Seminar on freedom of faith and human rights held by CESNUR and HRWF
On November 29, the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), Italy, and the Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), Belgium, hosted a seminar on human rights entitled ‘Intolerance and Discrimination Against New Religious Movements: An International Problem’.
This seminar, held in Seoul, South Korea, was devoted to the protection of the rights of religious minorities targeted by the majority groups, particularly in the context of anti-human rights situations such as the forced conversions that occurred in Korea.
Forced conversion, also known as ‘deprogramming’, involves kidnapping and detaining the members of religious groups—labeled as “cults” by their opponents---in order to compel them to abandon their faith. It is a social issue that causes human rights violations.
More than 80 participants including legal experts, journalists, and civil society representatives reviewed the current situation of forced conversions and discussed solutions to defend the freedom of faith and human rights that have become the norm of the international community.
Massimo Introvigne, Managing Director of CESNUR as well as an Italian sociologist, said, “The protests that commemorate the victims from forced conversions were mentioned in the 2019 U.S. State Department Report on Religious Freedom, including violations of religious freedom in 2018. However, there were new cases of deprogramming even after their death.”
Regarding the multi-dimensional strategy to solve such phenomenon, Willy Fautré, Founder and Director of HRWF, had several suggestions. He pointed out at the responsibility of the leadership of the Presbyterian Church, which tolerates, endorses, and maybe encourages such a practice. Further, he talked about developing advocacy at the UN and in organs defending freedom of religion or belief; prosecuting those who encourage people to perpetrate an act of abduction and confinement.
A total of 15 international NGOs, including CAP-LC and HRWF to the South Korean President Moon Jae In, signed an open letter on July 24, 2019. It said, “South Korea may well be the last democratic country in the world where deprogramming is still tolerated” and asked the President to “investigate in-depth accusations of forcible deprogramming, put a stop to this obnoxious practice, and hold those responsible fully accountable.”
Even though the deprogramming has taken the lives of the victims since 2007, the South Korean government or the President has not yet responded to this issue. In January 2018, Ms. Goo, a saint of Shincheonji, the Church of Jesus, died during the coercive conversion being dragged to the convent and pension by his family. The coercive conversion has resulted over 1,000 victims including dead and with mental trauma level like those who have gone through the war.
Meanwhile, South Korea was elected to serve the 5th term on the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 17. South Korea’s mission to the UN said it plans to participate in the international efforts to respond to human rights crises around the world. Participants urged the Korean government to respond to the issue of forced conversion, which is still threatening the human rights of its people.
On November 10, 103,764 people graduated from the Bible study program offered by Shincheonji, the Church of Jesus, after studying for six months. This has never happened in the world. The graduates decided to take the theology course of Shincheonji despite the persecution and misunderstanding about the church and voluntarily joining the church of Shincheonji. According to the survey conducted by graduates, more than 90% of them decided to join the church for the “outstanding word of God”.
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