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Politics & Religion in Belgium
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn




 Issue I
Table of contents


    Summary                                                  page 3


    Belgian Constitution, 1831                               page 5


    Coincidence? Synchronicity? Coordinated effort?          page 6


    The growth of the “sect list”                            page 9

    How the “sect list” has been used in Belgium
                                                             page 11
    (and France)

    What were the methods used by the Parliamentary
                                                             page 13
    Inquiry and Working Group?

    A democratic and transparent process?
                                                             page 15
    Hardly so - a rather embarassing chapter

    Advice of CIAOSN on FECRIS                               page 17


    Incoherence, inconsistency and discrimination            page 19


    They have said                                           page 20

    This situation cost the CIAOSN and the Belgian State
                                                             page 23
    several convictions

    When real social problems will be tackled effectively?   page 26




2
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium



                                   Summary

O     n 28 March 1996 an inquiry commission was created to look into the possible
      dangers of sects in Belgium, issuing its 670-page report on 28 April 1997.
The report included as an annex an alphabetical list of 189 groups, including commentary,
which has become a de facto “sect list”.
The Parliament refused to adopt the report as such and only voted to accept the
conclusions and recommendations (19 pages). Despite this disavowal, the government
found it appropriate to publish the whole report, including the controversial list.
Following this report, in 1998, a Federal “Observatory on Sects”, formally known
as the Center for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organizations
(CIAOSN) was created under the authority of the Ministry of Justice.
The Observatory, far from being the independent and impartial body that the law
mandates, is a primary source of misinformation and intolerance towards religious
minorities in Belgium.
On 21 April 2004 a Parliamentary Working Group on Sects was formed to determine
the extent that the 1997 Parliamentary inquiry commission’s recommendations on
“sects” had been implemented. It presented its report to the Parliament, which adopted
the recommendations in its Plenary Session on 30 March 2006.
The Working Group repeated, even worsened, the serious methodological errors
contained in the 1997 Report, so compounding the already existing problem.
The individuals who appeared before the Working Group consisted exclusively of
Belgian government intelligence, law enforcement and sect observatory officials.
No religious experts, human rights experts nor sociologists were invited to the
Working Group hearings. No religious leaders, representatives of interfaith groups,
nor representatives of the religious communities derogatorily designated as “sects”
were invited. No Working Group hearings were open to the public, allowing for
public debate and scrutiny and for government transparency regarding its policy of
minority religious freedom and tolerance. Instead, the hearings were conducted behind
closed doors.
Twelve years after the establishment of the “Observatory on Sects”, it is time to draw
some conclusions and raise questions about the results of what is widely considered to
be, at least beyond the Belgian borders, an out of proportion and discriminatory series
of measures that target religious organizations, violating international human rights
treaties ratified by Belgium.
Meanwhile, serious problems affecting Belgian youth and society, such as drug abuse,
juvenile unemployment, suicide and crime rates, have not been the subject of any
parliamentary commission or working group…


                                                                                              3
The Congress column in Brussels

 4
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium



                 Belgian Constitution, 1831

Article 11

   E   njoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized for Belgians
       should be ensured without discrimination. To this end, laws and
decrees guarantee notably the rights and freedoms of ideological and
philosophical minorities.


   Article 19

   F    reedom of worship, public practice of the latter, as well as freedom to
       demonstrate one’s opinions on all matters, are guaranteed, except
for the repression of offences committed when using this freedom.




R    eading the Constitution, one might think that Freedom of Religion is well
     protected in Belgium. However, since the end of the 1990s religious minorities,
often labeled as cults and sects, are the victims of various forms of discrimination.
At the end of the 1990s the European Union, the Council of Europe and a number of
member states looked into the issue of religious minorities, or “sects”.
The position of eleven member states of the European Union was that “sects” do not
harm the individual, the family, society or their democratic institutions to the point of
necessitating the need to create new institutions or organizations to combat them, and
that in any case existing judicial systems could handle potential abuses.
Unfortunately, four EU member states decided to take a different course of action:
two German-speaking countries (Austria and Germany), a French-speaking country
(France), and a linguistically and culturally mixed country (Belgium).




                                                                                              5
Coincidence?
      Synchronicity?
    Coordinated effort?




6
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium




    A     n old Belgian saying goes “When it rains in Paris, raindrops fall in Brussels.” This
          is certainly applicable to a sudden interest of the governmental and legislative
    institutions, both in France and Belgium, to investigate the activities of religious
    minorities, cults and sects labeled as dangerous:

                                                     France                        Belgium
    Parliamentary Commission                           1995                           1996
    Observatory                                        1996                           1998




                                            However,
    Belgium outperformed France:
    The Parliamentary Inquiry and Working Group met seventy-four times (74) in
    Brussels, the French inquiry ran for 20 meetings.

