France has a government agency called the Miviludes
, unique in Western countries, whose job it is to track and counter those religious and other groups it considers as being sects. Miviludes is an acronym of the French phrase ‘Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires, i.e. ‘Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviancy.’ A sect is defined here as being any religious organisation which can be characterised as employing any of the following methods;
Mental destabilisation, exorbitant financial demands, a rupture with members’ original environment, power in the hands of one person, the invasion of a person’s physical integrity, the recruitment of children, antisocial preaching and troubling public order, activities which lead it to be tried in a court of law, using parallel economic structures, attempts to infiltrate the workplace, schools, and public powers.
There are around fifty religions or groups which are being tracked, the most commonly known of which are; Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, Mormons, The Universal Church, Raelians and The Unification Church (Moon.)
Criticism of the Miviludes is fierce, and since the organisation began extending its activities to organisations outside of France it has also been attacked by foreign government agencies such as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has in the past been highly sceptical about the motives of the Miviludes.
Yesterday saw the release of their 199-page Annual Report
, of which ten pages are consecrated to a stinging criticism of the activity of sects and their supporters in the UN and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.) The OSCE is the biggest security-oriented intergovernmental organisation on the planet. Its job is to surveille and uphold principles such as fair elections, press freedom and human rights. It is an ad-hoc UN Agency.
The report notably singles out NGO’s (Non-governmental organizations) which it says are attempting to legitimise sect activities under cover of the principles of religious freedom. They are said to be acting in concert to limit the influence of the Miviludes within the UN by using tactics such as official complaints and smear tactics.
OSCE/UN services said to be particularly infiltrated are the Office of Democratic Institutions and that of Human Rights. Other major institutions said to be affected are the European Council and the US State Department and its Report on Religious Freedoms in the World.
NGO’s said to be active in trying to destabilise the Mivilude’s work include Human Rights Without Frontiers, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty and the Information and Advice Centre for New Spititualities.
These and other organisations are said to be acting as front organisations for various religions who do not have UN accredited presence. Most notable amongst them is the Church of Scientology, which has launched several attacks on the Miviludes, notably by using the US State Department’s clout at the UN. The Scientology Internet site logo looks very much like the UN logo and the Church presents itself as being ‘Associated with the UN Department of Public Information.’
One week ago the Paris offices of the Miviludes were visited by OSCE officials demanding to audit the report before release and check it for what it called any possible human and religious rights abuse. The staff present refused that any documents be taken away. The OSCE intervention was applauded by the Church of Scientology which had appealed to the UN and OSCE in order that they surveille the activities of the Miviludes.
The fact that France is a fiercely secular country provides a partial explanation for the existence of an organisation as unique and with as much influence as the Miviludes. It has been involved in long-running battles with various religious organisations, or sects as they call them. Now that this battle has moved onto the international stage the stakes have gone up and both sides are sharpening their knives.