Member of the Cabinet of Madame Laurette Onkelinx, Minister of Justice
Thank you Mr President, I will transmit your thanks to the Lady Minister who makes a point of presenting her excuses to you. Indeed she is retained by other occupations which are all budgetary since the government is in full budgetary conclave today. I believe that she would have frankly preferred to take part in the reflections here but she particularly made a point of thanking the President of FECRIS for having invited her to speak.
As you heard, the initiative of FECRIS fits in particularly well in Belgian current affairs. Indeed, Parliament has just, through the intermediary of the working group of the Chamber of Representatives devoted to problems of harmful cultist organisations, communicated some particularly complete conclusions which indicate that there is, as we suspected, still much work to be done. It is now more than ten years that in Belgium a parliamentary board of inquiry had already traced the way of things to be done. In principle, Mr Moureaux, should presently retrace the history of these recommendations.
One can without waiting any longer highlight some significant initiatives which resulted from these recommendations:
– The creation in 1998 of the C.I.A.O.S.N. which has been much praised currently in the newspapers,
– the creation of the administrative Cell of coordination against harmful cultist organisations,
But also some other reforms,
– in 2002, the creation of a Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office which obviously is a significant element since it has a role of transmission of information and coordination.
It is now some time that the Lady Minister is sensitive to the problem of harmful cultist organisations. Besides, she was at the origin, when she was Minister President of the Belgian French Community, of the publication of a booklet which was called “Guru, Watch Out!” and I think that some of you will certainly remember it.
As Minister of Justice, Madame Onkelinkx continues, of course, to be vigilant and has already taken certain initiatives on the matter. As, for example, the royal decree making the Cell of coordination that I evoked a few minutes ago, more operational and which will be published in the Belgian Monitor next Wednesday, 29 March. I should also highlight the current initiative which is being discussed by the government, which should be submitted to the Council of Ministers on March 31, concerning the preliminary draft of a law aiming at repressing the abuse of persons in a state of ignorance or a situation of weakness.
A few word of information, as there is no secrecy, about a modification of the penal code aiming at creating an independent infringement similar to that envisaged in the French About-Picard penal law which will be discussed later in your programme.
A remark about the project: this specific infringement will be accompanied by an aggravating circumstance in the event of death. That is an innovation, especially with regard to the concept of encouraging suicide, which currently is not incriminated in Belgian criminal law.
You know that there are also draft bills currently deposited in Parliament about which Mr Malmendier will tell you. It is certain that a legislative initiative creating a specific infringement will make it possible to better define and facilitate criminal policy on the matter.
The reflection can obviously be carried out on other points, on other levels and this day, I am sure, will be rich in information and exchange. It is certain that the international dimension of cults/sects which you chose as the topic of your conference is a significant element of the question, the acceleration of means of communication such as the Internet implies that a much closer cooperation between the authorities should be implemented in this field. We know that it is not always easy to be organised at various levels and in particular at the European level and it is precisely these difficulties of organisation which benefit certain movements in developing their international activities.
On the international scene, within the framework of the OSCE of which we are assuming the presidency this year, Belgium was criticised several times for the policy which it is following as regards harmful cultist organisations. The path followed by Belgium is perhaps not the easiest one, but it is necessary to keep in mind that various rights and freedoms which we guarantee in our country, also have as corollary that these freedoms are granted but within certain limits.
The Lady Minister by no means appreciates the statements by which a certain number of cultist associations try to affirm their legitimacy under cover of the freedom of religion and belief and, by doing this, systematically discredit our country on the international scene. She has already expressed it; the dignity of the individual and the protection which authority must ensure prevails and inspires us to continue along the chosen path.
It is obvious that, within a global framework, we cannot ignore fundamental freedoms and the necessary balance with the freedom of worship and its public exercise, similarly with the right of association. These freedoms are also guaranteed at international level in the European convention of human rights for example. Everyone knows it, and any intervention of authority must be made in respect of the principle of proportionality and it is within this framework that must be registered the active vigilance which we prone.
I shall stop here, so as not to encroach on the interventions which will follow and wish you welcome to Belgium in the name of the Lady Minister and, we wish you a fruitful meeting the conclusions of which are obviously awaited with a great interest.
Thank you very much.
Centre d’Information et d’Avis sur les Organisations Sectaires Nuisibles
translation : Centre of information and advice/opinion on harmful cultist organisations