    Belgium also saw bigger:
    France issued a list of 173 organizations to be watched, but:

    Belgium initially came up with a “synoptic table” of 189
    organizations that became a de facto “black list”, despite
    unofficial denials and attempts to minimize its impact.

    France retracted its list...*

    Belgium’s list is still growing...




*   Journal Officiel de la République Française n˚126, circular of 27 May 2005 relative to the fight against
    sectarian abuses.



                                                                                                               7
“You don’t have
    anything but sects
    here, sects, sects...”
    Julia Nyssens, head of ADIF (Association de Défense de l’Individu
    et de la Famille) and witness during the parliamentary commission,
                                          RTL-TVI, 18 September 2003




8
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium




T   he original “synoptic table” which was made public when attached to the
    Parliamentary Report of 1996, grew from 189 entries to a secret list of 700+
groups in 2006, according to a report of the CIAOSN.
What about today? Today even the number of entries on the list is not public,
effectively creating a “Black List”, an intolerable discrimination against religious
minorities.


The growth of the “sect list”                                          900 ?




                                            597




                                         700+




             189




             1997                         2006                         2010


                                                                                               9
10
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium



    How the “sect list” has been used in Belgium
                    (and France)

    “Before being member of the Observatory, I was parliamentary assistant for Mr. Duquesne
    during the inquiry commission. As such, I contributed to establishing what was called ‘the
    synoptic table’.”
               Henri de Cordes, president of the CIAOSN, proceedings of the first Belgian
                                      colloquium of help to sect victims, 30 October 1999



    “The media also play a role: they should inform the public, especially the youngsters.”
                                   Hilde Vautmans, member of the Working Group on Sects,
                                         during the presentation of its report, 30 March 2006




    F    ollowing publication of the parliamentary reports and the “lists of sects,” many
         cases of intolerance and discrimination in the public and private sectors were
    reported in France and in Belgium. Complaints from French and Belgian individuals
    belonging to the blacklisted groups have steadily increased and include loss of jobs
    or promotions, dismissals, libel, slander, victimization in the neighborhood, at the
    workplace and at school, damage to individuals’ reputation, loss of visitation rights or
    child custody in divorce settlements, inability to rent facilities for religious ceremonies
    or for meetings, unilateral and unfounded closure of bank accounts of “sects” or of
    individuals affiliated with them, humanitarian agencies’ refusal to accept donations
    from “sects,” denial of access to public display boards and police surveillance.*



    Apparently this is the expected result of the
    “informative role to be played by the media”
    after they have been fed with the black list
    of religious organizations in Belgium.

*   Human Rights Without Frontiers, “Religious freedom, intolerance, discrimination in the European
    Union, Belgium 2002 - 2003”.

                                                                                                      11
Sociologists: 0
Religious experts: 0

                       Anti-sect groups: 6




 12
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium



   What were the methods used by the
Parliamentary Inquiry and Working Group?


O  ne could reasonably think that the members of these
   two undertakings would be chosen from legislators and
eminent religious and sociological experts.

But were they?

  Experts                            Parliamentary Inquiry              Working group

  Government                                      3                              3
  Magistracy, Police Intelligence,
  Administration                                 10                             10
  Academics                                       6                              0
  Media                                           6                              0
  Anti-sect groups                                6                              0
  Members of religious
  organizations                                   8                              0
  Sociologists                                    0                              0
  Religious experts                               0                              0


  A     ll the other witnesses were
        heard behind closed doors,
  sometimes by only a few members
                                                      refute their potentially sectarian
                                                      character, but they were not
                                                      informed of the accusations raised
  of the commission and without the                   against them during the public and
  others’ knowledge. The commission                   non-public hearings. They could
  sent a letter to seventy-one of the                 therefore not defend themselves.
  associations mentioned by various                   The other 118 movements that were
  state agencies as suspected of being                listed did not get such an invitation
  harmful to society or the individual.               and were consequently not able to
  The letter asked the groups to                      present a summary of their activities
  describe their objectives and to                    or to contest any accusations.


