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BELGIUM: Recognition of religions raised at the OSCE: Belgian delegation replies

Recognition of religions raised at the OSCE: the Belgian delegation uses its right of reply

After HRWF raised the issue of the Belgian discriminatory system of recognition of religions criticized in a recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, the Belgian delegation used its right of reply

RIGHT OF REPLY BY BELGIUM

Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Plenary Session III: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination I (29 september 2022) Combating racism, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance, including based on religion or belief

Belgium is strongly committed to the defence of fundamental values and the maintenance of the rule of law, as well as to the exercise of freedoms within a legal framework, including freedom of religion and belief, citizenship, and principles as tolerance and non-discrimination. These values are enshrined in Belgian positive law, and by international bodies of which Belgium is a member, including the OSCE.

Belgium wishes to use the right of reply following the intervention of the representative of “Human Rights without Frontiers” concerning the final judgement of the European Court of Human Rights on July 5 in the case of “Associations chrétiennes des Témoins de Jéhovah d’Anderlecht et autres c. Belgique”.

The ruling concerns the criterion of “recognized religions” for the granting of the exemption from real estate tax in the Brussels Capital Region. According to the Court, since the procedure for recognizing a religion or non-confessional philosophical organization does not offer sufficient clarity, precision or accessibility, the use of this criterion to obtain a tax advantage was deemed discriminatory.

The lack of a legal basis setting out the recognition of religions or non-confessional philosophical organizations criteria has not prevented the Union of Buddhist associations of Belgium from applying for recognition as a non-confessional philosophical organization , nor has it prevented the Hindu Forum of Belgium from applying for recognition as a religion.

As regards to the execution of the first part of the judgment, the Belgian state has already paid just satisfaction and suspended the criterion in question (“recognized religion”) from the Brussels ordinance.

The judgement also invites Belgium to adopt legislation setting out the criteria for the recognition of religions and non-confessional philosophical organizations. With a will towards cooperation, a working group has been set up which has begun to reflect on this.

Since the criteria for recognition have considerable organizational and financial impact on the federal as well as the regional levels, the reflection requires the necessary time and consultation between all participants. Under no circumstances has the Court of Justice imposed a time limit for this. The different possibilities for the preferred legal norms will also be examined by the working group.

In accordance with the federal coalition agreement of 30 September 2020, a draft law on the recognition of the Union of Buddhist associations of Belgium as a non- confessional philosophical organization will soon be submitted to the House of Representatives. The entry into force of the law is planned for 2023.

In order to allow the Hindu Forum of Belgium to get structurally organized, the award of a subsidy is also foreseen in 2023. It is a first phase that will finally lead to the recognition of Hinduism as a religion in Belgium.

The initiative of recognition is not a privilege of the Minister of Justice. Already in 2019, several representatives of the Chamber of Representatives introduced a legislative proposal to support the demand for recognition by the Union of Buddhist associations of Belgium. A similar proposal was made to support the demand for recognition by the Hindu Forum of Belgium.

The final recognition as a religion or an non-confessional philosophical organization always takes place through the adoption of a law.

Photo: Palace of Justice in Brussels

Further reading about FORB in Belgium on HRWF website





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BELGIUM: Discriminatory system of recognition of religion raised at the OSCE

The discriminatory system of recognition of religion raised at the OSCE

HRWF’s statement at the OSCE/ ODIHR Annual Conference on human rights in Warsaw on 29 September

HRWF (29.09.2022) – “On 5 April last, in the case Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Anderlecht and Others v. Belgium (application no. 20165/20) about a discriminatory taxation issue towards Jehovah’s Witnesses, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) read in conjunction with Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

It also held, unanimously, that Belgium was to pay the applicant association 5,000 euros (EUR) in respect of costs and expenses.

What are the facts?

The Court noted that neither the criteria for recognition nor the procedure leading to recognition of a faith by the federal authority were laid down in an instrument satisfying the requirements of accessibility and foreseeability, which were inherent in the notion of the rule of law governing all the provisions of the Convention.

