Spiritual Human Rights – An Ongoing Battle

Posted: December 12, 2017 / in: Blog, Spiritual Events, Spirituality, World Today / No comments

Human Rights Day is observed by the international community every year on 10th December. It commemorates the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Every year, Soteria International organizes a conference on this day to raise awareness of an newly emerging paradigm: Spiritual Human Rights. This year is also a special occasion as it marks the 10-year anniversary since the founding of Soteria International in 2007.

This year Soteria International hosted the 10th Annual Spiritual Human Rights Conference together with Youth for Human Rights Denmark, and ENAR Denmark. It gathered human rights activists and practitioners of different spiritual systems to discuss the success of the past decade and directions for the future in order to improve the current situation. Over the past 10 years Soteria has made great progress in bringing the issue of spiritual human rights to the awareness of the international community, both at a local and international level, even in the face of great adversity.


This year’s conference, which took place at VerdensKulturCentret, Copenhagen, was entitled “Spiritual Human Rights – An Ongoing Battle”. It called on all of us to be the guardian of the fundamental rights of people around us, no matter their religion and culture, and to never let fear and ignorance be the measure of our hearts and freedom of conscience.

For the first time the event was streamed live on Facebook. This was a great way to reach out to a wider audience and give a chance for people living far away to also be part of this important debate.

The conference was moderated by Konrad Swenninger from Soteria International, who introduced it by stating the importance of the spiritual aspect of human rights, as mentioned in the preamble to the UN Declaration of Human rights, that spirituality is in fact the base of human rights. Mr. Swenninger gave a short introduction to the topics undertaken in the previous conferences, leading to the topic of this year’s SHR conference, and emphasized the importance of the partnerships and collaborative efforts of the individuals and organizations present.


It brought together spokespeople from several different international spiritual and human rights organisations:

  • – Gregory Christensen from Youth for Human Rights International
  • – Marina Jakobsen from Santo Daime
  • – Anette Refstrup from Scientology
  • – Nobuhiro Igarshi from Universal Peace Federation
  • – Camelia Marin from Soteria International
  • – Bashy Quraishy from the European Network Against Racism
  • – Advaita Mihai Stoian from International Federation for Yoga and Meditation ATMAN


The conference asked fundamental questions about human rights and their place in the world today, such as:

– What are human rights when seen from the spiritual perspective?

– How can we start to create the change that we all agree should be there?

– How do we get people to realise that spiritual human rights are relevant and something to fight for?

The panel members spoke in turn, expressing their opinions on the current climate of spiritual human rights and the directions that need to be taken now to ensure human rights are upheld the world over.


Speaking from 35 years of experience working for anti-racism, anti-discrimination, religious discrimination, human rights, Bashy Quraishy spoke on behalf of the European Network Against Racism and as a board member of the Danish Institute for Human Rights. He quoted António Guterres, the Secretary General of the UN: “human rights is the 3rd pillar of the UN alongside peace and development”. He referred to ODIHR & ENAR’s own research that indicates that hate crime due to religion has increased in relation to other hate crimes in society and this creates an increased atmosphere of alienation. As he stated, we are at a crossroads where making bad choices is not an option. In conclusion he urged the participating parties to choose the right strategy for the future coupled with innovative tools and new alliances in order to improve on the current situation.


Gregory Christensen represented Youth for Human Rights Denmark, a non-profit organization that works with human rights education, bringing, primarily, information into schools in order to educate the general population through the youth. Mr. Christensen explained his stance on the subject from the perspective of educating youth about the importance of human rights. He pointed out that the term human rights is mentioned 79 times in school curricula but only once in the teachers’ curricula and their organisation is working to improve this. Mr Christensen explained the need to show the population that spiritual human rights are about freedom of thought, and about being inclusive of all. He stated the importance of not pushing religious belief on anyone as that only causes them to withdraw even more. We need to make people see that freedom of thought is foremost and that this involves everyone and when they understand this then they will also support this. Mr Christensen pointed out that Danish society, mass media and politicians are relatively uninformed.


Anette Refstrup, the Head of Communication for the Church of Scientology in Denmark, began by addressing the fact that although the UN is beginning a year long celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, in many countries who have signed the declaration we see a rising hostility towards human rights and those who defend them. She provided the example of Denmark, which currently has the EU chairmanship, and who is making a point to challenge and diminish the influence of the EU Human Rights Court. Interestingly enough, siting a study, Ms. Refstrup stated that Denmark is one of the countries in the world which partly comprises the 3% of the worldwide population which is considered free and open, while 97% are living within a limitation of civil rights.