                                                                                                  13
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     14
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium



      A democratic and transparent process?
     Hardly so – a rather embarrassing chapter:

    “The Commission has indeed been very negligent and biased in its work. That is why I
    and a substantial majority of my colleagues at the CVP * have refused to adopt the report
    of activities, have rejected the famous list and have only adopted the general lines of the
    recommendations.”
                            Dr. Jan Van Erps, member of the House of Representatives, 1997



    “[…] The commission issued its report, but I can’t adopt it personally as it goes well beyond
    and opens horizons which, as a democrat, concern me.”
                   Hervé Hasquin, discussion of the report of the Working Group on Sects,
                                                                          30 March 2006



    “The CIAOSN was established in 1998 as a result of the ill fame parliamentary
    investigation commission that is put on record as the worst parliamentary investigation
    commission ever.”
                                                                              Tertio, 30 april 2008



    “The other religious groups are to be watched, prosecuted, even exterminated without
    anything in their social behavior or their beliefs to predispose them to this particular fate.
    It is the political power that decides the fate of one and all and legislates accordingly.
    The list of ‘harmful’ sects and public subsidies to major religions (more or less official
    according to different countries) are to be understood in the frame of this logic.”
            Anne Morelli, deputy director of the Centre interdisciplinaire d’étude des religions
                                et de la laïcité, Université Libre de Bruxelles, october 2008




*   CVP : Christelijke Volkspartij, Flemish political party which, in 2001, was renamed CD&V (Christen-
    Democratisch en Vlaams).

                                                                                                      15
FECRIS’ members have
     accumulated more
     than 21 condemnations
     over the last 15 years

16
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium



                     Advice of CIAOSN on FECRIS

    I   n 2000 the CIAOSN issued an opinion on the FECRIS (European Federation of
        Centres of Research and Information on Sectarianism):


    “The advice was positive and I am delighted about it especially as I believed that in the
    frame of the very long procedure before the Council of Europe, this advice contributed to
    convincing the Council of Europe’s officials to grant FECRIS consultative status.”
                 Henri de Cordes, president of the CIAOSN, proceedings of the conference
    “The Internationalization of cults: a danger to human rights in Europe?”, 25 March 2006



                                   What FECRIS really is?


    F    ECRIS is a collection of national groups that have banded together under a
         European umbrella; it has had the reputation, since its inception in 1994, of being
    extremely intolerant towards religious minorities. In fact before FECRIS even came
    into existence, its member groups were already active in illegal actions.
    In the past FECRIS group members have been involved in the forcible kidnapping of
    members of other faiths in order to try to get them to change their views. There have
    been six convictions for these offences between 1987 and 1997.
    FECRIS’ members have accumulated over 21 condemnations over the last 15 years*,
    all relating to religious intolerance. Its President until early 2009, Friedrich Griess,
    has been convicted eight times for defamation of a Christian group (Norwegian
    Movement). The most recent decision was in 2004.




    Were these the facts that persuaded the President of
    the CIAOSN to issue a “positive advice” about FECRIS?




*   European Law Centre, public hearing on discrimination and intolerance, 27 June 2005, Strasbourg

                                                                                                      17
18
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium



Incoherence, inconsistency and discrimination


On 9 January 2002, Eric Brasseur, director of the CIAOSN,
announced to the newspaper La Libre Belgique:
“No recent information allows us to draw negative conclusions and there is nothing
relevant as far as harmful behavior is concerned [about Hare Krishna].”


On the same day, his colleague Henri de Cordes was talking of the
Hare Krishna movement to the RTBF, in a quite conflicting way:
“The practice of repeating mantras is known in psychology as a technique that can bring
about semi-trance states that allow, in certain cases, greater control of the individual by
leaders of the movement.”




“We respect individual freedom, but the only valid freedom is that of people well
informed of their movement’s practices.”
                                           Henri de Cordes, La Libre Belgique, 7 June 2008

“I’m not at all against religion and I have no problem with them existing, but we are
interested that they are not selling wind and mentally manipulating people.”
                        Luc Willems, former rapporteur of the inquiry commission on sects,
                                                  St. Petersburg Times, 4 November 2007

“We can compare it [the Observatory] to a smoking-addiction prevention association:
the risks are estimated; in principle everybody can smoke, the risks are known, everyone
takes a position according to the risks they know or don’t know and that they are ready to
assume. In the case of the Center, it’s a bit the same thing […]”
                             Henri de Cordes, interviewed by the RTBF, 30 November 2001




                                                                                              19
They have said
20
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium




“Contrary to what is believed, there is no list of sects or sectarian movements.”
                                          Eric Brasseur, Vers L’Avenir, 3 November 2007


“There were absolutely no consequences for organizations mentioned on the list.”
                   Henri de Cordes, website of Het Laatste Nieuws, 4 September 2007


“Paradoxically, the ‘list’ contained in the report and which has given rise to extensive
controversy, continues to be of interest to those who use it in an attempt to convince others
that Belgium is a country of religious discrimination that conducts a ‘witch hunt’ against
minority religions.”
                                                   Henri de Cordes, Le Soir, 3 May 2007


“All in all, I would say that this story is a bit like vampire stories: vampires move about
at night, and when a ray of light appears, they vanish. The fact that this table sheds light
bothers a lot of people.”
  Henri de Cordes, proceedings of the first Belgian colloquium of help to sect victims,
                                                                    30 October 1999


