BELGIUM: The Information and Advice Centre on Harmful

Between July 2000 and September 2001, the Information and Advice Centre on Harmful Sectarian Organisations has received 2-3 enquiries a day about 154 religious movements. On the request of public authorities, it has also issued positive advices on the FECRIS (European Federation of Research and Information Centres on Sectarianism) and on Mormons. Its main recommendation is the introduction of the concept of "abuse of the state of weakness" in the Penal Code.

HRWF (17.12.2001) - The 35-page report (*) opens with a summary of the legal framework of the Centre. The next parts deal with the report of activities, the functioning of the Centre and the perspectives.

In the introduction, the Centre report recalls the 1997 recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission on Sects (the only part of the 660-page parliamentary report voted by the Parliament), the missions of the Centre as they are described in the 2 June 1998 law creating the Centre and the decision of the Court of Arbitration against the Anthroposophic Society which had tried to get the nullification of the 1998 law on the grounds that it was discriminatory and inconsistent with the freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom to manifest one’s opinions, freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The report of activities presents a list of meetings and a small summary of the topics treated by the Centre

the research work of the Centre on an operational definition of the concept "harmful sectarian organisation"

a list of harmfulness criteria and the role of that instrument in the elaboration of an advice on a movement

a list of events in which the Centre took part in Belgium and abroad

the functioning of the library

the information of the public

the texts of the two advices on the FECRIS and the Mormons

the collaboration with the "Administrative Agency of Fight Against Harmful Sectarian Organisations"

a recommendation to introduce in the Penal Code the concept of "abuse of the state of weakness"

The report of the Centre recalls that the concept of "abuse of the state of weakness" was one of the proposals of the Parliamentary Commission on Sects and recommends to the Minister of Justice to present a draft law to the government.

The report remains silent about the misuse of the parliamentary list of 189 movements presented as a list of "active sects" by the French Community of Belgium in the brochure "Gourou, gare à toi" (Guru, beware of you!), by municipal councils, in courts, in the media, etc.

The second part of the report which is devoted to the functioning of the Centre describes the selection procedure used for the appointment of the members of the Centre, explains the problems regarding the recruitment of permanent competent staff and the delays in the installation of the Centre in adequate premises (August-September 2000).

In the third part (1 page), the reports details the perspectives of the Centre at the national and international levels.

(*) The report can be ordered at CIAOSN, 139 rue Haute, 3rd floor, 1000 Brussels.

Phone: 32 2 504 91 68 - Fax: 32 2 513 83 94 - Email >


Information and Advice Centre on Harmful Sectarian Organisations

Legal and operational definition of the concept "harmful sectarian organisation"

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (17.12.2001)/ Website - Email > - The legal basis of the definition of harmful sectarian organisations is to be found in two laws but additional criteria are used by the Centre to elaborate an advice on a philosophical or religious group.

Legal definition

According to article 2 of the 2 June 1998 law creating the Centre (1), "a harmful sectarian organisation is any group having or claiming to have a philosophical or a religious character which in its organisation or its practice carries out illegal damageable activities, harms individuals or society, or violates human dignity".

"The harmful character of a sectarian group is examined on the basis of the principles enshrined in the Constitution, laws, decrees and orders and international conventions safeguarding human rights that Belgium has ratified."

In the 30 November 1998 law regarding the intelligence and security services, harmful sectarian organisations are considered a possible threat against the State and democratic order: Article 7, § 1: "The missions of the State Intelligence are: to search for, to analyse and to treat the data concerning any activity that threats or might threat the national security and international relations, the scientific and economic potential defined by the Ministerial Committee, or any other basic interest of the country defined by the King on request of the Ministerial Committee (…).

Article 8: "For the implementation of article 7,

§ 1 ‘activity that threats or might threat’ must be understood as follows: any individual or collective activity carried out inside the country or from abroad that may be linked to espionage, interference, terrorism, proliferation, harmful sectarian organisations, criminal organisations (…)."

And paragraph 1 e) recalls the definition of "the harmful sectarian organisation" as it is formulated in article 2 of the 2 June 1998 (See above).

Operational definition

The operational definition of a harmful sectarian organisation, i.e. a definition to be used by the secretarial staff of the Centre in their daily work, is based on the provisions of the 2 June 1998 law and on the non-exhaustive list of dangerousness criteria drawn up by the parliamentary commission on sects (2). "As the concepts of dangerousness and harmfulness refer to a possible danger or harmfulness, the analysis of the harmful character of a sectarian organisation amounts to a risk assessment. This assessment is founded on real cases of risks and in the absence of real risks on the intrinsic characters of the organisation ". (3)

Harmfulness criteria (4)

The harmfulness criteria selected by the Centre are based on those listed in the Report of the Parliamentary Enquiry Commission:

deceitful or abusive recruitment methods;

use of mental manipulation;

physical or mental (psychological) maltreatments inflicted to followers or their families;

deprivation of followers or of their families from appropriate medical care;

acts of violence, particularly sexual, against followers, their families, third parties or even children;

breaking off the links between the followers and their families, their husbands or wives, their relatives and their friends;

kidnapping children or removing them from their parents;

deprivation from the freedom to leave the sect;

disproportionate financial claims, swindle and misappropriation of funds to the detriment of the followers;

abusive exploitation of the work of followers;

breaking off all links with the democratic society presented as evil;

destruction of society for the benefit of the sect;

use of illegal methods to seize power

and on existing laws which can be applied to new religious movements violating them.

