Annelise Oeschger, Honorary President of the INGO Conference of the Council of Europe:

 

The subject of the conference enables us to reflect about one of the most delicate questions which are posed to our democracy: the limitation of freedom for freedom’s sake.

Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the related articles 10 about the freedom of expression, and article 11 about the freedom of assembly and association, expressively allow the state to apply those limitations “for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

To begin with it is hard to state this as a representative of a non governmental organisation, as the possibilities of action of the NGOs are based on those freedoms, and those freedoms, together with other human rights, are the main reason for the engagement of people in the NGOs. But freedom and engagement are not possible without responsibility. Engagement does not dispense from the duty to observe, to distinguish and then also to form one’s opinion.

With respect to the dangers emerging from destructive cults, the INGO-conference of the Council of Europe was able to do this, thanks to FECRIS and its representative in the Council of Europe, Mrs. Danièle Muller-Tulli. The main result of the study day on 28 June 2007 about this subject was clear, and I clearly said it once again in my farewell address as the president of the INGO conference on 28 January this year: We cannot admit that totalitarian organisations, abusing fundamental freedoms, should appeal in the name of these very freedoms to get their anti-democratic and anti-human-rights practices protected. The strong reactions on this study day showed us that we had stirred a nest of vipers and that we must continue to work in this direction.

            The Council of Europe with its 47 member states, which in Europe sets the standards for human rights, democracy and rule of law, is the most important address for questions regarding protection of individuals, groups and states against the influence of destructive cults. The decisions of its Court for Human Rights are obligatory for states. In its Parliamentarian Assembly, the representatives of the 47 national parliaments are wrestling about common positions in delicate social questions as for example bio ethics, women and religions, the fight against terrorism, and human rights. The ambassadors of the 47 European member states are directly responsive. The conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe is represented in the most important committees. To wake up and overcome the Europe-wide expansion of destructive cults, the active presence of FECRIS is absolutely required, also with respect to the fact that representatives and sympathisers of totalitarian organisations are especially active in the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw and also want to influence the Council of Europe. The Commission for Human Rights of the INGO conference has created a working group “Human Rights and Religions”, which is also supposed to deal with the so called “new religions”, and for this the contribution of FECRIS will be essential. 

            In order to prevent administrative authorities and courts in the individual states from being abused by totalitarian organisations, we need an enlightened and vigilant international, national and local civil society. And we also need it to prevent that the protective measures of the state, in their reaction, do not become totalitarian. We all know that many persons and organisations have the tendency to view their opinions as the only reasonable and tolerable ones.  It is tempting to use the available instruments of power to push through these opinions. Especially for laws which regulate the activity of NGOs this danger is great. Therefore I refer to recommendation 14(2007) of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which in detail explains the rights and duties of NGOs and sets the minimum standard for any regulation. Thus, for example general suspicions and generally formulated rules for state protection are not admissible.

Thus the state is confronted with a dilemma: to protect freedom and at the same time to prevent its abuse – and this as a standing order. The state will only succeed if it generates publicity and articulates the dilemma. Democracy needs learning processes, and to enable them, the people have to be confronted with genuine questions. The cult question is such a question, and it concerns everybody. In the countries where this did not happen yet, a public dialogue about it should be started as soon as possible. The people should become aware of the question, the different opinions and the various possibilities of reaction. They should detect the difficulty of political action; they should reflect together and then form an opinion. Thus, the fight against the totalitarianism will become a school of freedom and responsibility and will not lead to a cementation of that which one wanted to overcome. Finally, we as NGOs want to promote the acknowledgement of the preciousness of every single human being and the detection of the fortune to care for each other in freedom. In that sense I wish us a successful conference.