“Very particular attention will have to be given to movements where the founder is
becoming advanced in years, in which case we can foresee succession conflicts.”
                              Henri de Cordes, Le Journal Dimanche, 30 October 2005


“According to the Center of Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organizations
(CIAOSN), the transcendental meditation technique praised by this group brings about
in their followers a change in personality (‘depersonalization’ effect), a decrease of social
relations and the appearance of psychological disorders (depression, hallucinations,
nervousness).”
           André Frédéric, president of the Working Group on Sects, 28 October 2004




                                                                                                21
22
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium



       This situation cost the CIAOSN
  and the Belgian State several convictions

• In June 2005 a Brussels appellate court judge ruled that the Church of the
  Kingdom of God had suffered damage by appearing in the parliamentary report of
  sectarian organizations.
• In April 2006 the Brussels Court of Appeal ruled that the Belgian Francophone
  community government must cease circulating a flyer in which Anthroposophy was
  labeled a dangerous cult.
• On 12 June 2006 the Brussels Court of Appeal found that the Observatory
  provided advice regarding Sahaja Yoga on its website that lacked accuracy and
  objectivity when it classified the movement as a dangerous cult and ignored
  information provided by Sahaja Yoga, including decisions to the contrary in legal
  cases in other jurisdictions.
• In December 2006, the Brussels Court of Appeal ruled that the Interior Minister
  had wrongly denied a visa to Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification
  Church. The court ordered the Immigration Office to issue a visa, allowing Mr.
  Moon to attend a rally in the country.
• The latest loss for CIAOSN came in February 2008, when the case of Sahaja Yoga
  was again brought up. A Belgian court instructed the State to pay €1,500 to Sahaja
  Yoga for damages; it was also ordered to issue a statement in every publication in
  which the concerned negative advice appeared, that the CIAOSN did not engage in
  the necessary care and impartiality, and that its motivation was faulty. The State has
  announced that they will appeal the decision.



   In the affair of the Sahaja Yoga, the Tribunal specified:

   “As a public institution, the C.I.A.O.S.N. must operate objectively, not only in using
   arguments against, but also by citing all the elements that balance this.”
   and

   “[…] the C.I.A.O.S.N. did not act with the needed care and objectivity, therefore the
   advice was insufficiently motivated.”




                                                                                             23
24
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium




M    ajor social ruins, such as drugs, juvenile unemployment,
     suicide or juvenile crime, have never been addressed by a
parliamentary commission or a working group.

On “sects” there has been:

• 	 A 	 pa rlia menta r y 	 commission
• 	 A 	 pa rlia menta r y 	 work ing 	group
• 	 Te ns 	of	law 	prop osals 	to	ta rget	religio u s	
    g roups…




In the face of this waste of public funds
In the face of this waste of time of the MPs
One can ask oneself the question:



WHO IS ORGANIZING SUCH A COMMOTION?




                                                                                    25
When will real social problems
   be tackled effectively?




Cocaine: Every year 1.75 tons of cocaine is consumed in Belgium, which represents about
50,000 doses every day.                Source: Study of the Universities of Liege and Antwerp
Crack/Cocaine, Heroine, Ecstasy: 4% of youngsters between 12 and 17 years old used
once one of those drugs, while 2% used it multiple times. Crack/cocaine, heroine and
ecstasy abuse had doubled compared to 2007. Source: Report of the CRIOC, February 2010


26
How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium



T   here are other urgent social problems in Belgium that deserve the creation of a
    parliamentary inquiry commission:

Drugs
Illicit drugs are causing 29 deaths every year in the Brussels Region.

Cannabis: 30% of 15/16 years old students in Belgium have smoked cannabis, according the
2009 report of the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB).
Amphetamine: According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),
Belgium is the main country exporting amphetamine and substances belonging to the
MDMA group, together with the Netherlands.
                   Source: Report of Benoit Cerexhe, Minister of Health, Brussels Capital Region

Suicide
Every year in Belgium, more than 2,000 people take their own life. Six a day. Belgium,
with a suicide rate estimated at 23 for every 100,000 inhabitants is well above the world
average (14.5 for 100,000 inhabitants in Belgium, 8.3 in The Netherlands). Suicide is the
first “external cause of death”. It exceeds by far the number of deaths by road accidents, even
though suicides are sometimes disguised as being road accidents.
   Source: Le Centre de Prévention du Suicide asbl (Suicide Prevention Centre); 2010 data from the WHO

Juvenile unemployment
In Belgium, more than 11% of the working population is looking for a job. Furthermore, the
youth unemployment rate is particularly alarming (over 20%) with Brussels reaching 35%, and
even 44% in some areas such as Molenbeek, far above the European average (14.6%). 221,183
young people between 18 and 24 (out of 900,000) have no secondary school diploma, while
57,481 have no diploma, attend no school and have no job.
  Source: SPF Emploi (Employment Federal Public Service), 2008; King Boudewijn Foundation, 2009

