Henri de Cordes,

President of C.I.A.O.S.N

 

The « Centre d’Information et d’Avis sur les Organisations Sectaires Nuisibles » (C.I.A.O.S.N.)[1] from 1999 to 2005 : a first assessment

 

 

I want to thank the members of FECRIS for inviting me and also congratulate them for the wise choice of the date of March 25 since it fell two days after the publication of the report of the Working group in charge of the follow-up of the recommendations of the parliamentary Board of inquiry and at a time of high Belgian political activity in this field. My talk will therefore be very easy, because the Working group’s report is excellent both in its content and in its form as it is very agreeable to read.

 

What is the C.I.A.O.S.N.?

(Centre of information and advice/opinion on harmful cultist organisations)?

 

Mr Moureaux, the President of the parliamentary board of inquiry on cults of 1997[2], retraced for you step by step the conclusions and recommendations of this Commission whose principal realization was the creation of the C.I.A.O.S.N.  In short, the Center was created, but I cannot dissociate the Center from the administrative Cell which is part of the same law. The reason for this is that the information and opinion mandates of the Centre are complemented by a coordinating mandate to be carried out by an administrative body whose specificity is to fight harmful cultist organisations. This unit, therefore, is part of a coherent whole, at least on paper, since, as you can read in the report that Mr Malmendier has just commented for you, some things have been implemented others not.

 

That which was implemented in practise, was indeed the law of 2 June 1998 – amended in 2004 – creating the Centre and the Cell, and granting the budgetary, material and human means for the Centre.

 

The Cell is chaired by the Minister of Justice and is composed of a great number of representatives from government departments and police and information services. Many people found themselves members of this body without knowing very well what they were doing there. When it started there was no permanent framework, not permanent structure, and I would like to pay homage to those who at the beginning managed to contribute something with the limited means at their disposal. Cooperation with the Centre was initiated then and in some particular cases it was effective.

 

I will speak mainly about Mr Malmendier’s report because as President of the Centre, it is obviously a great pride to me to be given public recognition for the work of all those who  implicated themselves in this organisation and the first person that comes to mind  is  the Minister of State Antoine Duquesne who, I am sure, will find in this text an encouragement in the fight that he is currently waging for his revalidation following the cerebral vascular accident mentioned by Mr Moureaux  this morning. It is also a public recognition of the work carried out day after day by the pioneer, Mr Eric Brasseur, Director of the Centre. He was the first settled in a small office off the Rue Guimard. A few months later his first collaborator arrived and, slowly slowly, the current permanent structure came into being which now consists of: a director, 4 analysts, two administrative assistants and we are expecting to recruit a librarian soon.

 

When I see that the Centre and the library, without a librarian I insist, are becoming the reference par excellence about cults in the public eye, I can but congratulate them. When one reads that other speakers also stress the very good collaboration with the Centre, i.e. public prosecutor’s office, the police services. When one also evokes the excellent information work at all levels, it is indeed very moving to see that all that was achieved in a little less than ten years, and that sometimes it pays to be patient.

 

By evoking this collaboration, I am reminded of a very positive comment which was made barely a month ago during a training seminar for magistrates where a representative of the police force said that, for him, the C.I.A.O.S.N was a gift from heaven. I immediately replied  that heaven had nothing to do with it because it was the fruit of a down to earth political decision, but I was nevertheless quite glad to hear these words.

 

What is really significant in the report of the Working group is that it mentions several fields in which it wishes the Centre to do a little more, in so far as additional means are available. This is in particular at information level, a recommendation which pleads initially for increased awareness and training of the various authorities and services concerned i.e. civil servant and other agents of public services. There exists, at Federal level in Belgium, a training agency for civil servants and we will examine the possibility of collaborating with this organism. I am rather in favour of what is called in military jargon "train the trainers". We should train the trainers in all the various government departments, rather than becoming ourselves "missionaries".

