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Summary

Key points of concern with regards to the Council of Europe draft report on “The protection of minors against the excesses of sects”

1. Children must, of course, be protected from abuse. There is no doubt in our minds on this count. However, the report finds no actual evidence to support the need for the proposed measures. It seeks to target small religious minorities but does not even touch upon incidents of child abuse which have been publicised and have stemmed from majority or traditional religions. The question must be asked “Why is the Council of Europe targeting and discriminating against religious minorities? If it thinks there is an issue to be taken up on this subject in the field of religion, then the report should be on religions in general not some undefined section of it.” This report goes against the fundamental reason the Council of Europe was founded in the first place – to defend the rights of all and in particular the rights of minorities as these are always the first to lose their rights.

2.The report uses the word “sect” throughout. The word is not defined, in fact the report says it cannot define it, yet it seeks to bring about a raft of measures against such undefinable groups. This kind of unsubstantiated reasoning is wishy-washy at best but in reality it is unscientific and discriminatory. It does an injustice to and will damage the integrity of the Council of Europe if passed. 

3.The word sect has negative connotations and stigmatises groups that are named and placed under this umbrella. UN rapporteurs on religious freedom have stated this on various occasions. For Member States and the Council of Europe itself to now start targeting selected groups (and who will determine what these groups are? – another point of discrimination) using pejorative terminology will surely undermine how the Council is seen in the public eye.

4. The report itself is full of innuendo and short on facts. Despite there being almost no concern on the subject from Member States (as shown from the results of a questionnaire the rapporteur sent out); despite there being no evidence to support that there is even a problem with regards to ‘sects’ (the only data is hearsay which comes almost entirely from one source – the French group Miviludes – a body already criticised internationally for its discriminatory stance); despite there being a complete lack of regard for existing academic and legal expertise that has been internationally recognised in the field of religion – the rapporteur chooses to completely ignore this … and the report comes to what seems to be a foregone conclusion: that measures of a discriminatory nature are needed.

5. The report and recommendation refer to ‘psychological weakness’. This is another undefined term that the rapporteur has chosen to apply to the other undefined term – ‘sects’. This is a recipe for disaster and could not be more legally ungrounded. The result of this report, if adopted, is that Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs, Christians and other minorities will soon be accused of ‘psychological weakness’ and parents and their children will be disadvantaged and discriminated against.

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