such as business” and that the term “sect” should not be used as it is pejorative. The Dutch, Swedish and Swiss governments have taken up the issue and found there is no need for concerted government action and many other European countries have
determined that this is simply not an issue necessitating government action’. Only Belgium has embraced the French approach whoiesaie.
Rather than adopting the French model, a better approach is the UK approach. INFORM, based at the London School of Economics and Political Science, collects information on new religious movements and maltes these data available to ail interested parties — government officiais, researchers and the media as well as relatives of people who have joined a new religious movement. INFORM is funded by the government (UK Home Office) to act as an information clearinghouse on religions.
It was founded in 1988 by the government in order to dispel the often inaccurate and distorted information disseminated about new religious movements in the media, INFORM aims to provide reliable information, based on in-depth research, about the character, policy and origins of new religious movements, as well as information about what motivates converts, and how movement membership tends to affect members’ subsequent lives and careers. Its aim is to provide neutral, objective and up-to-date information on new_religious_movements (NRMs) to government officials, scholars, the media, and members of the general public, in particular relatives of people who have joined a new religious movement.
The founding of INFORM was motivated by a shared impression among clergy and academics that groups hostile to cuits often aimed to feed rather than alleviate enquirers’ fears. The British Home Office had received many complaints related to NRMs from concerned parents, but did not feel that any of the existing counter-cuit and anti-cuit groups deserved state funding.
Indeed, no Commonwealth country other than the UK even has an official information clearinghouse on the matter. Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, for example have no such publicity funded institution, nor does the United States.
This false perception of the danger of “sects” underlies the current di ate of discrimination currently waged against religious minorities in France. This is the climate in which repressive laws and administrative measures regarding minority religious freedom are being proposed and implemented.
Surely, any research on the matter through discussions with leading academics, human rights or interfaith organizations will show that the French model is the exact opposite of the “international best practices” model the Committee has recommended be adopted.
MIVILUDES : A tool for Religious Repression
In the Netherlands, for example, the 1996 Annual Report of the Internai Security Service concluded that “sects” are not a threat to security, the democratic order or other interests of the State.
In May, 2009, Mr. Georges Fenech, President of MIVILUDES, declared to the press that “500 to 600 sectarian movements are established in France, against less than 200 fifteen years ago”.2 But this increase of the number of referenced movements, which Mr. Fenech claims justifies stepped-up government action, is in reality due to the very escalation in the targeting of practices or beliefs considered by MIVILUDES as “deviating” and to the inclusion of a larger number of minority groups in the repository of records established by Mr. Fenech.
Olivier Bobineau is a sociologist of religions, Professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris and a scientific associate of the Director of the Central Office for Cults at the Ministry of Interior since January 2006. Professor Bobineau, who resigned as a scientific advisor to MIVILUDES in 2005, considers MIVILUDES to act as the official “mind-police” for France. In an interview of 8 June 2009 he explained: 3
“It intends to have a modern public policy, but it is the only one to not abide by three fundamental criteria:
1. A definition of the object of its work: MIVILUDES mixes sect, sectarian phenomenon and sectarian drift, without giving any definition. These terms are empty shells applied to anything and everything, which results mainly in raising the number of sects in France from 200 to 607. The increase by three is due to the fact that MIVILUDES has set its cap at psychoanalysis.
2. An explanation of its methodology, that is to say the existence of a public debate, the crossing of sources, a real reflexion on the subject… but the only logic of MIVILUDES is the search of scapegoats, itself based on another logic, that of inquisition. The views of MIVILUDES are ‘we have no proof, which means that they hide them, therefore they do constitute a threat’.
3. A true assessment of its action: there is no tool for that, nor any discussion on the conclusions of MIVILUDES: when the OSCE and the UN dare criticize its work, MIVILUDES answers that these two institutions are infiltrated by sects.”
Based on this logic, MIVILUDES has Iaunched a fight against movements it accuses of sectarian drifts on the basis of their beliefs. In ifs Annual Report 20084 MIVILUDES explained the following:
“Law condemns ail practices which are prejudicial to Human rights and
fundamental liberties, or are a threat to public order. The specific field of mental
2 La Croix newspaper 19 May 2009: littp://nmw.la-croix.com/documents/clocjsp?dockl=2374056&rubld=47601See l–atp://www.wroaker.netipsyresoformations/Linte-contre-les-sectes-La-Miviludes.-police-des-esprits a574.11trn1andlutp://www.oliNierbobineau.com/Revue%20de%20presse/article/rue89.11tml
4 Report Page 59:1–atp://www.rniviludes.uouv.fr/IMG/pdf/MiviludesRapport 2008-EN.pdf
manipulation is typical of sectarian drifts. Repression by the State is necessary if a certain number of criteria are satisfied:
— One or more people start to believe in certain ideas which differ from the ideas generally accepted by society. The person receiving these ideas starts to modify ail of their references, relations and projects. The life of the person escapes their control. The person is directed and conditioned by the psycho-sectarian manipulator.
