soteriaFriday, 9th of December Soteria International hosted the Spiritual Human Rights conference in Copenhagen. The Spiritual Human Rights conference is an annual conference focusing on Human Rights from a spiritual perspective.

This year the conference was co-hosted by Youth for Human Rights, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), and the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO) with the theme “How Universal is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?”.

Throughout the years, the annual Spiritual Human Rights conference has become a fertile platform for politicians, scholars, human rights advocates, and representatives from different religions and spiritual traditions to meet, explore, and develop new perspectives on how governance and society can include and cultivate the inherent need of citizens to develop their spiritual potential.

Soteria International was founded in 2007 with the likely clash between the rise of popular interests in spirituality and increased state fear for new or unfamiliar religious practice. In 2008, the first Spiritual Human Rights conference was held, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of 1948. The aim was, both, to secure the Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, as well as, to explore how a spiritual perspective could add to the fundamental human rights.

The introduction to the Spiritual Human Rights conference 2016 highlighted how these initial aims remain more relevant than ever; as well as, how the human rights of spiritual practitioners are continually breached by society’s lack of understanding of these practices. The example of karma yoga being misunderstood and its practitioners persecuted for human trafficking was given.

Jens-Peter Bonde was the first speaker to be given the floor.  He is a former member of the European Parliament (1979-2008), and member of the Charter Convention and Constitutional Convention, which resulted in the Lisbon Treaty. Mr. Bonde described how Human Rights are regulated and secured by four different independent political bodies, namely: national law, the United Nations, the Human Rights Court of Strasbourg, and the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg. Mr. Bonde suggested that even if the formal protection outlined by the Lisbon Treaty is noteworthy, the four bodies often arrive at different decisions, and the exaggerated length of time for a case to be tried makes the protection of individual human rights inefficient. He also provided Danish examples of how de facto the Lisbon Treaty’s Freedom of Religion is disregarded by states, even the Danish Constitution.

Erik Smith, a former of the European Council and member of the Danish Parliament, having been in office for 15 years provided examples from Denmark. He also discussed the boycott of South Africa during apartheid and how although governments partook in this, businesses did not, which resulted in a certain level of undermining of the embargo. Mr. Smith also presented how human rights are violated, even if the formal protection is there.

Anette Refstrup, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology in Denmark, spoke about the need to regard human rights as spiritual rights, and the need for these rights to be formulated from a spiritual perspective on life. Mrs. Refstrup emphasized the widespread medicinal use of psychotropic drugs in Denmark, where 25% of population is prescribed these drugs, and how society is actually tampering with the mind instead of seeking to understanding its full potential. Proper education was presented as the main key in order to change the societal paradigm and to properly understand, embrace, and cultivate the human spirit.

Bashy Quraishy represented, both, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO). Mr. Quraishy stressed that the discrimination in Europe has moved from racism based on colour and ethnicity to racism based on culture and religion. He highlighted how discrimination is not dependent on the political party, but a western need to impose its own values worldwide, often motivated financially and politically. Mr. Quraishy gave the example of France, where 40,000 people have been targeted by the police due to belonging to affiliation with a religious minority, yet none have been convicted in trials.

Thierry Vallé spoke on behalf of Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience (CAP) and brought forth the example of persecution and imprisonment of followers of Osho meditation in France. The governmental body MIVILUDES was directly involved in the case and apprehension of an Indian citizen due to the cultural misunderstanding of the concept of a ”Guru.” This misunderstanding played a devestating role in the person being perceived as acting in a subversive manner.

Advaitananda Mihai Stoian spoke on the behalf of the International Federation of Yoga and Meditation, ATMAN. His contribution was read by Arthur Lederer, of Soteria, and was a call for a spiritual view on human rights and how “science without consciousness is the ruin of the soul”. Human rights spring from an inner attitude of righteousness, coming from a mature understanding of the consequences of our actions paired with human responsibility. We are responsible, also, for future generations—whose rights are no less than ours—and need to cultivate ourselves in order to be less manipulated and more reliable.

Eric Roux from the European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF) highlighted that even if human rights may, formally, be well protected, only 5% of cases are admitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, and many cases are excluded due to their politically embarrassing nature. He also addressed how the ECHR in Strasbourg and the UN have come to opposing decisions regarding French violations of human rights. Mr. Roux underlined that it is not only the general public, but also politicians, who are ignorant with respects to human rights. He provided an examples from the parliamentary assembly for the Council of Europe in which a member was directly arguing to violate a human right, only out of ignorance to the existance of this right. Mr. Roux argued that we need to know, and develop, human rights at all levels, offering the Manden Charter of 1222, from Mali, as an example of how including a spiritual understanding of human rights, actually has an old and inspiring history.

Although unable to be present, Uwe Haspel contributed to the conference with the ”Earth Charter” as an alternative platform for international collaboration, and the Romanian NGO, the League for Anti-defamation of Yoga and Spiritual Movements (LAYMS), with an informative and practical mapping of the legal structures currently in place.

The contributions will be published, in their entirety, on our website.

The expert contributions created discussions between the experts and the many attendants in the hall, concluding that the meeting between spirituality, human rights, and society is a field of growing interest among both experts and the general public. Thank you to all the participants for a fruitful and investgative conference, with many new angles on spiritual human rights.

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