Jean-Pierre Malmendier

Federal Member of Parliament, effective Member of the Commission of Justice, Rapporteur of the working group

  

 

 Presentation of the Report in the name of the working group charged with

ensuring the follow-up of the recommendations of the parliamentary

Board of inquiry on "cults/sects"

 

 

Many thanks for having thought of inviting, initially Mr Monfils[1], who was supposed to come today to speak of the draft bill incriminating the abuse of a situation of weakness of individuals but who preferred to delegate this task to me, as Rapporteur of the working group which has just deposited its conclusions before the press. You too will be among the first to hear these conclusions, considering that they have not as yet been presented at a plenary sitting of Parliament and therefore have not been discussed with all our colleagues. Nevertheless, there is already a consensus for saying that this work is excellent and that the conclusions are completely relevant.

 

It is on the initiative of our colleague, Mr André Frederic[2], that the Conference of the Presidents of the Federal Parliament agreed to set up this working group charged with the interview of all the members of the government to learn what had been done in each government department as a follow up of the recommendations of the parliamentary investigation of 1997, to evaluate the evolution of the cultist phenomenon and to make recommendations adapted to the present situation.

 

This working group was created on 24 06 2004, it was made up of one member of each party and it met on 15 occasions in camera.

 

Were auditioned:

        State Security

        the administrative Cell of coordination for the fight against harmful cultist organisations

        the CIAOSN (Centre of information and opinion on harmful cultist organisations)

        the Federal Police

        the Federal Public Prosecutor

        the Federal judicial officer

        the Public Prosecutor of  Liège,  Mr Visart de Bocarmé

        Mrs Laurette Onkelinkx,  Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Justice

        Mr Patrick De Wael, Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior

        Mr  Rudy De Motte, Minister of Social Affaires and of Public Health

        Mr Philippe Vuilque, Member of the French National Assembly, President of the working group on cults/sects of the French National Assembly.

 

The working group also paid a visit to the C.I.A.O.S.N on 12 10 2004. The observations of the group were made on various levels.  

  

First of all, an assessment of the situation:

 

We noted that the activities of cultist organisations have not decreased in our country. They are less visible and progress behind a mask.

 

Since 1999, the C.I.A.O.S.N has investigated the activities of 598 groups of which only 94 had been referenced in 1997. The work consists of the creation of files and not of lists of harmful cultist organisations. The complaints received by C.I.A.O.S.N on harmful sectarian organisations followed a certain classification and the President of the Centre, Mr de Cordes, will certainly give you more information on this subject. We also noted the increase of small structures which often change name, acting in a more diffuse and virtual manner.

 

Pentecostal and evangelical groups in particular, derived or dissenting from North American Protestantism, currently occupy a significant place.

 

In these times when great ideological systems are disappearing, when individuals are seeking to find themselves and are in a quest for well being, one notes that there is a recrudescence of cultist tendencies in the fields of health, personal development, vocational training and great humanitarian actions.

 

All cultist activities do not seem to awaken the interest of the authorities or of the Order of physicians. Few procedures against the illegal exercise of medicine were initiated in the framework of cultist problems.

 

The absence of an officially protected status of the title of psychotherapist also presents a danger. Certain organisations sometimes have very significant financial means and it is difficult for the public authorities to investigate the true patrimonial wealth of cultist organisations.

 

We also noted a total lack of specific training at all levels of the police and judicial system. The understanding of the phenomenon is fragmentary and a need for training is necessary. All the intervening parties should be made aware of the problem from the Federal Prosecutors’ office to the local police forces. The C.I.A.O.S.N can provide legal advice to the people who wish it. When facts appear to point to a penal infraction, it transmits the information to Federal Prosecutor’s office.

 

The Board of inquiry of 1997 showed up the lack of material and human means available in the various services. It is the same today. Taking into account the terrorism issue the fight against harmful cultist organisations is not regarded as a priority.

 

The working group also wishes the introduction of a new penal indictment. The Belgian penal arsenal is sufficient to repress these practices but is imperfectly applied. The articles 7bis and 35 of the Penal code already make it possible to dissolve asbl [3] pursuing punishable activities.

 

The attention of the working group was drawn to the law of the 7 07 2002 containing the rules relating to the protection of threatened witnesses and other provisions.

 

In its recommendations, the Board of inquiry of 1997 had already suggested the introduction of a new provision aiming at punishing the abuse of weakness and instigation to suicide. This recommendation was taken up again by the working group.

 

In France the Law About-Picard of the 12 07 2001, integrates fraudulent abuse of the state of ignorance or of weakness. It also targets conditioning leading to psychological or physical subjection likely to deteriorate judgement.

 

On the level of cooperation with European and international authorities, contacts took place mainly through the intermediary of the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office which acts as the information coordinator.

 

France and Belgium collaborate closely. State Security has local sections which keep up regular contacts with their counterparts on the other side of the boarder.

 

The disparity of European legislations as regards cult/sects prevents effective coordination of actions. The European institutions, privileged target of intense cultist organisations’ lobbying, show little interest in these problems. The different conceptions between the North of Europe and the Anglo-Saxon countries, on the one hand, and countries like Germany, France, Belgium, and those in Eastern Europe, on the other hand, hampers useful collaboration. Europol, to date, has not constituted an analysis file concerning cultist problems.