— This commitment costs money and will represent a substantial share of the budget.”
These are the two criteria given to characterize mental manipulation. The spreading of new beliefs, which differ from beliefs of traditional religions generally accepted in society, is the main criterion to accuse minority beiief movements of engaging in socalled “sectarian drifts”.
The February 2010 response of the French government to the UN Religious Freedom Rapporteur’s request for updated information on the situation of religious tolerance in France was therefore inaccurate and misleading when it stated that MIVILUDES “does not take into consideration either the content of the beliefs as such, nor does it rely on the ‘recognition’, the characterization of being estabiished or not, of being majority or minority, of the studied movements, or on the point of knowing whether their content can be characterized as religious or as beliefs”.
Indeed, in Mr. Fenech’s 2008 Report to the Prime Minister, not only purported “sectarian abuses” but beliefs themselves are targeted for action by the State. For example, the Report quotes psychologist Mrs Sonya Jougla with approval:
“Until today, the chiidren who are victims of sects remain the forgotten of society and of professionals of childhood in danger; maybe because it is even more difficult to protect a chie from his parents’ beliefs than from their beating or their incestuous sexuality; maybe also because the duress that the parents impose on their child by immerging him into a sect is perfect/y legal.”5
This statement is very clear: the issue at stake is to protect chiidren from their parents’ beliefs. Such an approach, and the implementation of recommendations that flow from that approach, constitutes a clear violation of the right of parents to educate their chiidren according to their own beliefs guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights.
5 Report Page 30: h ttp:, , lesrapports.laclocumentationfrancaisefrIBRP/084000443/0000.odf
The inherent bias against the beliefs of religious movements designated as “movements of sectarian character” is further evident in Mr. Fenech’s Report by the Report’s arbitrarily characterizing these beliefs as “pseudo-philosophical or pseudo-religious types of totalitarianism” and denigrating such beliefs as harmful by claiming that they constitute “a doctrine degrading to the individual which drapes itse/f in ‘new spiritualities”‘.6
Other French government officiais have made public pronouncements regarding its “fight” against what it considers to be “deviating” beliefs. For example, at a conference given by MIVILUDES at the Lyon City Hall on 26 November 2009, French Secretary of State for Justice, Jean-Marie Bockel, stated:
“The sectarian phenomenon can be analyzed as pathology of belief on a background of individuation and deregulation of belief.”
Such statements, which have been published in national media, have been posted on the official site of the French Ministry of Justice where they stand to date.7
It is not the business of States to regulate beliefs. Designating specific religious beliefs and communities as so-called “sectarian” and restricting an individual’s freedom to choose and change his or her belief is inconsistent with international standards on religious freedom.
Additionally, Mr Fenech has Iaunched a new way of intervention: he organized “unannounced visits” which were nothing short of “raids” by MIVILUDES in the religious communities, using his official title to force his way into their premises and impose the presence of the media to stigmatize them through an avalanche of slanderous accusations in the media.
A letter of protest sent by members of the Ecumenical Monastery Le Moulin des Vallées in Brittany summarizes the problem:
“Mr Prefect, we solicit your help to understand how Mr. Fenech can legaily introduce himself in a monastery, under the cover of a Ministerial investigation, in order to actually help journalists make an unauthorized report?”
The usual scenario of these “visits” — or rather raids — has been as follows: Mr. Fenech,
arrives with about 10-15 people, including someone from the media so the story could
be printed with photographs, or from the TV. Mr. Fenech and his group show up
6 Report Page 11:: http:/.1esrapports.ladocumentationfrancaisefr/BRP/084000443/0000.pdf
Reference on Miviludes site:http://www.mivilmies. uouv.fr/Col loque-Vi2i lance-et-lutte-contre?iddiv=4 and speech of Secretary of State on the site of the Ministry of Justice, § 1.1:
unannounced and demand to corne inside to ask questions. Most of the movements acceded to let Mr. Fenech in with his media circus, which they later regretted.
Catholic groups have also been the target of this anti-religious policy. A small Catholic community Amour et Miséricorde (Love and Mercy) which used to gather for prayers around their leader who had visions of the Virgin Mary every month, announced its dissolution alter a “visit” by MIVILUDES. The newspaper Le Progrès reported on 18 December 2008:
“Dominique Balestrat, owner of the land on which the community was living who has been a member of the group for ten years, feels this is incomprehensible and sad. He says: `We welcomed Georges Fenech, he told us that he was not coming for an investigation but just to meet with us. And we are now bombarded with scander. He did not corne as an enemy. He came as a traitor. He used the media to crush us when there is nothing to crush. We used to be ten people or so here’.”