Juvenile crime
More and more delinquent behavior (almost half ) has been re-classified as being a consequence of
a “Problematic Educational Situation” and as such disappeared from criminal statistics in 2008.
Furthermore, 2,596 minors between 15-19 years old were placed in “closed institutions” during
2007. Even this number is a poor estimation of the problem, because of acute “space” shortage in
these institutions. Also 68% of referrals to the Juvenile Judge are classified without any further action.
Conference “Juvenile delinquency: looking for appropriate answers”, Brussels, 23-24 March 2009




                                                                                                             27
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Ciaosn belgium-cap

  • 1. Politics & Religion in Belgium How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn Issue I
  • 2. Table of contents Summary page 3 Belgian Constitution, 1831 page 5 Coincidence? Synchronicity? Coordinated effort? page 6 The growth of the “sect list” page 9 How the “sect list” has been used in Belgium page 11 (and France) What were the methods used by the Parliamentary page 13 Inquiry and Working Group? A democratic and transparent process? page 15 Hardly so - a rather embarassing chapter Advice of CIAOSN on FECRIS page 17 Incoherence, inconsistency and discrimination page 19 They have said page 20 This situation cost the CIAOSN and the Belgian State page 23 several convictions When real social problems will be tackled effectively? page 26 2
  • 3. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium Summary O n 28 March 1996 an inquiry commission was created to look into the possible dangers of sects in Belgium, issuing its 670-page report on 28 April 1997. The report included as an annex an alphabetical list of 189 groups, including commentary, which has become a de facto “sect list”. The Parliament refused to adopt the report as such and only voted to accept the conclusions and recommendations (19 pages). Despite this disavowal, the government found it appropriate to publish the whole report, including the controversial list. Following this report, in 1998, a Federal “Observatory on Sects”, formally known as the Center for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organizations (CIAOSN) was created under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. The Observatory, far from being the independent and impartial body that the law mandates, is a primary source of misinformation and intolerance towards religious minorities in Belgium. On 21 April 2004 a Parliamentary Working Group on Sects was formed to determine the extent that the 1997 Parliamentary inquiry commission’s recommendations on “sects” had been implemented. It presented its report to the Parliament, which adopted the recommendations in its Plenary Session on 30 March 2006. The Working Group repeated, even worsened, the serious methodological errors contained in the 1997 Report, so compounding the already existing problem. The individuals who appeared before the Working Group consisted exclusively of Belgian government intelligence, law enforcement and sect observatory officials. No religious experts, human rights experts nor sociologists were invited to the Working Group hearings. No religious leaders, representatives of interfaith groups, nor representatives of the religious communities derogatorily designated as “sects” were invited. No Working Group hearings were open to the public, allowing for public debate and scrutiny and for government transparency regarding its policy of minority religious freedom and tolerance. Instead, the hearings were conducted behind closed doors. Twelve years after the establishment of the “Observatory on Sects”, it is time to draw some conclusions and raise questions about the results of what is widely considered to be, at least beyond the Belgian borders, an out of proportion and discriminatory series of measures that target religious organizations, violating international human rights treaties ratified by Belgium. Meanwhile, serious problems affecting Belgian youth and society, such as drug abuse, juvenile unemployment, suicide and crime rates, have not been the subject of any parliamentary commission or working group… 3
  • 4. The Congress column in Brussels 4
  • 5. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium Belgian Constitution, 1831 Article 11 E njoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized for Belgians should be ensured without discrimination. To this end, laws and decrees guarantee notably the rights and freedoms of ideological and philosophical minorities. Article 19 F reedom of worship, public practice of the latter, as well as freedom to demonstrate one’s opinions on all matters, are guaranteed, except for the repression of offences committed when using this freedom. R eading the Constitution, one might think that Freedom of Religion is well protected in Belgium. However, since the end of the 1990s religious minorities, often labeled as cults and sects, are the victims of various forms of discrimination. At the end of the 1990s the European Union, the Council of Europe and a number of member states looked into the issue of religious minorities, or “sects”. The position of eleven member states of the European Union was that “sects” do not harm the individual, the family, society or their democratic institutions to the point of necessitating the need to create new institutions or organizations to combat them, and that in any case existing judicial systems could handle potential abuses. Unfortunately, four EU member states decided to take a different course of action: two German-speaking countries (Austria and Germany), a French-speaking country (France), and a linguistically and culturally mixed country (Belgium). 5
