Report n. 4-08835 – issued on Dec. 6, 2012 – session n. 851
(Version for the Press)
The report was addressed by a group of Italian Members of Parliament (Alberti Casellati, Caselli,
Caruso, De Feo, De Lillo, Izzo, Rizzotti, Scarpa Bonazza Buora, Tomassini, Spadoni Urbani,
Valentino) to the Italian Home Office, to the Ministry of Justice, to the Departments of Education
and University, to the National Health Service. –
Seeing the disquieting Europe-wide diffusion of religious cults, the Council of Europe called on the Member States to exercise supervision and provide information on religious, esoteric or spiritual groups (Recommendation n.1412, 1999); it also invited them to protect adolescents through projects within the framework of school curricula, through the creation of information centres and non-governmental organizations for the victims and their families, through the setting up of a European Observatory to make it easier for national centres to exchange information.
On this particular occasion it fixed as a priority the protection of the most vulnerable members of society, especially if minors.
Though in the Recommendation “State, Religion, Secularity and Human Rights” n.1804, 2007 the authors stressed that “Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, these freedoms are not limitless: a religion whose doctrine or practice clashes with other fundamental rights is unacceptable. Anyway, the restrictions applied to these freedoms are those “prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others” (second paragraph, Article 9 of the Convention). The States can’t even allow the diffusion of religious principles that, if applied, would violate human rights. Should there be any doubts about that, the States must ask the religious leaders to clearly reaffirm the priority of human rights over any religious belief, as stated by the European Convention of Human Rights.
Moreover, on October 5, 2012 the representatives of the Commission for Human Rights during the NGO Conference at the Council of Europe showed great concern about the fact that the Member States hadn’t taken any measures against the illegal practices of cults which violate human rights and the fundamental principles of all democratic societies.
During the Conference itself it was highlighted how the activities of sects could infringe health, education, people’s private and familiar lives; at the same time, illegal organizations under the cover of the right to religious freedom actually undermine people’s fundamental liberties, thus posing a threat to democracy.
The representatives of the Commission for Human Rights correctly underlined that because of the permeability of international borders the phenomenon had spread through Central and Eastern Europe and hadn’t decreased in Western countries; so far, only France and Belgium have adopted legislative measures to protect the most vulnerable members of society, and few other Member States have taken any measures.
On Nov. 28, 2002 the Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances (MIVILUDES) was set up in France with the purpose of monitoring and analyzing the phenomenon, taking measures of prevention and repression, and warning the population against risks and dangers; in particular, it has written annual reports on the phenomenon and in addition it has published guides on the Internet, to protect the population.
On March 22, 2012 the French Department of Education forwarded a circular letter (n. 2012 -051) to headteachers in State schools about prevention and struggle against sectarian risks (the text can be read on the French Government site, too). The French Government thought it necessary to set up a Commission of Inquiry (October 2012) on the phenomenon of sects within the Health Service.
Finally, we remark that in September 2012 the speakers of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, met in Paris to deal with protecting minors against sectarian influence; they also stressed that the difficulty in reaching a European general agreement on the matter didn’t necessarily mean that we had to give up setting rules and policies in Europe for the protection of minors against sectarian abuse.
The supreme right of the child to be protected against any form of brutality, ill-treatment and neglect must be safeguarded. Consequently, considering the vulnerability of minors and adolescents, the Member States of the Assembly reiterated the need to monitor the phenomenon, also through the creation of institutions like the French Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances, previously mentioned.
In Italy, only the region Friuli – Venezia Giulia passed a local act (n. 11 – May 31,2012) containing “Rules supporting complete intellectual, moral and psychological freedom”.
So far only volunteer associations and some research centres, despite their limited resources, have actually carried out the task of informing about the phenomenon and supporting the victims and their families; they help, and sometimes even replace, State action without any profit, using the advice and collaboration of experts in the field of mental health, criminology and law.
The Italian Association named FAVIS (Familiars of Victims of Sects) issued a booklet, “Hands on the Mind” – first project of this kind in Italy – handed out free during meetings with high school students in the province of Rimini.
As far as the questioning Italian MPs know, these people’s commitment in collaboration with the Police has brought about the prosecution and even the punishment , in some cases, of the leaders of pseudo-spiritual groups and movements; it also fostered the recent participation of some volunteer associations members in various hearings at the second permanent Commission for Justice in the Italian Senate concerning an inquiry into the mental manipulation of vulnerable people by the so-called “sects” (Bill n.569). After that, there was a strong smear campaign against these associations in order to discredit them and in particular the following people: Mrs Lorita Tinelli, psychologist and President of CESAP (Centre for Studies on Psychological Abuse), the late Mrs Maria Pia Gardini, Mr Maurizio Alessandrini (President of FAVIS), Rev. Aldo Bonaiuto, of the Association “Anti-cult Service of the Community Pope John XXIII”, some representatives of the Associations ARIS Veneto and ARIS Toscana, the Anti-cult Squad of the Italian Home Office, and also some members of the second Commission. Such a defamatory campaign may have repercussions for people in need who turn to these associations to receive help and support.
In some blogs the people mentioned above have been labelled as “the cult of the anti-cults”, as “the only real sect”, as intolerant fanatics suffering from a Narcissistic personality disorder, as biased and ignorant people who created a sort of “lobby” to influence the media, politicians, magistrates, and to spread false information. Besides, they are accused of collaborating with the Police using “hidden channels” of communication, exchanging confidential information and creating a sort of dictatorial system as you would expect in a totalitarian State.
In conclusion, we should focus on the Italian President’s words during the celebration of the “Volunteer’s Day” in 2009: “People’s needs and rights must be guaranteed by the State as a whole, they can’t be totally or partially devolved to private organizations”.
The Italian MPs mentioned at the beginning of this report would like to know:
if the Ministries involved intend to adopt any measures in compliance with the Recommendation of the Council of Europe (1999) and with the latest guidelines within the European framework;
if educational projects within school curricula have been created to spread information and to protect the most vulnerable people, like adolescents and minors;
if information campaigns have been carried out within the National Health Service, in particular to protect the most vulnerable;
if the National Health Service has monitored the risks for the health and integrity of the citizens who often turn to people with no qualifications operating in pseudo-religious and/or pseudo-therapic groups;
if it is advisable to set up an institution in our country like the French MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances) to comply with the guidelines contained in the European Recommendation of 1999, also in the light of the profound crisis Europe is going through, which can facilitate the diffusion of sectarian deviances;
if the smear campaign against the above-mentioned Associations and their representatives has been made known, in the interests of the former victims of cults and their families who confidently rely on the helping Associations.
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