21 February 1994
COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS
Supplementary Reply to Recommendation 1178 (1992)
on sects and new religious movements
(adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 17 February 1994
at the 508th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies)
The Committee of Ministers informs the Parliamentary Assembly that it shares its concern about the problems caused by the increasing activities of certain sects and religious movements of a non-traditional character.
Having consulted the Council for Cultural Co-operation (CDCC), the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ), the Steering Committee for Social Security (CDSS), the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) and the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC) and drawing attention to the interim reply adopted in April 1992, the Committee of Ministers makes the following supplementary reply to Recommendation 1178 (1992):
1. As regards the recommendation in paragraph 7.i, the Committee of Ministers observes that so far these questions have not been dealt with extensively in the cultural and educational programmes of the Council of Europe. However, the Council for Cultural Co-operation (CDCC) stated in its opinion that it supported this Assembly's proposal and would certainly be tackling the subject in its future work, in particular on human rights education, multicultural society and intercultural education. The Committee of Ministers encourages the CDCC to pursue its work on these questions.
2. The Committee of Ministers likewise subscribes to the recommendation in paragraph 7.ii of Recommendation 1178. The Committee firmly believes that the public at large should be made aware, by appropriate means, of the nature and activities of sects and new religious movements as well as the risks they can encounter.
3. As regards the recommendation in paragraph 7.iii, the Committee of Ministers considers that states should not be invited to take steps which are based on a value judgment concerning cults and beliefs.
In addition, owing to the different traditions and legal systems, it does not seem appropriate to recommend every government to require all sects and new religious movements to obtain corporate status, it being understood that members of such sects and movements should respect the law of the country in which they reside.
The Committee notes that the Council of Europe does not have any legal instrument specifically on this subject and that at the moment the activities of sects and new religious movements are subject only to the rules on exercise of fundamental freedoms, such as Article 9 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion and Article 11 on freedom of association, of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Assembly pointed out in paragraph 5 of the recommendation, that "the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights makes major legislation on sects undesirable, since such legislation might well interfere with this fundamental right and harm traditional religions". The Committee notes that other provisions of the Convention are also relevant here, for example Article 11 (freedom of association), Article 14 (non-discrimination), Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (parents' right to have their children educated and instructed in conformity with their religious and philosophical convictions) or Article 17 of the Convention (grounds on which the exercise of rights may be restricted).
The Committee recalls that under the Convention, freedom of conscience and religion and a number of other freedoms secured by the Convention may be restricted and that the competent national authorities have a discretion in the matter. In the Committee's view this gives them a sufficient basis for legislating, where appropriate, on problems posed by sects and new religious movements. It is for the Convention's supervisory bodies to decide whether, in specific cases, there has been a breach of the Convention.
4. As regards the recommendation in paragraph 7.iv, the Committee of Ministers wishes to inform the Assembly that 16 states have ratified the Convention and to point out that a permanent committee has been established with instructions to look into and facilitate operation of the Convention.
The Committee urges those member states which have not yet done so to sign or ratify this Convention (ETS No. 105) and any other instruments relevant to the matter.
5. As regards the recommendation in paragraph 7.v, the Committee believes that countries where sects or religious movements operate should take steps to ensure that their laws are complied with, particularly in the best interest of the child, and so that there is effective exercise of parental responsibilities.
The Committee notes that a number of questions raised in the Assembly's recommendation are to be considered in the preparation of the draft European Convention on the exercise of children's rights and in particular the question of means of protecting the welfare of the child. The European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) stated in its opinion on this recommendation that due account would be taken of the recommendation in preparation of the draft convention. The Assembly will be kept informed.
In addition, Recommendation No. R (91) 9 of the Committee of Ministers on emergency measures in family matters took into account various problems that parents' membership of a sect could cause. It recommended that governments of member states "take all necessary steps to implement the principles [of the recommendation] and ensure that effective emergency measures are available to the courts and other competent authorities dealing with family matters to protect children and other persons who are in need of special protection and assistance and whose interests are in serious danger.".
It advocated simple and expeditious judicial procedures so that the competent authorities could take emergency decisions in children's interest. The explanatory memorandum to the recommendation mentioned in particular as emergency power (para. 7.a) the court orders to protect the health of a child for example, to make possible that, contrary to the wishes of the parents, a child shall be given an urgently needed blood transfusion.
6. As regards the recommendation in paragraph 7.vi, the Committee would point out that it has adopted a number of recommendations on social security and that the following might satisfactorily meet the problem of welfare cover for members of sects:
- Recommendations Nos. R (86) 5 on making medical care universally available and R (87) 5 on making old-age and invalidity benefits generally available;
- Recommendation No. R (91) 2 on social security for workers without professional status (helpers, persons at home with family responsibilities and voluntary workers);
- Recommendation No. R (92) 2 on making family benefits generally available recommended that the right to family allowances be extended progressively to cover all children residing in each member state.
In addition, the European Code of Social Security (ETS No. 48) and more particularly the revised code (ETS No. 139) allow contracting parties to extend most social security benefits to cover the entire resident population. Sixteen states have ratified the code in its original form, while the revised code has been signed by 14 states.