 

With this in mind, both the administrative Cell and the Information Centre would have their role to play by aiming at developing information in such professional sectors as health for instance. That suits us well since we are at present studying the preparation of a health file aimed at the general public but also for a more a more specialized audience. We are thus very happy to have this encouragement and support. In order to also ensure a better control of the vocational training market and Internet,  the working group made a recommendation which aims at creating an "Early Warning System" in collaboration with the Belgian Business Federation (FEB). This kind of initiative can be set up very quickly because once contact is made with the right people this kind of "EWS" can function. Via this interface it would be possible for the Centre to answer one request about a group coming from multiple companies in one go.

 

Another activity particularly targeted is the setting up of more training possibilities for people capable of informing the young generation. Young people are indeed on our agenda. The difficulty at Belgian institutional level being to know up to what point the Belgian Federal competences allow us to go, without losing sight of the fact that matters related to persons are the competence of the Communities.

 

With regard to the Centre that’s about all, but I should have started by evoking the opinion  competence of the Centre and that’s why I am so pleased to be invited by  FECRIS today, because FECRIS was the subject of the first opinion we were asked to give.

It was number "zero" if one can call it that. The request was made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in October 1999, following your Paris Conference that year, and we were asked to give an opinion regarding the request for recognition as an NGO formulated by FECRIS. The recognition sought by FECRIS aimed at enabling it to be consulted by the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the OSCE as well as  United Nations and its related bodies.  

 

The opinion was positive and I am more than pleased because I believe that, in the framework of the very long procedure before the Council of Europe, this opinion had contributed to convince the persons responsible in the Council of Europe, to grant FECRIS participative status thus showing the usefulness of these opinions.

 

Another direct effect of an opinion asked of us was in October 2000. It came from the immigration authorities and it concerned the Mormons. We were not just asked about the possible dangers which membership of this cult could provoke, but also whether Mormon missionaries were obliged to have a work permit to come to Belgium.  

 

The opinion was moderate. I should point out, for those who might have doubts, that at the time already, and it has become a ritual formula, we added "this opinion in no way pre-judges of any later evolution of the movement or the persons in it”. One of the concretizations of this opinion was a general-public leaflet devoted to the Mormons.

 

Other opinions were given in 2002, 2003 and 2004 three opinions at the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions, of the public prosecutor’s office, which are not public because they were related to a legal procedure.

 

At the beginning of August 2005, on its Internet site, the Centre published its opinion on Sahaja Yoga, released on March 7, 2005 in response to a question of the alderman of Social Affairs of the City of Ghent relating to the movement Sahaja Yoga. The result of this was that in the course of October, action in summary procedure was initiated by Sahaja Yoga. Action in summary procedure which was rejected in December 2005 but an appeal[3] was brought and accepted. An action in depth on the content has also been brought by Sahaja Yoga against this opinion.

 

In October 2005, we received an indictment by the Brussels’ Public Prosecutor asking for the Centre’s opinion in a penal case. This was a first time for the Centre – the proceedings against Luong Minh Dang,[4] known as "Master" Dang by his followers, in the framework of the Spiritual HumanYoga movement. The opinion was given in January 2006, as an expertise procedure, deposited in the file within the framework of a penal procedure. This document is not public either, but was obviously evoked during the Court case.

 

Well, Mr President, I will stop here. The advantage is that as the Centre exists and will continue to exist, any further questions could be addressed to it afterwards with the difference of Mr Moureaux, who is already a part of history and it is more difficult follow up questions to him.



[1] Centre of information and opinion on harmful cultist organisations

[2] Parliamentary inquiry with the objective of working out a policy in order to fight the illegal practices of cults  and the danger which they represent for  society and individuals, particularly for minors. 

[3] The Brussels’ Court of Appeal handed down its judgment on June 12, 2006 per which the ordinance of summary procedure was cancelled

[4] On 19 04 2006 Luong Minh Dang was condemned by Belgian justice to 4 years imprisonment and a fine of 10 000 € for tax evasion, swindle, illegal medical practice and false diplomas.