 

It observed, firstly, that recognition of a faith was based on criteria that had been identified by the Belgian Minister of Justice only in reply to a parliamentary question dating back to last century. Moreover, as they were couched in particularly vague terms they could not, in the Court’s view, be said to provide a sufficient degree of legal certainty.

 

Secondly, the Court noted that the procedure for the recognition of faiths was likewise not laid down in any legislative or even regulatory instrument. This meant, in particular, that the examination of applications for recognition was not attended by any safeguards. No time-limits were laid down for the recognition procedure, and no decision had yet been taken on the applications for recognition lodged by the Belgian Buddhist Union and the Belgian Hindu Forum in 2006 and 2013 respectively.

 

Lastly, recognition was only possible on the initiative of the Minister of Justice and depended thereafter on the purely discretionary decision of the legislature.

 

A system of this kind entailed an inherent risk of arbitrariness, and religious communities could not reasonably be expected, in order to claim entitlement to the tax exemption in issue, to submit to a process that was not based on minimum guarantees of fairness and did not guarantee an objective assessment of their claims.

Human Rights Without Frontiers therefore urges the Belgian state to revise its discriminatory system of recognition of religions and belief communities and asks its delegation at the OSCE how far this process has been engaged.”

 

Photo: European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

Further reading about FORB in Belgium on HRWF website





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RUSSIA: 1.3 million Ukrainians forcibly deported to Russia, OSCE report says

Experts document alleged crimes against humanity committed by Russian forces in Ukraine

 

By Jeremy HerbEllie Kaufman and Kylie Atwood

CNN (14.07.2022) – https://cnn.it/3RG0hHi – A new report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that patterns of violent acts by Russian forces in Ukraine meet the qualification of crimes against humanity, detailing horrific actions by Russian forces including the discovery of torture chambers at a summer camp in Bucha.

 

The new report released Thursday was the latest instance of groups documenting potential war crimes committed by Russian forces. The OSCE experts who put together the report traveled to Kyiv and met with Ukrainian authorities there as well as Bucha and Irpin, where they found “grave breaches” of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention.

 

The report “found credible evidence” that suggested “some patterns of violent acts which had been repeatedly documented during the conflict,” including “killing, rape abductions or massive deportations of civilians, qualified as a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.”

 

The OSCE mission that compiled the report wrote that 1.3 million Ukrainian citizens have been deported against their will to Russia and said there was evidence that tens of thousands of civilians had been detained at so-called filtration centers before being transported to Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.

 

US Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter said in a statement that the report “gives us an opportunity to pull back and document the unconscionable atrocity crimes, human rights violations, and abuses members of Russia’s forces have committed.”

 

This week’s report is the second that OSCE has released documenting atrocities committed against the Ukrainian population. In April, the group released its first report with similar findings of “credible evidence” suggesting violations of “even the most fundamental human rights.”

 

Together, both reports “comprise the most comprehensive accounting of evidence to date of Russia’s human rights abuses, international humanitarian law violations,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement after the second report’s release Thursday.

 

“The United States and our partners will seek to hold accountable those responsible for all human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, they commit in Ukraine,” Price added.

 

The report noted that it had identified “numerous violations” of international humanitarian law that constituted war crimes, “if the responsible individuals can be found.”

 

“These violations included mistreatment of prisoners of war, deliberate killing of civilians, deliberate attacks against civilians and against civilian objects, including schools, hospitals or cultural property, or the failure to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precautions,” the report said.

 

The second report covered the period between April 1 to June 25. The OSCE experts traveled to Ukraine to collect evidence, including visiting the towns of Bucha and Irpin, which the report said were “two emblematic examples of the breaches of International Humanitarian Law under the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, which constitute war crimes.”

 

The experts noted that photographic and video evidence showed Russian forces caried out “targeted, organized killings of civilians in Bucha” who were found shot dead with their hands tied behind their backs.

