Promoting a European programme of vigilance and struggle against cultic excesses

 

George Fenech, President of MIVILUDES

 

I am going to speak to you in French my English not being good enough to be able to express myself in your beautiful language. Thank you, dear Tom Sackville, for inviting MIVILUDES to this important FECRIS conference. For us to be here in London today to discuss cults and cult related groups is highly symbolic.

We are an Interministerial Mission working under the auspices of the French Prime Minister and as you know he has supported our actions and that of FECRIS, materially, morally and politically.  I am accompanied by my Secretary General, Amélie Cladière and a technical assistant Laurence Baour.  It’s therefore a MIVILUDES delegation that is here with you today.

 

I rejoice to see, that in spite of the problems with air space you are well represented here today and I would particularly like to say how pleased I am by the presence of some very first class people. In particular I wish to greet the Belgian Member of Parliament, André Frédéric. The action of Belgium in the field of cultic excesses is well known and recently I was auditioned, at Mr. Frédéric’s initiative, by the Belgian parliament concerning a new law that is being introduced.  I’d also like to greet my Belgian counterpart who has arrived discreetly, Henri de Cordes, President of CIAOSN (Centre for Information and Advice about Harmful Cultic Organisations) and we also have a representative from the Belgian Federal Police so Belgium is very well represented today.  I am also very happy to see Catherine Picard, President of UNADFI and Jacques Miquel, President of CCMM, who represent the two largest French organisations helping us with our work and the directors and members of FECRIS that I now know well and other members from other countries who somehow managed to be present.

 

In France the fight against harmful cults has never really relented. There was always a political will behind it although we have had some very turbulent periods. MIVILDES is very much alive! It has real means and government backing and is well listened to in the whole country and well beyond France’s boarders because it is true, that we are with Belgium, a unique example of awareness of this phenomenon by public instances and not only by the associative sector. I retain the idea perhaps not of a Minister of cults as mentioned by Tom, but of a governmental concern of this question as we have in France and why not in the U.K. It is a wish that one can hope to attain, that in Europe, and that is the subject of my intervention, the authorities should take into account the cult phenomenon.  Quite simply because the cult phenomenon touches the essential core, i.e. human dignity, human rights; it is a real issue of society, it is a combat against totalitarianism, it attacks the most vulnerable of people and in particular children as you pointed out, Audrey. It is a real issue of society to which governments cannot remain indifferent.

 

We can find comfort in the fact that in some European countries this awareness has come about.  I had a chance of testing this on the occasion of missions for MIVILUDES in a certain number of capitals in Europe. Germany was always extremely vigilant with regard to the cult phenomenon. It is within the German Ministry of the Family that this activity is organised and coordinated.  Belgium, of course, is an example quite comparable with that of France, but there remains much to be done and that is the reason which prompted MIVILUDES to promote the idea of a European cooperation in this field.

 

This idea is not new when one recalls the history of the fight against cult excesses in Europe which goes as far back as 1984 and the first report on the subject presented to the European Parliament by the British MEP, Richard Cottrell and of other reports which followed: i.e. Berger and Nastase reports and certain resolutions which were voted by the European Parliament. Unfortunately, one has to admit, this question has always remained at an intended proposal level but Europe never set up a structure or initiated a programme on a European scale.  Why on a European scale? Obviously cult organizations take no notice of national borders and if they are allowed to settle freely in some States and commit, what is considered elsewhere as an attack on freedom and human rights, we have a real problem.  We have to be aware of this though it would be presumptuous to draw conclusions concerning certain countries.  Perhaps would we be capable in Europe because we are a continent of human rights to at least agree on a minimum, a minimum threshold as it were?

 

That is why I went to Vienna in Austria to meet Mr. Kjaerum, Director of the The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.  I realised that few people knew of this Agency, because it is recent, it is in fact the successor to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism anti-Semitism and Xenophobia which transformed itself in 2007 into the European Agency of Fundamental Rights and works within the framework of the European Union.

 

Let’s simply start with that. What country could say "We do not want to take an interest in question of minors in cults"? In the name of what could a country say such a thing? Is there an organization in Europe whether political, denominational, religious, commercial or whatever which would be above the Rule of law?  Certainly not! The rights of the child were recognized and affirmed on an international level at the International Convention of the rights of the child in New York in 1989, ratified by the Member States of the European Union and integrated in the nations’ legislative corpus.  In France it is the case. We do nothing more than apply the law, we require that children should be entitled to receive an education, to become free citizens capable of drawing their own judgement, able to become free enlightened citizens in society and not locked up in isolated communities.

 

Children also have the right to health care. It would be too time consuming to give you a list of cases. I’ll just tell you about one recent case treated by a penal court in France. It concerned parents who were condemned some time ago for the simple reason that the mother followed a very strict vegan diet in the name of an ideology whilst nursing her child. This obviously weakened the child who died because the diet followed by the mother deprived him of the nutrients he needed to develop.

