The question of cult groups and
certain new religious movements

Excerpt of the report "Mission to France" (18-29 September 2005) submitted by Asma Jahangir, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief

107. The Special Rapporteur understands the legitimate concerns regarding the victims of criminal acts that have been committed by certain religious groups or communities of belief. She considers that, in many cases, the Government of France, and its judicial apparatus, have adopted a responsible attitude and provided an appropriate response to the offences committed.

108. However, she is of the opinion that the policy and measures that have been adopted by the French authorities have provoked situations where the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of these groups has been unduly limited. Moreover, the public condemnation of some of these groups, as well as the stigmatization of their members, has led to certain forms of discrimination, in particular vis-à-vis their children.

109. The Special Rapporteur has observed that the government policy may have contributed to a climate of general suspicion and intolerance towards those communities on the list created by the National Assembly in 1996, of movements and groups classified as sectes. Moreover, the campaigns and other actions that have been initiated by associations composed, inter alia, of victims of criminal acts committed by these groups, have often been emotional.

110. The Special Rapporteur notes that in recent times the French authorities have adopted a more balanced approach to this phenomenon by adjusting their policy, including through the transformation of the Inter-ministerial Mission to Combat “Sectes” (MILS) into the Inter-ministerial Mission to monitor and combat abuse by sects (MIVILUDES). A number of improvements nevertheless remain to be carried out in order to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief of all individuals is guaranteed, and to avoid the stigmatization of members of certain religious groups or communities of belief, including those whose members have never committed any criminal offence under French law.

111. The Special Rapporteur hopes that future actions of MIVILUDES will be in line with the right to freedom of religion or belief and avoid past mistakes. She will continue to closely monitor the various efforts that are carried out by MIVILUDES.

112. The Special Rapporteur urges the Government to ensure that its mechanisms for dealing with these religious groups or communities of belief deliver a message based on tolerance, freedom of religion or belief and on the principle that no one can be judged for his actions other than through the appropriate judicial channels.

113. Moreover, she recommends that the Government monitor more closely preventive actions and campaigns that are conducted throughout the country by private initiatives or Government-sponsored organizations, in particular within the school system in order to avoid children of members of these groups being negatively affected.

114. She urges judicial and conflict resolution mechanisms to no longer refer to, or use, the list published by Parliament in 1996.