Despite — or because of – the fact that this group enjoyed good relations with the Archbishop of Dijon, Mr. Fenech met with the Archbishop to try to have him withdraw his support. The newspaper La Gazette de Côte d’Or reported the following interview of Mr. Fenech on 11 December 2009:
“Journalist. Did you meet with His Highness Minnerath?
G. Fenech: Yes, at my request. As a matter of fact the members of this community claim to be supported in their faith by the Archbishop of Dijon. We had a long discussion in this regard. The Archbishop did not have all the elements in hand to have a very complete opinion on this movement, which to our viewpoint poses certain difficulties.
Journalist. What was his reaction?
G. Fenech: He seemed to be surprised. We amongst other things tokl him that Juliano Verbard, who later became the “Petit Lys d’Amour” in La Réunion Island, did an initiation journey in this community. In La Réunion, he reproduced the practices, be it with the songs, the liturgy, the visions… Later on, all this resulted in the abduction of a child. I do not say that there is a link between Love and Mercy and the Petit Lys d’Amour, but I say that the inspiration of the Petit Lys d’Amour has corne from Love and Mercy.”
Mr, Fenech’s approach was unsuccessful as the Archbishop maintained afterwards his support for Amour et Miséricorde.
Not surprisingly, MIVILUDES has been criticized for its promotion of religious repression and intolerance by the UN Religious Freedom Rapporteur, the United States State Department in its annual human rights reports, numerous NGOs, interfaith groups and human rights groups, and leading academics.
For example, in the UN Rapporteur’s recommendations following the UN Rapporteur’s official visit to France on 18-29 September 2005, French authorities were urged to no longer, in judicial mechanisms, refer to or use the list of “sects” published by Parliament in 1996. Yet, MIVILUDES has circumvented this problem by renaming these religious minorities as “sectarian movements” and Mr. Fenech has initiated a new record repository of 600 of these so-called “sectarian movements”.
The Rapporteur’s findings also included strong statements on how freedom of religion and belief has been undermined in France:
- “Stigmatization of (religious group) members has led to certain forms of discrimination, in particular vis-à-vis their children.”
- “Government policy may have contributed to a climate of general suspicion and intolerance towards those communities.”
- “The policy and measures that have been adopted by the French authorities have
provoked situations where the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of these groups has been unduly Iimited.”
Indicating her intention to “continue to closely monitor the various efforts that are carried out by MIVILUDES”, the Rapporteur urged that future actions of MIVILUDES are in line with the right to freedom of religion and “avoid past mistakes.”
See, E/CN.4/2006/5/Add.4 8 March 2006, Mission to France Report, submitted by Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
As spokesperson for CAP, I recently attended the OSCE Religious Freedom Session in Vienna on 9 and 10 December 2010. In that session, numerous NG0s, including CAP, provided written submissions or made interventions criticizing the French approach to treatment of minority faiths and MIVILUDES repressive actions in particular.
I am attaching copies of CAP’s written submissions regarding MIVILUDES to the OSCE and the UN Rapporteur on Religious Freedom. Moreover, a DVD detailing the actions of MIVILUDES to fuel religious discrimination and intolerance may be viewed at the following link: htt•vvww.ethi ue-liberte.orq/spip/spip.php?article164
International and legal standards mandate that new religions or religious minorities be
treated fairly and in the same way as other religions. These standards also mandate a
spirit of tolerance towards minority movements and a responsibility on the part of the State to create dialogue and take action where discrimination occurs.
This has been the Australian and Commonwealth model, one that protects and promotes religious freedom and tolerance. It represents the international best practices approach to dealing with minority faiths.
On the other hand, the French model represents the international worst practices approach to governmental monitoring of religions. Only Belgium has copied this approach with “sect” blacklists and government “sect” observatories that foster and fuel intolerance against minority religious beliefs and practices. Both countries have been widely criticized for their practices.
Unlike France and Belgium (and of course Communist regimes such as China), the vast majority of countries do not consider the issue of “sects” a national problem or a threat for the State. Instead, they allow for neutral and objective information to be published by responsible academics and impassive experts on the subject.
On behalf of CAP, I respectfully note that Australia’s fine democratic traditions and exemplary policies on religious freedom would be undermined and not enhanced by following the French approach. An Australian MIVILUDES is a blueprint for religious strife and intolerance at taxpayer expense.
cc: Roger Wilkins AO, Secretary
Renee Leon, Deputy Secretary, Strategic Policy and Coordination Group