Seoul, South Korea, December 20, 2019
On November 29, 2019, Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) Italy and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) Belgium hosted a seminar on ‘Intolerance and Discrimination Against New Religious Movements: An International Problem.’
The 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 conversion that occurred in Korea.
Deprogramming a social issue
Forced conversion, also known as “Deprogramming,” is a social issue that causes human rights violations by kidnapping and detaining the members of religious groups labelled as “cults” by their opponents in order to compel them to abandon their faith.
More than 80 participants including legal experts, journalists, and civil society representatives reviewed the current situation of forced conversion and discussed solutions to defend the freedom of faith and human rights that have become the norm of the international community.
The people behind conversion
CESNUR Managing Director and Sociologist Massimo Introvigne said that forced conversion is conducted in the general society and that “Korean deprogrammers are specialized pastors from the mainline churches, most of them Presbyterian.”
“The protests that commemorate the victims from forced conversion were mentioned in the 2019 U S State Department Report on Religious Freedom, including violations of religious freedom in the year 2018. However, there were new cases of deprogramming even after their death,” he said.
Speaking about a multi-dimensional strategy to solve such problems, Willy Fautré, Founder and Director of HRWF, offered several suggestions such as pointing at the responsibility of the leadership of the Presbyterian Church which tolerates, endorses, and maybe encourages such a practice; developing advocacy at the UN and other organs defending freedom of religion or belief; prosecuting those who encourage people to perpetrate an act of abduction and confinement.
Open Letter to UN Chief
An open letter to the South Korean President Moon Jae In, signed by 15 international NGOs including CAP-LC and HRWF on July 24, 2019 said, “South Korea may well be the last democratic country in the world where deprogramming is still tolerated.”
They asked the President to “investigate in-depth accusations of forcible deprogramming, put a stop to this obnoxious practice, and hold those responsible fully accountable.”
South Korea on world stage
South Korea was elected to serve the fifth term on the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 17, 2019. South Korea’s mission to the UN said that 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 own people.