Alexander L. Dvorkin, President of the Center of Religious Studies, Moscow
DESTRUCTIVE CULTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Dear friends and colleagues,
Welcome to our conference! I hope we all will have two days of productive work ahead of us.
All of us who gathered here believe that a real threat to human rights and democratic freedoms hangs over our countries. This threat comes from organizations we usually call totalitarian sects or destructive cults, or for short just cults. The unrestrained activity of cults, which bears the character of unconcealed expansion that causes irreparable harm to the health and well-being of people, violates fundamental human rights, poses a threat to individual, family, society, and the state.
The cults are defined as authoritarian organizations whose leaders, striving for control over their followers and for their exploitation, conceal their intentions under religious, politico-religious, psychotherapeutic, health, educational, scientific-informational, cultural, and other guises. Cults use deceit, selective information, and persistent propaganda to attract new members and other unethical means for control of the personality, for psychological pressure, and for intimidation and other forms of retaining their members within their organizations. Thus cults violate the human right to freedom of an informed choice of world view and way of life.
We believe that the danger of cults consists, in particular, in their authoritarian structure that often violates generally accepted democratic values, in that their fundamental ideology and claims to the absolute correctness of their leaders in the matter of the “way to salvation of the soul” deceive people and completely take control of those who are seeking conversion and new orientation for themselves. The danger also consists in the unconditional submission of their adepts, for which sometimes highly refined threats are employed.
The negative consequences of membership in cults can include the following: interruption of the school and professional education of members, radical changes of their personalities and loss of perception of reality, which can lead to conflicts with relatives and close friends. In addition, as a result of the changes in orientation and world view, as well as by the cults’ use of methods of influencing people’s psyches, psychosocial problems can arise.
Alienation of members of a cult from the external world, focus on the cultic world, aggression against cult members and outsiders in the fanatical defense of the given cult’s ideology, as well as rejection of rational thought in all this are considered dangerous consequences. The tendency to dependency, loss of autonomy, and isolation that are inculcated into the personality of people often are intensified by the cohesive nature of such groups. Deception by means of covert methods of manipulation and psychological pressure, as well as the deliberate intrusion of these cults into the sphere of politics and economics, reveal the danger of totalitarian organizations.
The practice of psychological pressure, the exploitation of the finances and labor of converts, their social isolation and total restriction of personal liberty by means of methods of manipulation and thought control, the harm caused to the psyche and health, and a number of fatal incidents force the viewer to the conclusion that in their activity cults (including those that we will discuss here and those who for obvious limitations of Conference agenda will not be mentioned) systematically violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular:
–article 3, which declares: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.
–article 4: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”. Many cults not only participate in criminal trafficking of people but also often create for their adepts genuinely slave conditions.
–In some cults violate article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
–violation of Article 12: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, [or] family”. We know that this is a perpetual practice of cults.
–In some cults we see violation of points 2 and 3 of article 16 has achieved the status of cult doctrine: “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.
–Violation of article 17, which declares: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property,” is in fact the reason of creation and existence of a majority of destructive cults. In the process the use of methods of manipulation and force bear an especially refined character.
–Using methods of deceptive persuasion, informational isolation and mind control, and exploitation of fears for the purpose of retaining converts, all cults violate article 18: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief”, article 19, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media”, and finally point 2 of article 1 of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (resolution 36/55 of the General Assembly of UNO), “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.”
–The use of psychological pressure during recruitment leads one to contemplate violation of point 2 of article 20: “No one may be compelled to belong to any kind of association”.
–Social isolation of converts, that is, their separation from social processes that is practiced in a number of cults violates article 21: “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives,” as well as article 29, “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible”.
–The strict regulation of the conduct and the use of unpaid or poorly paid labor, by means of psychological compulsion, violates article 23: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection”, as well as articles 24 and 25.
–Article 26: “Everyone has the right to education,” is violated by a number of cults who practice effective deprivation of converts and their children of this right.
–Violation of article 27 is characteristic for almost every one of the cults: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”.
–The practice of illegal recruitment of minors directly violates point 2 of article 5 of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, “Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle,” and point 5 of the same article, “Practices of a religion or belief in which a child is brought up must not be injurious to his physical or mental health or to his full development”.
The activity of cults also violates a number of other international documents and provisions of our countries’ national legislation that cannot be cited within the dimensions of the current paper.
What is said above is the reason for active social and governmental policies of some European countries and the Council of Europe directed to the defense of civil rights from the threat of totalitarian sects and destructive cults. Aware that democratic principles face the threat of a new danger that is to a great extent similar, according to many analysts of cults, with Nazism, Europe has adopted a number of measures that restrict the destructive activity of cults.
For example we remember a decision of the Assembly of the Council of Europe of 22 June 1999 that stated the necessity of creating a European organization for tracking the groups of a religious, esoteric, or spiritualist type that would substantially facilitate the exchange of information among corresponding centers of member states and suggested that the Council of Europe also should undertake actions for encouraging the creation of informational centers in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Ten years has passed since then. Today as we are meeting here in the fabulous city of St. Petersburg, we can see that our FECRIS Conference includes numerous organizations from Central and Eastern Europe. In my country alone we have about thirty active and functioning cult research and information centers. We highly appreciate that document which gave much impetus to our back then young and not so much experienced organizations to work and to move forward. We felt that we are not alone and that the most sincere, responsible, honest, and wise people in Europe support our work and offer us to work together.
So we, the citizens of large Europe (in words of François Mitterrand from Atlantic to Pacific oceans), are meeting together here today to continue our work, to further develop our friendship, and to extend our cooperation in our difficult and often unappreciated, yet very necessary mission.
Once more, dear friends and colleagues, welcome to Russia, welcome to St. Petersburg, welcome to St. Petersburg University, welcome to our Conference!