Moreover, the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been taken into consideration.

The criteria are divided up into categories with regard to violations of individual rights (psychical, physical as well as financial) and violations of the standards and values governing society.

Every criterion has not the same weight. Some criteria refer to more serious offences than others.

For the assessment of a movement, it is not sufficient to add up the various criteria to determine the harmfulness of a group.

The criteria must rather be considered indicators for a global assessment.

This instrument may not be used either to compare different movements.

(1) Centre d’avis et d’information sur les organisations sectaires nuisibles (CIAOSN)

(2) The content of the operational definition was defined at a meeting of the CIAOSN held on 18 December 2000

(3) CIAOSN, Rapport bisannuel, Années 1999-2000, p 12

(4) Translation of page 13 of " CIAOSN, Rapport bisannuel, Années 1999-2000 "


Cult membership, divorce and child custody

(Second episode)

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF International Secretariat (17.12.2001) - Website: - Email: > - On 29 November 2001, the Court of First Instance heard the case opposing C.V. (mother) to D.V. (father) on the custody of their son (aged 4 and one-half) and issued its judgment. An option open to the judge was to allow the child to spend equal time with both parents (usually one week alternatively). However in this case, the judge ordered that, although, both parents may carry out their authority jointly, the child’s residence is to be fixed at his mother’s. Consequently, D.V. will not be permitted to see his son any more than a father who has been denied custody and granted only visitation rights: a weekend every other week and half of the school holidays. The father’s affiliation to a "sect" was considered by the judge in his decision.

In the year 2000, an expert stated on two occasions that the mother was psychologically unable to take care of her child, or even of herself (page 3-4), and that the mother had given over her son’s education to her parents. Additionally, the expert concluded that granting custody to the mother "is not the best solution for the child". In his consideration, the judge recognized that "the defendant seems to offer an adequate environment to his son; whether at a practical level or a affective level, Mr. V. can provide for the needs of his child" (page 5).

"The plaintiff stressed that the only thing she can reproach her husband with is his being indoctrinated by a sect, the ………… (name of the movement); she is afraid of her child being indoctrinated and fears that, like her husband, he will lose his reason and his freedom of thought", the judgment says.

The judge looked at the father’s religious affiliation: "It is not the right place here to put the ….. (name of the movement) on trial", he says, "but we have to examine the risks that [the son] could incur as far as his personal, social and philosophical development is concerned if the primary or secondary residence were to be granted to the father, a follower of the said sectarian organisation". The expert’s opinion in this matter was that "the very young age of the child (now four and a half years) protects him, for some time, against sectarian indoctrination".

"The defendant does not seem to be sectarian", the judges admits, " … and there is now no sign that the defendant would not be honest, that he would hide his game".

The judge recognizes that the psychological progress of the mother is slower than expected but "as soon as it is achieved, she will be able to accommodate, support and educate Mathieu".

This presumption-this bet on the future-were, in the end, sufficient for the judge to confirm the former judgment, maintaining the child’s residence at his mother’s and limiting the child’s contact with his father to periodic visitation.


The Lutheran Church is not a sect any more but…

Methodists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Mormons, the Salvation Army and others are still presented as "sects" in a schoolbook

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF International Secretariat (17.12.2001) - Website: - Email: > - The 22nd issue of the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (DRAE) has removed "offensive" terminology for Protestant believers, according to the Evangelical Press Agency ICPress.

The latest issue of the Language Dictionary does not define Lutheranism as "Luther’s sect" any more, a term that was used since the 1992 issue. From this point forward, Luther will be presented as "a 16th century German Protestant reformer".

The word "sect" has also been removed from the definition of the Protestant term "pastor". "A small step for the Spanish language, a big step for the Protestant people", comments ICPress, an organ of the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities (FEREDE). The removal of these "intolerable terms" from the Language Dictionary is a "reason for huge satisfaction", it adds.

In December 1998, "The Baptist Echo" published an article by Pablo Lopez Medel, publicly denouncing that, to the detriment of Protestants, linguistic discrimination continued in the Language Dictionary.

However, other religious movements are still presented as "sects" in a Spanish geography and history schoolbook (*) used for 4th-grade students of secondary schools. These "sects" are listed as follows: Methodists, Salvation Army, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Mormons, God’s Children, Moon, Church of Scientology, various forms of spiritism, Hare Krishna, Mission of Divine Light, New Age. Ideologies linked to the concept of a "sect" are esoterism, hermetism, occultism, millenarianism and proselytism. Activities, such as exhibitions and debates, are suggested to students, but the terminology is questionable because of the negative connotation of a number of terms. For example, in the recommendations on debate, students are asked whether proselytism should be limited or not. Under the heading "Exhibition" and "Essay", it is asked to "explain the reasons why sects proliferate in Western societies".

(*) Geografia e Historia 4°, a collective work conceived, designed and created at the Departamento de Ediciones Educativas deEditorial Santillana, S.A., under the authority of Jaime Mascaro Florit.