 

‘Series of torture chambers’

 

The report documented a “series of torture chambers separated by concrete walls” discovered at a summer camp in Bucha, including a room that the report said appeared to be used for executions with bullet holes in the walls.

 

In another room where experts said there was evidence of torture and waterboarding, five dead men were found. “They were covered with burns, bruises, and lacerations,” the report said.

 

In another village in Bucha, the bodies of 18 men, women, and children were discovered in a basement. The report said that “some had their ears cut off, while others had their teeth pulled out.”

 

The OSCE mission wrote that reports of women and girls being raped and sexually abused by Russian forces “have become abundant,” especially in newly occupied territories.

 

The report noted several particularly atrocious cases, including a report from the Commissioner for Human Rights Denisova, who said that 25 girls aged 14-24 were kept in a basement in Bucha and gang-raped. Nine became pregnant, the report said.

 

The report also documented instances of Ukrainian civilians being used as “human shields,” being forced to fight alongside Russians against their own country in the ongoing war and being displaced to Russia without their consent.

 

The report noted, “Russian soldiers used over 300 Ukrainian civilians as human shields and held them captive for 25 days in March in the basement of Yahidne School, where a major Russian military camp was located.”

 

Conscription, meaning forced military service, “was imposed on all local men between the age of 18 and 65 in areas under Russian control in the Donbas as well as of the oblasts of Kharkiv, Kherson, and Sumy,” the report said.

 

“Approximately 2,000 children from various orphanages and children’s institutions” have been “purportedly transferred to Russia, even though they have living relatives and were in the institutions only for medical care,” according to the report.

Photo credits: CNN





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EUROPE: 980 hate crimes against Christians reported in Europe in 2020

980 hate crimes against Christians reported in Europe in 2020

An OSCE report shows that graffiti, vandalism and arson attacks against churches are some of the more common crimes. There are 70% more cases reported than in 2019.

Evangelical Focus (18.11.2021) – https://bit.ly/30Nn92j – The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has launched its Hate Crime Data 2020 on 16 November, the International Day for Tolerance.

The ODIHR collects data from states, governments statistics, civil society, international organisations and UNHCR and OSCE missions.

The organization’s hate crime database is the “largest of its kind worldwide. It is updated each year and it also includes data on hate crime legislation, prosecution and sentencing, as well as best practices and resources and tools to support victims”.

 

What is hate crime?

 

According to ODIHR, “hate crimes are criminal acts motivated by bias or prejudice towards particular groups of people. They comprise two elements: a criminal offence and a bias motivation”.

“A hate crime has taken place when a perpetrator has intentionally targeted an individual or property because of one or more identity traits or expressed hostility towards these identity traits during the crime”, they add.

The report looked at different categories of hate crimes: Racist and xenophobic hate crime, Anti-Roma hate crime, Anti-Semitic hate crime, Anti-Muslim hate crime, Anti-Christian hate crime, Other hate crime based on religion or belief, Gender-based hate crime, Anti-LGBTI hate crime, Disability hate crime.

 

Hate crime against Christians

The European body explains that the hate crime against Christians “are influenced by a number of factors, including the minority or majority status in a given territory, the level of recognition of particular religious groups in a given country, or political and media focus on these groups at a particular moment”.

“ODIHR’s hate crime reporting includes reports of physical assaults and murders. Graffiti and vandalism against places of worship, the desecration of cemeteries and arson attacks against churches are some of the more common types of crimes motivated by bias against Christians”, underlines the report.

For example, in France, the arsons against churches has significantly increase, and in Scotland, the problem is so great that the church is now receiving financial support, from a hate crime fund, to improve its security measures.

In addition to the data, since 2004, “OSCE Ministerial Council decisions and declarations have included specific commitments on and references to the importance of combating prejudice, intolerance and discrimination against Christians”, says the ODIHR.

 

980 crimes in 2020

In 2020, the ODIHR received a total of 7,181 cases of hate crimes against different kinds of groups and individuals. 4,008 of them were descriptive cases and the rest were police data from individual member states.