  • 6. Coincidence? Synchronicity? Coordinated effort? 6
  • 7. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium A n old Belgian saying goes “When it rains in Paris, raindrops fall in Brussels.” This is certainly applicable to a sudden interest of the governmental and legislative institutions, both in France and Belgium, to investigate the activities of religious minorities, cults and sects labeled as dangerous: France Belgium Parliamentary Commission 1995 1996 Observatory 1996 1998 However, Belgium outperformed France: The Parliamentary Inquiry and Working Group met seventy-four times (74) in Brussels, the French inquiry ran for 20 meetings. Belgium also saw bigger: France issued a list of 173 organizations to be watched, but: Belgium initially came up with a “synoptic table” of 189 organizations that became a de facto “black list”, despite unofficial denials and attempts to minimize its impact. France retracted its list...* Belgium’s list is still growing... * Journal Officiel de la République Française n˚126, circular of 27 May 2005 relative to the fight against sectarian abuses. 7
  • 8. “You don’t have anything but sects here, sects, sects...” Julia Nyssens, head of ADIF (Association de Défense de l’Individu et de la Famille) and witness during the parliamentary commission, RTL-TVI, 18 September 2003 8
  • 9. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium T he original “synoptic table” which was made public when attached to the Parliamentary Report of 1996, grew from 189 entries to a secret list of 700+ groups in 2006, according to a report of the CIAOSN. What about today? Today even the number of entries on the list is not public, effectively creating a “Black List”, an intolerable discrimination against religious minorities. The growth of the “sect list” 900 ? 597 700+ 189 1997 2006 2010 9
  • 10. 10
  • 11. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium How the “sect list” has been used in Belgium (and France) “Before being member of the Observatory, I was parliamentary assistant for Mr. Duquesne during the inquiry commission. As such, I contributed to establishing what was called ‘the synoptic table’.” Henri de Cordes, president of the CIAOSN, proceedings of the first Belgian colloquium of help to sect victims, 30 October 1999 “The media also play a role: they should inform the public, especially the youngsters.” Hilde Vautmans, member of the Working Group on Sects, during the presentation of its report, 30 March 2006 F ollowing publication of the parliamentary reports and the “lists of sects,” many cases of intolerance and discrimination in the public and private sectors were reported in France and in Belgium. Complaints from French and Belgian individuals belonging to the blacklisted groups have steadily increased and include loss of jobs or promotions, dismissals, libel, slander, victimization in the neighborhood, at the workplace and at school, damage to individuals’ reputation, loss of visitation rights or child custody in divorce settlements, inability to rent facilities for religious ceremonies or for meetings, unilateral and unfounded closure of bank accounts of “sects” or of individuals affiliated with them, humanitarian agencies’ refusal to accept donations from “sects,” denial of access to public display boards and police surveillance.* Apparently this is the expected result of the “informative role to be played by the media” after they have been fed with the black list of religious organizations in Belgium. * Human Rights Without Frontiers, “Religious freedom, intolerance, discrimination in the European Union, Belgium 2002 - 2003”. 11
  • 12. Sociologists: 0 Religious experts: 0 Anti-sect groups: 6 12
  • 13. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium What were the methods used by the Parliamentary Inquiry and Working Group? O ne could reasonably think that the members of these two undertakings would be chosen from legislators and eminent religious and sociological experts. But were they? Experts Parliamentary Inquiry Working group Government 3 3 Magistracy, Police Intelligence, Administration 10 10 Academics 6 0 Media 6 0 Anti-sect groups 6 0 Members of religious organizations 8 0 Sociologists 0 0 Religious experts 0 0 A ll the other witnesses were heard behind closed doors, sometimes by only a few members refute their potentially sectarian character, but they were not informed of the accusations raised of the commission and without the against them during the public and others’ knowledge. The commission non-public hearings. They could sent a letter to seventy-one of the therefore not defend themselves. associations mentioned by various The other 118 movements that were state agencies as suspected of being listed did not get such an invitation harmful to society or the individual. and were consequently not able to The letter asked the groups to present a summary of their activities describe their objectives and to or to contest any accusations. 13
  • 14. ~~~o," O~""'v~IrRë" r.~ / 2 S "'"I;'to!. J9"'>t:1.J9,I''' J997 O€"VNE.' ZI7-rING 19<160-1997(_) <f8 ''''''It. .J0.97 .. 14
