International Forum on Peace and Human Rights
Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Global Issue
April 9, 2023
Conference Hall of Tsai Lecture Hall, College of Law, National Taiwan University
by Thierry Valle
The Case of Tai Ji Men at the United Nations
CAP Liberté de Conscience is part of this “third generation” of NGOs accredited to the UN. Each NGO based on its field of expertise can intervene either in New York, Vienna or Geneva.
CAP Liberté de Conscience was created more than 28 years ago to respond to the attacks on freedom of religion, belief and conscience in the mid-1990s in France, then in Europe.
In 2016 we have been granted of the Consultative Status at the UN, which gives us privileged access to UN mechanisms. Our field of expertise being the defense of human rights, we interact with the UN in Geneva where bodies dedicated to human rights are located.
Thus, there is in Geneva:
– The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which is composed of Special Rapporteurs with more than 40 thematic mandates including the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
It is to mention here, that on August 1st, 2022, Dr. Nazila Ghanea was mandated by the Office of the High Commissioner as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
In addition to the Special Rapporteurs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides NGOs with numerous Committees and Working Groups that review Member States on a regular basis.
– The Human Rights Council (HRC) is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide. It is also responsible for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them. It can examine all human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. It is held at the United Nations Office in Geneva.
The Council is composed of 47 Member States elected by the United Nations General Assembly.
On 18 June 2007, one year after its first meeting, the Human Rights Council adopted the resolution 5/1 which sets out the procedures, mechanisms and structures that constitute the basis of its work. Among these mechanisms, the following subsidiary bodies are directly under the Human Rights Council:
Universal Periodic Review
It was at these regular sessions that CAP LC, supported by the coalition of NGOs dedicated to its defense, raised the Tai Ji Men case at the UN.
In June 2021 we submitted our first written statement to the Human Rights Council at its 47th session to denounce the tax harassment suffered by Tai Ji Men. This case repeated a similar issue in France that we had earlier denounced.
In 1996, the tax weapon was used in France as a result of a parliamentary commission establishing a list of 172 movements qualified as “sects”.
Based on this “black list”, a circular was issued encouraging officials of the Ministry of Justice to use this fiscal weapon to undermine the listed religious and spiritual communities.
That same year, the Tai Ji Men had been the victims of an unfortunate crackdown on new religious movements, which was launched largely for political reasons. Hong Tao-Tze, the Founder and Master of the spiritual school, and his members were later completely acquitted of all criminal charges.
Our statement concluded with the following recommendation:
“We represent an NGO active in the field of religious liberty. We see, every day, cases of religious persecution where human lives are lost. It may seem that, compared to extra-judicial killings and tortures, taxes are but a minor matter.
However, intolerance and discrimination are preliminary steps, often leading to human rights violations.
There is now a widespread concern that tax system laws may be used in several countries to discriminate against religious and spiritual movements that some politicians, for whatever reason, do not like.
The European Court of Human Rights and courts in the United States of America have stated that such use of the tax system is inappropriate and illegal. Worst of all, many people have no way of seeking redress, and even if they do, they are treated unfairly and irrationally, rendering the remedy system ineffective.
We ask all countries and all women and men who cherish freedom of religion or belief to take a firm stand against the improper use of taxes as a weapon of intolerance and discrimination, to uphold the basic human rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The statement submitted later highlighted foreclosure as a weapon of discrimination against religious and spiritual minorities.
We pointed out to the Human Rights Council that “religion and spirituality live in the hearts of the believers, but they create communities, and communities cannot exist without places where they can gather. For many religious and spiritual groups, these gathering places do not serve a functional purpose only. Land where devotees gather becomes sacred land. Religion and spirituality live in time and space. They separate portions of time and space from the daily temporal and spatial flow, appropriate them for themselves, and invest them with spiritual meanings. Taking their spaces away from spiritual movements means cutting their deepest roots.”
The numerous similar cases that we listed have led us to the conclusion that there is today a serious increase of the seizures and destructions of places of worship.
We have also exposed a serious case occurred in Taiwan, where land intended for self-cultivation of Tai Ji Men, was seized, offered for auction, then confiscated in 2020 after two auctions failed.
And we concluded that the case of the Tai Ji Men is a clear example of the international trend to deprive religious and spiritual minorities of their gathering places and that they do need places to exist.
These places become their sacred spaces. Taking away these spaces is one of the worst examples of discrimination.
We also denounced another important aspect of the Tai Ji Men case: the corruption as a tool for violating human rights and religious freedom.
CAP LC is informed of many cases where corruption has been used to violate human rights and religious freedom.
Indeed, in countries such as France and Germany, so-called “anti-cult associations” may intervene during the judicial process and corrupt it.
In a recent criminal case in Germany, defendants were taken from their religious community in the early morning to a police station, where they were interrogated by members of a private anti-cult organization.
It is unquestionably clear that corruption is operative in the Tai Ji Men case in Taiwan.
Tai Ji Men is a menpai (similar to a school) of Qigong, martial arts, and self-cultivation with academies in Taiwan, and the United States. In 1996, Tai Ji Men was among several spiritual movements targeted by a politically motivated crackdown against religious groups accused of not having supported the candidate who eventually won the presidential election. Its leader, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, his wife, and two disciples were arrested, accused of religious fraud and tax evasion.
This is an obvious case of ideological corruption, as evidenced by the dropping of the charges.
In another statement we mentioned the incorporation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) into Taiwan’s domestic law in 2019.
From May 9 to 13, 2022, the 3rd International Review Conference on the National Reports of the two Covenants was held in Taipei.
A Review Committee consisted of nine independent experts.
The Committee divided itself into two groups:
- one dealing with the ICCPR, chaired by Manfred Nowak, an Austrian human rights lawyer, who served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture from 2004 to 2010,
- and one with the ICESCR, chaired by Eibe Riedel, a retired German academic who was a member of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from 2003 to 2012.
Both had participated in the process of reviewing compliance with the Two Covenants since 2013. On 13 May 2022, the Review Committee adopted a third set of Concluding Observations and Recommendations (COR 3).
While the COR 3 are useful in showing that work remains to be done to fully implement the two Covenants in Taiwan, as it is the case elsewhere, the absence of any reference to freedom of religion or belief is surprising.
Several civil society actors at the review conference referred to the Tai Ji Men case as a gross and persistent case of human rights abuse that has been the subject of a substantial scholarly literature.
The Tai Ji Men case unfortunately shows that in Taiwan (as in many other countries) there is a wide gap between the signing of a pact with the theoretical willingness to adhere to it, and the actual implementation of measures on the ground.
To conclude, we submitted a statement last month to the 52nd session of the HRC to present and support the “International Day against Judicial and Fiscal Persecution by State Power”.
In recognition of the seriousness of this issue, the Association of World Citizens, an ECOSOC-accredited NGO, and the Tai Ji Men Academy of Qigong have proclaimed December 19, the date of the start of the Tai Ji Men case in 1996, as the “International Day Against Judicial and Fiscal Persecution by State Power” and issued a “Declaration of the International Day Against Judicial and Fiscal Persecution by State Power.”
The Tai Ji Men case is emblematic of the methods used by some governments to restrict freedom of religion, belief or conscience. It is not only the case of the Tai Ji Men that we have denounced at the UN, but the growing intolerance towards spiritual and religious minorities that we witness daily.
It is high time that the international community and the Taiwanese authorities take action without further delay to put an end to the persecution of these peaceful people working for a better world, that are the Tai Ji Men.