CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

To the Prime Minister of Belgium
To the members of the Federal Government of Belgium
To the members of Belgium’s House of Representatives
To the members of Belgium’s Senate

Concerns: Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief


This year is the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This historical document guarantees a wide range of fundamental rights that generations have aspired to and fought for. The practice of one’s religion or beliefs, free from any form discrimination, is one of them and a major one.

Human Rights Without Frontiers/ Droits de l’homme sans frontières and the undersigned are however concerned about a trend limiting the basic rights of a number of communities of faith and belief and of their members that has developed in the last ten years.

In 1996, a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry[1] investigated groups arbitrarily and derogatorily labeled as “sects” and issued a 670 page report, including a so-called “synoptic table” of 189 movements. Widely publicized, this list de facto became a “black list”, despite ambiguous attempts to limit its impact. Its misuse by the media and some state bodies has never been officially condemned by the Belgian authorities. Quite to the contrary, it has been repeatedly used in various ways to interfere with or limit a number of rights of those groups, such as their freedom of assembly and their freedom of expression. This misuse has also been detrimental to members of those movements.

On June 2, 1998, the Parliament adopted a law creating an Information and Advisory Center on Harmful Sectarian Organizations, the CIAOSN/IACSSO, to monitor the activities of the 189 listed groups and others that were regarded as “potentially dangerous”. Later on, it appeared from the report of activities of the Center that they had been working on more than 600 groups. Directly dependent on the Ministry of Justice, it is staffed and funded by the Ministry. Several members of its board were directly involved with the Parliamentary Enquiry Commission on Sects in 1996.

From the beginning, the CIAOSN/ IACSSO, has raised concerns about its neutrality and independence. [2]

As a follow up, a Parliamentary Working Group[3] was established in 2004 within the House of Representatives. The hearings were not open to the public. Belgian government, covert intelligence, magistracy, law enforcement, and CIAOSN/ IACSSO officials were invited to hearings. Human rights and religious freedom experts, sociologists or historians of religions were not. As a result of the chosen approach it contributed to maintaining a climate of suspicion, intolerance and discrimination towards religious groups and belief systems in Belgium.

Apparently encouraged by this climate, a number of draft laws have been proposed and examined. As a common thread, they aim at introducing a new “crime”, referred to as “mental manipulation.” This concept is not recognized as valid by sociologists of religions. If it were to be included in legislation, it would lead to dangerous deviations not only for religious groups but also for non-religious activities. For this reason, similar attempts have been abandoned or dismissed by other countries, i.e. in Italy.

Clearly, communities of faith and belief are not above the law. However, any legitimate concerns that they might have carried out illegal activities are to be and can be addressed by the enforcement of existing laws.

Laws, rules or exceptions that could be used, openly or covertly, to target certain organizations, would take democracy and respect for human rights down a slippery and dangerous slope, limiting the basic rights and freedoms of citizens. The Belgian state should not be tempted to adopt such a dangerous approach towards ideas and convictions, no matter how unpopular or “strange” these may seem.

In her 2006 Report following a Mission to France, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mrs. Asma Jahangir, stated that “the policy of the [French] Government may have contributed to a climate of general suspicion and intolerance towards the communities included in a list established further to a parliamentary report, and has negatively affected the right to freedom of religion or belief of some members of these communities or groups.”

Human Rights Without Frontiers/ Droits de l’homme sans frontières and the undersigned believe, as exemplified by the issues presented in this letter, the same can be said about Belgium.


Human Rights Without Frontiers/ Droits de l’homme sans frontières and the undersigned respectfully urge the Belgian authorities

- to declare the list of 189 movements without any juridical value, to monitor and sanction any misuse of it by state and other public authorities;

- to ban the use of the word “secte/ sekt” in any of their statements and reports;

- to use the terms communities of faith or belief to designate any religious or philosophical group whatever their historicity and their membership; 

- to transform the CIAOSN/ IACSSO into an independent “Inter-university Information and Advisory Center on communities of faith and belief” at the service of the social and governmental bodies, and the general public.

Yours sincerely,

Willy Fautré, director
Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels)


Univ.Prof.Dr. Christian BRÜNNER
Member of the European Centre for Space Law/ESA/Paris
University of Graz
Institute for Austrian, European and Comparative Public Law, Political Sciences and Public Administration
Department for Administrative Sciences, Environmental Law and Gender Relations Law

O. Univ. Prof. Dr. Walter BERKA
Fachbereich Öffentliches Recht
Verfassungs- und Verwaltungsrecht
Universität Salzburg

Dr. Reinhard KOHLHOFER
Rechtsanwalt, Wien


Prof. Anne MORELLI
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Directeur-adjoint du CIERL

Prof. em. Liliane VOYE
Université Catholique de Louvain

Prof. Ernie VONCK
Anthropologie Religieuse
Faculté pour l'Etude Comparative des Religions, Anvers


University of Lille III

Président d’honneur de la chaire d’Histoire et de Sociologie de la Laïcité à l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes


Prof. Gerhard BESIERS
Sigmund Neumann Institute for the Research of Liberty and Democracy, Dresden.

University of Mainz


Professor of Nationalism Studies and Political Science
Central European University, Budapest


Managing Director of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), Torino

Carlo Bo University, Urbino


Dr. Agnieszka KOSCIANSKA,
Anthropology of Religions & Gender Issues
University of Warsaw


Dr. Miguel Rodríguez Blanco.
Professor of Ecclesiastical Law
University of Alcalá


Prof. Peter ÅKERBÄCK 
History of Religions
University of Stockholm

[1] “Parliamentary enquiry commission aiming at working out a policy in order to fight against the illegal practices of sects and the danger that they pose to society, persons and particularly to minors” (Duquesne and Willems, Senate 1996) 

[2] Among others, in a statement by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights in its Annual Report 2004: “The recruitment method of members to the Sect Observatory far from guaranteed their impartiality. Indeed, half of the members were nominated by the Council of Ministers for approval by the House of Representatives. Representatives of political parties, the Catholic Church, various anti-sect movements and ideologies were to be found among the members. Its independence was also scarcely guaranteed as it was under the authority of and financed by the Ministry of Justice… The public information service on harmful sectarian organizations was quite opaque as neither the targeted movements nor researchers had access to the contents of the data circulated by mail and by email on the basis of enquiries”

[3] Parliamentary Working Group charged with ensuring the follow up of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission “Sects” of 26 March 2006