  • 15. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium A democratic and transparent process? Hardly so – a rather embarrassing chapter: “The Commission has indeed been very negligent and biased in its work. That is why I and a substantial majority of my colleagues at the CVP * have refused to adopt the report of activities, have rejected the famous list and have only adopted the general lines of the recommendations.” Dr. Jan Van Erps, member of the House of Representatives, 1997 “[…] The commission issued its report, but I can’t adopt it personally as it goes well beyond and opens horizons which, as a democrat, concern me.” Hervé Hasquin, discussion of the report of the Working Group on Sects, 30 March 2006 “The CIAOSN was established in 1998 as a result of the ill fame parliamentary investigation commission that is put on record as the worst parliamentary investigation commission ever.” Tertio, 30 april 2008 “The other religious groups are to be watched, prosecuted, even exterminated without anything in their social behavior or their beliefs to predispose them to this particular fate. It is the political power that decides the fate of one and all and legislates accordingly. The list of ‘harmful’ sects and public subsidies to major religions (more or less official according to different countries) are to be understood in the frame of this logic.” Anne Morelli, deputy director of the Centre interdisciplinaire d’étude des religions et de la laïcité, Université Libre de Bruxelles, october 2008 * CVP : Christelijke Volkspartij, Flemish political party which, in 2001, was renamed CD&V (Christen- Democratisch en Vlaams). 15
  • 16. FECRIS’ members have accumulated more than 21 condemnations over the last 15 years 16
  • 17. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium Advice of CIAOSN on FECRIS I n 2000 the CIAOSN issued an opinion on the FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Sectarianism): “The advice was positive and I am delighted about it especially as I believed that in the frame of the very long procedure before the Council of Europe, this advice contributed to convincing the Council of Europe’s officials to grant FECRIS consultative status.” Henri de Cordes, president of the CIAOSN, proceedings of the conference “The Internationalization of cults: a danger to human rights in Europe?”, 25 March 2006 What FECRIS really is? F ECRIS is a collection of national groups that have banded together under a European umbrella; it has had the reputation, since its inception in 1994, of being extremely intolerant towards religious minorities. In fact before FECRIS even came into existence, its member groups were already active in illegal actions. In the past FECRIS group members have been involved in the forcible kidnapping of members of other faiths in order to try to get them to change their views. There have been six convictions for these offences between 1987 and 1997. FECRIS’ members have accumulated over 21 condemnations over the last 15 years*, all relating to religious intolerance. Its President until early 2009, Friedrich Griess, has been convicted eight times for defamation of a Christian group (Norwegian Movement). The most recent decision was in 2004. Were these the facts that persuaded the President of the CIAOSN to issue a “positive advice” about FECRIS? * European Law Centre, public hearing on discrimination and intolerance, 27 June 2005, Strasbourg 17
  • 18. 18
  • 19. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium Incoherence, inconsistency and discrimination On 9 January 2002, Eric Brasseur, director of the CIAOSN, announced to the newspaper La Libre Belgique: “No recent information allows us to draw negative conclusions and there is nothing relevant as far as harmful behavior is concerned [about Hare Krishna].” On the same day, his colleague Henri de Cordes was talking of the Hare Krishna movement to the RTBF, in a quite conflicting way: “The practice of repeating mantras is known in psychology as a technique that can bring about semi-trance states that allow, in certain cases, greater control of the individual by leaders of the movement.” “We respect individual freedom, but the only valid freedom is that of people well informed of their movement’s practices.” Henri de Cordes, La Libre Belgique, 7 June 2008 “I’m not at all against religion and I have no problem with them existing, but we are interested that they are not selling wind and mentally manipulating people.” Luc Willems, former rapporteur of the inquiry commission on sects, St. Petersburg Times, 4 November 2007 “We can compare it [the Observatory] to a smoking-addiction prevention association: the risks are estimated; in principle everybody can smoke, the risks are known, everyone takes a position according to the risks they know or don’t know and that they are ready to assume. In the case of the Center, it’s a bit the same thing […]” Henri de Cordes, interviewed by the RTBF, 30 November 2001 19
  • 21. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium “Contrary to what is believed, there is no list of sects or sectarian movements.” Eric Brasseur, Vers L’Avenir, 3 November 2007 “There were absolutely no consequences for organizations mentioned on the list.” Henri de Cordes, website of Het Laatste Nieuws, 4 September 2007 “Paradoxically, the ‘list’ contained in the report and which has given rise to extensive controversy, continues to be of interest to those who use it in an attempt to convince others that Belgium is a country of religious discrimination that conducts a ‘witch hunt’ against minority religions.” Henri de Cordes, Le Soir, 3 May 2007 “All in all, I would say that this story is a bit like vampire stories: vampires move about at night, and when a ray of light appears, they vanish. The fact that this table sheds light bothers a lot of people.” Henri de Cordes, proceedings of the first Belgian colloquium of help to sect victims, 30 October 1999 “Very particular attention will have to be given to movements where the founder is becoming advanced in years, in which case we can foresee succession conflicts.” Henri de Cordes, Le Journal Dimanche, 30 October 2005 “According to the Center of Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organizations (CIAOSN), the transcendental meditation technique praised by this group brings about in their followers a change in personality (‘depersonalization’ effect), a decrease of social relations and the appearance of psychological disorders (depression, hallucinations, nervousness).” André Frédéric, president of the Working Group on Sects, 28 October 2004 21