Of those 4,008 descriptive cases, 980 are hate crimes against Christians, almost 25%, more than against any other religious group. There has been an increase of almost 70% comparing the numbers of incidents from last year to the number of this year.

 

However, a group monitoring religious freedom in the continent, the Observatory of Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDAC), stresses that “only 11 countries report data on hate crimes against Christians [..], and of the 136 civil society organisations that provided descriptive data, only 8 organisations consistently reported incidents against Christians,so that this obviously distorts the statistics significantly”.

 

“Both of these findings put the reality of the situation into a different perspective, which indicates that the actual number of hate crimes against Christians is probably way higher”, they add.

 

Photo: Krisztian Matyas, Unsplash, CC0

Further reading about FORB in EU on HRWF website





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Statement by OSCE on need to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts in a time of crisis

OSCE (03.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/2x68Fvq – Valiant Richey, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, today issued the following statement, in co-ordination with Albania’s OSCE Chairmanship, to the OSCE participating States on the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged that, “it is precisely when our global community is convulsed by a crisis of this magnitude that our obligation to combat the exploitation of vulnerable people becomes most acute”. His full statement read:

 

“With the spread of COVID-19, the world faces an unprecedented threat to public health, which, in turn, poses extraordinary challenges to the economic and social cohesion of all our communities. In the fight against this common enemy, many governments have taken strong preventive measures, often combined with public interventions aimed at alleviating some of the economic losses that those measures inevitably create.

 

Although the COVID-19 threat is universal, the negative consequences of this crisis will be disproportionally carried by the most vulnerable in our societies. Firstly, victims of trafficking face exceptional danger as entrenched systems of exploitation are thrown into disarray and traffickers seek to maintain their revenue through greater violence or new forms of exploitation. Meanwhile, access to shelters and other support structures is increasingly limited at a time when need is at its greatest. Secondly, as resources gravitate to address public health concerns, attention is diverted from deterring criminal actors, and vulnerable persons already living in precarious circumstances are now at greater risk for being swept into exploitative situations.

 

The consequences of the current crisis on victims are far-reaching. Trafficking for sexual exploitation is increasingly moving online where traffickers can keep their revenue intact and enhance the isolation of and control over victims, particularly women and girls, who comprise 94% of the victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Children, at a time of school closures and potentially more hours spent online, face a greater risk of online grooming. Victims of forced labour find themselves with even fewer options for survival and less legal protection. In the case of trafficking for organ removal, one of the darkest and least addressed forms of trafficking, the impacts of COVID-19 are starting to raise alarm.

 

In moments of crisis, traffickers will increase their recruitment as more and more people find themselves in dire economic straits. For this reason, it is essential that governments ensure equal access to healthcare, unemployment services, and other welfare services, regardless of recent employment history or legal status, to guarantee that those who need this support the most can effectively access it. Anyone without an income or other form of support is at risk of falling into the hands of traffickers. In these chaotic times, it is vital that States do not let their guard down, but instead strengthen their anti-trafficking efforts.

 

Human trafficking feeds off vulnerability — in particular, gender and economic inequality — and it is a symptom of frailty in our society. It is precisely when our global community is shaken by a crisis of this magnitude that our obligation to combat the exploitation of vulnerable people becomes most acute. Where trafficking goes unchecked and impunity reigns, the rule of law is undermined and the security and safety of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, is threatened. For this reason, combating human trafficking is not just a law enforcement responsibility. It is a human, societal and security imperative, and an urgent priority.

 

The COVID-19 crisis will be remembered for generations, and we have just started to see its transformative impact on our lives. Today, as in all moments of historic change, we have the opportunity to steer our future in a better direction. Inclusive programmes ensuring protection to vulnerable groups can be a powerful tool to break the cycle of exploitation and strengthen exit pathways, giving a real alternative to those in need. With the necessary attention, adequate resources and the right programmes, we can start today to build a better and safer tomorrow for all.”


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