 

We know many examples like this of children who have suffered because of certain beliefs and I believe that if we join forces here in Britain today and that FECRIS backs this project, FECRIS must support this project.  You are an NGO in Special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of United Nations you have the means to make yourselves heard. Contact all your members in the different countries.  I called upon UNADFI and CCMM.  You must also become an NGO with this European Agency of Fundamental Rights.  You should at least do as well as the large cults which have managed to integrate these International institutions so as to denigrate the actions that we project.  We are fighting a battle and I have no doubt that you can wage this battle.  We will do all in our power to prepare a programme at European level on minors in cults, even if it is only a basic one like the one we are suggesting.  This project counts very much for me.  When I was a Member of Parliament I chaired a Parliamentary Committee on Children in Cults.  We estimated that 60 000 to 80 000 children were exposed to the cult phenomenon in France. This could be a first step.

 

I would also like to add because it’s very topical that, last week, MIVILUDES submitted its annual progress report to the Prime Minister. This report has had a considerable echo in the country because we have, I believe, touched on a question about which little is known, neglected by the public authorities. The question of all those health charlatans who in the name of an ideology, of a pseudo-belief deprive an individual of a chance of survival through undue influence and interruption of medical care. We have an important witness here, Nathalie De Reuck who, courageously, made known the combat and the tragic fate of her mother: deceased because she had met the wrong people and that, when she realized what was happening, it was too late for her. She will tell you about it herself. It is important. Your testimony is essential because it strikes opinion, because these events are not imaginary: one is speaking about true, true sufferings and of true damages.

 

MIVILUDES published a report and the authorities, the government did not remain inactive. This has been an exceptional year in France in our field of interest, a critical point. In 2009 we passed into a higher gear, from the will to make proposals to concrete realisations. 

 

I would like to quote three or four examples:

 

We created in 2009 a new specialized police cell, the CAIMADES - Cell of Assistance and of Intervention with Regards to Cultic Excesses. It includes specialised investigators: 6 civil servants (police and gendarmerie) who have the competence to investigate into cases of undue influence.

 

We have at last set up, within the Ministry of health, a group of experts of which MIVILUDES is a member with other public institutions, responsible for  the monitoring of the many psychotherapies which flower everywhere and charged with their evaluation.  To detect those which are dangerous and those which are not and to inform the citizens, because we consider that it is the authorities’ responsibility to inform the citizens, after that they are free to do what they like. I tell people “MIVILUDES is neither a “thought” police nor a “health” police, we act as a thermometer, we draw the alarm bells in the name of the government, then it is up to the elected representatives, to the associations and to each individual citizen to take their responsibilities.

 

Finally, in 2009, we created a legal frame for the title of “psychotherapist” which previously allowed any charlatan to put up a professional plate and drag poor, insufficiently informed and trustful people, trustful in this title of psychotherapist, along with them in their madness and their ideology. Now, to become a psychotherapist in France, it is necessary to fill certain conditions, there is a control. In relation with this subject, I am very concerned by a certain number of medical practitioners who actually have recourse to unproven practises. There, I believe that we have a very strong action to carry out with the Medical Council and with the Ministry of Health to encourage them to tidy up their house.

 

This year we also reformed vocational training. You all know vocational training which conveys a great deal of money, 25 billion euro in France, is an entry point of cults into businesses. We therefore reformed vocational training which now has stricter controls of all the organizations of coaching, of personal development which are often are other names for cultic organizations.  

 

As you can see we have not been inactive. When political will, true political will exists, and I must say, that in France, we are politically consensual on this question. There is no left or right ideology here as we agree on an essential topic: the protection of individuals. This topic unites us whatever political colour we belong to.

 

Thus the message that I came to bring you is that the will of Matignon[1] and of MIVILUDES is to continue to support the action of FECRIS and to congratulate you, dear  Tom Sackville, to have accepted this significant responsibility, you know this subject and have had an important political office.

 

For FECRIS, for all those here who fight voluntarily, who give freely of their time, your presidency of FECRIS, dear Tom Sackville, is a priceless encouragement!  It is extraordinary to have found someone of your quality and experience and who furthermore has the quality of being British. In this field, that has a significance and I believe, that in Britain too, some progress could be made to better protect against attacks on rights and freedoms acquired with such difficulty. 

 

It should add also, that I need your support to carry out the ambitious project of developing a European programme. Let it be known, contact this European Agency, show them that you support this initiative. If we succeed in this together, we will have made very important progress toward the defence of freedom and fundamental rights. 

 

Thank you once again. I wish you really a very enriching day which will mark the action that we are carrying out together.



[1] Official residence of the Prime Minister