  • 22. 22
  • 23. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium This situation cost the CIAOSN and the Belgian State several convictions • In June 2005 a Brussels appellate court judge ruled that the Church of the Kingdom of God had suffered damage by appearing in the parliamentary report of sectarian organizations. • In April 2006 the Brussels Court of Appeal ruled that the Belgian Francophone community government must cease circulating a flyer in which Anthroposophy was labeled a dangerous cult. • On 12 June 2006 the Brussels Court of Appeal found that the Observatory provided advice regarding Sahaja Yoga on its website that lacked accuracy and objectivity when it classified the movement as a dangerous cult and ignored information provided by Sahaja Yoga, including decisions to the contrary in legal cases in other jurisdictions. • In December 2006, the Brussels Court of Appeal ruled that the Interior Minister had wrongly denied a visa to Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church. The court ordered the Immigration Office to issue a visa, allowing Mr. Moon to attend a rally in the country. • The latest loss for CIAOSN came in February 2008, when the case of Sahaja Yoga was again brought up. A Belgian court instructed the State to pay €1,500 to Sahaja Yoga for damages; it was also ordered to issue a statement in every publication in which the concerned negative advice appeared, that the CIAOSN did not engage in the necessary care and impartiality, and that its motivation was faulty. The State has announced that they will appeal the decision. In the affair of the Sahaja Yoga, the Tribunal specified: “As a public institution, the C.I.A.O.S.N. must operate objectively, not only in using arguments against, but also by citing all the elements that balance this.” and “[…] the C.I.A.O.S.N. did not act with the needed care and objectivity, therefore the advice was insufficiently motivated.” 23
  • 24. 24
  • 25. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium M ajor social ruins, such as drugs, juvenile unemployment, suicide or juvenile crime, have never been addressed by a parliamentary commission or a working group. On “sects” there has been: • A pa rlia menta r y commission • A pa rlia menta r y work ing group • Te ns of law prop osals to ta rget religio u s g roups… In the face of this waste of public funds In the face of this waste of time of the MPs One can ask oneself the question: WHO IS ORGANIZING SUCH A COMMOTION? 25
  • 26. When will real social problems be tackled effectively? Cocaine: Every year 1.75 tons of cocaine is consumed in Belgium, which represents about 50,000 doses every day. Source: Study of the Universities of Liege and Antwerp Crack/Cocaine, Heroine, Ecstasy: 4% of youngsters between 12 and 17 years old used once one of those drugs, while 2% used it multiple times. Crack/cocaine, heroine and ecstasy abuse had doubled compared to 2007. Source: Report of the CRIOC, February 2010 26
  • 27. How an escalating social issue took a dangerous turn in Belgium T here are other urgent social problems in Belgium that deserve the creation of a parliamentary inquiry commission: Drugs Illicit drugs are causing 29 deaths every year in the Brussels Region. Cannabis: 30% of 15/16 years old students in Belgium have smoked cannabis, according the 2009 report of the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB). Amphetamine: According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Belgium is the main country exporting amphetamine and substances belonging to the MDMA group, together with the Netherlands. Source: Report of Benoit Cerexhe, Minister of Health, Brussels Capital Region Suicide Every year in Belgium, more than 2,000 people take their own life. Six a day. Belgium, with a suicide rate estimated at 23 for every 100,000 inhabitants is well above the world average (14.5 for 100,000 inhabitants in Belgium, 8.3 in The Netherlands). Suicide is the first “external cause of death”. It exceeds by far the number of deaths by road accidents, even though suicides are sometimes disguised as being road accidents. Source: Le Centre de Prévention du Suicide asbl (Suicide Prevention Centre); 2010 data from the WHO Juvenile unemployment In Belgium, more than 11% of the working population is looking for a job. Furthermore, the youth unemployment rate is particularly alarming (over 20%) with Brussels reaching 35%, and even 44% in some areas such as Molenbeek, far above the European average (14.6%). 221,183 young people between 18 and 24 (out of 900,000) have no secondary school diploma, while 57,481 have no diploma, attend no school and have no job. Source: SPF Emploi (Employment Federal Public Service), 2008; King Boudewijn Foundation, 2009 Juvenile crime More and more delinquent behavior (almost half ) has been re-classified as being a consequence of a “Problematic Educational Situation” and as such disappeared from criminal statistics in 2008. Furthermore, 2,596 minors between 15-19 years old were placed in “closed institutions” during 2007. Even this number is a poor estimation of the problem, because of acute “space” shortage in these institutions. Also 68% of referrals to the Juvenile Judge are classified without any further action. Conference “Juvenile delinquency: looking for appropriate answers”, Brussels, 23-24 March 2009 27