 

As to the infringements to social legislations, the Board of inquiry of 1997 had already noted that certain organisations exploited the work of their followers, but the social inspection services are faced with jurisprudence according to which the members and leaders of a cultist organisation are not bound by a contract of employment. The outline of a solution however has been brought by the law of the 3 07 2005 relating to the rights of voluntary workers.

 

Concerning the C.I.A.O.S.N, this Centre has, since its creation, opened 204 files on movements which were not mentioned in the synoptic table annexed to the Parliamentary Commission’s Inquiry Report.

 

I shall let its President, Mr de Cordes, comment in detail on the figures which were communicated to us, but we pointed out that a greater media coverage of its work could prove to be useful, though obviously requiring the granting of financial and human means. 

 

Concerning the administrative Cell of coordination for the fight against harmful cultist organisations, as opposed to the Centre, it was clear to us that it was in lethargy because of its too broad composition, its lack of offices, of material and human resources and also because it did not dispose of a secretariat. A new royal decree fixing the composition, the operation of the administrative cell was approved by the Council of Ministers of the 25 11 2005 and Mr Pasteel informed us that it would be published next Wednesday (March 29, 2006).

 

Children and cult problems also challenged our working group and we noted that cultist organisations bring about a break with the external world and impose a way of life on the children, univocal values and teachings incompatible with their own rhythm of life. Medical care is sometimes also insufficient. Certain organisations in particular target teenagers, a fragile public in the process of full identity building. Internet represents, in this context, a significant medium which supports cultist action. Two recent projects try to bring solutions to the dangers of Internet. They are: Educanet and Safer Internet.

 

Role of the media 

 

The role of the Belgian media in preventive and educational aspects should be encouraged and developed.

 

Concerning the recommendations, I will only cite the main titles not to be too long and Mr de Cordes has, at your disposal, a certain number of copies of the report in which you will find more details.

 

There are eleven recommendations.

  

        Create awareness by organising increased training sessions for the various authorities and services concerned, and more collaboration and information exchange and institute permanent coordination of action between these various authorities.

 

        Development of an action plan to fight harmful cultist practices destined to assist the judicial entities, the police services and State Security.

 

        Reinforce the means of action of the authorities and legal services, the police force and the information services.

 

        Intensification of the cooperation with the European and International authorities.

 

        Better application of the penal arsenal - Modification of certain existing legislative provisions.

 

        New specific penal provision: in particular the bill deposited by Mr Monfils which takes up the basics of the law About-Picard relating to abuse of persons in a state of ignorance or a situation of weakness.

 

        A better application of legislation on social and medical matters - reinforced action of the authorities in these fields. Here we discussed, in particular, the statute of psychotherapists etc. and also of some "spiritual" practices which are supposed to replace traditional medicine.

 

        The C.I.A.O.S.N, which it can be said, is the only concrete element implemented following the recommendations of the Board of inquiry of 1997, must be reinforced. The staff must be stabilised in order to guarantee better work continuity. The Centre could possibly also be used as a training organ for all instances involved in these problems.

 

        Then the administrative Cell of coordination for the fight against harmful cultist organisations: the operation of this Cell must absolutely be optimised and I think that the Lady Minister has kept this in mind in the preliminary draft law which she will deposit at the end of the month.

 

        There is also question of implementing pro-active measures – Intensification of information, in particular to prevent the infringement from occurring. Here I have in mind the kidnapping of children or puncturing of banking accounts so that we could act before the facts are actually  proven rather than to be in the current situation when all too often we have to wait until it is  too late.

 

        Also a better control of the vocational training market and of the Internet. It is a fact that certain cults/sects specialised in vocational training and through certain sub-groups, manage to penetrate whole companies and sometimes, very reputed ones. Some have even succeeded in benefiting of training cheques.

 

These are the recommendations which were accepted at Federal level, on the whole, I would say, implicating all ministries.

 

We also wish to communicate our reflections regarding the communities and regions. You know that Belgium, for those who are not of our country, is rather complicated on the institutional level and therefore we will inform them of our wishes, namely to 

 

        develop preventive actions with regard to young people and to generalise the educational programmes in schools, to encourage the preventive and educative action of the media, 

        to reinforce the control of home-schooling and of private institutions not recognized by the education department, 

        inform the medical profession, in the course of its basic training, about the physical and psychological damage which an individual can undergo when he adheres to a harmful cultist organisation,

        envisage a programme to promote awareness about the problem in health establishments, 

        control the home services provided for vulnerable people, 

        set up a structure of assistance whose staff has sufficient knowledge of the cultist phenomenon and is likely to bring concrete psychological and adequate social assistance to deal with ex-followers and victims of harmful cultist practices and their families.

        if required to intensify measures of control via a process of approval based on a preliminary and in depth administrative investigation of professional training companies within the framework of the procedures of granting of subsidies or cheques for training by the regions.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I may have been a little telegraphic, but I did not wish to encroach too much on the time of other speakers with topics certainly as significant as those that I have just presented.

 


[1]Philippe Monfils, Minister of State, member of the Belgian Chamber of  Representatives (Parliament)

[2]Federal deputy, alderman of Theux, Province of Liege (Belgium)

[3]Asbl  – Non-profit-making association