Ms. Refstrup stated that there is a culture emerging which is rendering hatred, intolerance, and the violation of human rights more and more acceptable. She argued that this culture is harmful to absolutely everyone and as a ‘free and open’ country Denmark must rise up to the responsibility and continue to set an example. So, although freedom of expression and religion are present in Denmark, they aren’t necessarily universal. Ms. Refstrup stated that the UN declaration was signed in order to improve the world, yet as we know, this is no guarantee that current leaders will enforce this document and respect for these rights are diminishing in certain areas. As world citizens, we cannot abandon these rights just  because they’re under pressure. We must band together and support the institutions that are working to ensure our rights. “Now is the time to spread as much knowledge as we can about the importance of these rights and act like concerned citizens by upholding these rights.” How do we make spirituality more legitimate? How do we get people to realise that spiritual human rights are relevant and something to fight for when they are not even aware of their nature as spirit?


Marina Jakobsen spoke on behalf of Santo Daime, a rapidly growing spiritual organization with roots in native shamanism that originated in the Brazilian rainforest. Ms. Jakobsen described the current Santo Daime as a marriage between native shamanism and Catholicism, calling it a “mystery school” due to the use of initiations and tools used to contact the spiritual world, putting practitioners in touch with the divine here and now as a part of daily life. Ms. Jakobsen concluded by stating that democracy should protect groups such as Santo Daime who are experiencing violations of their rights for reasons which are in fact not causing any damage to society.

Ms. Jakobsen said that in order to understand human rights we have to be emancipated. To be able to human develop we have to educate our hearts and to integrate Grace – we need to be gracious. “We need to differentiate bween religion and spirituality. Spirituality can emancipate human beings. Religion more often cripples them.” She pointed out that if we don’t address human rights then without them we will return to barbarism.


Camelia Marin spoke on behalf of Soteria International in her capacity as Vice President. Ms. Marin reminded us of the discrepancy between the obligation of EU member states to respect and protect the freedom of conscience, thought and religion and to combat discrimination versus the current state of affairs in which discrimination and non-tolerance continue to challenge our societies. She suggested two perspectives on the freedom of conscience, thought, and belief: the internal perspective where individuals have the freedom to believe what they choose; and the external perspective, which is the externalization of the internal perspective–putting these beliefs into practice together with others. Ms. Marin stated that we are currently witnessing “a restriction on the freedom to choose a spiritual path, due to the fact that society understands the actions of individuals in a local paradigm of behaviour that is appropriate to the rules of social life in a respective region.” So, although the field of human behaviour has been a result of globalization, local paradigms are not adapting at the same rate in order to embrace the existence of non-traditional practice, even if these practices are legitimate, peaceful, and non-abusive. Ms. Marin spoke of the necessity of “social order and rules of social coexistence” to adjust to changes at the social level in order to maintain the fundamental freedoms which should be upheld in a democratic society based on the rule of law.


Nobuhiro Igarshi spoke on behalf of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), an international NGO with special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Mr. Igarashi described UPF as an organization which conducts activities related to, among others, interfaith understanding, service, and human rights. In Denmark, his organization focuses mainly on interfaith activities, where they meet with different religious leaders, and create opportunities for different religious leaders to meet with one another in order to facilitate a deeper understanding of one another. In this regard, he stated that, in fact, 70% or more of the scriptures in various world religions are the same, yet, the different groups do not realize this. It is not a problem with religious scripture, but how the scriptures may be taught.  Mr. Igarashi described how failing to engage in dialogue across different faiths has proven to produce a state of ignorance and misunderstanding of one another and the belief that the ‘other’ is wrong or ‘bad’. His organization believes that religious leaders can play an important role for the teaching of human rights, because many aspects that are crucial to human rights, such as tolerance, patience, and respect, are also fundamental components of religious teachings. This means that religious leaders can and should encourage followers to cultivate these qualities in themselves, helping each of us, as human beings, to put human rights into practice.


I spoke about the way I see the current status of human rights in the world today and the direction I believe we should start to move in. Originally the charter of human rights was signed based on a reaction to the situation at that time. And for a while it was good. But in time we started to see that the frame was too narrow and a lot of the problems with the human rights were born out of misunderstanding or even ignoring the consciousness of the human being and the dimension of existence that extends beyond the material world. And today, when we have acknowledged the impact of one intention on mater and the damage a sentence can do on a person’s life we need to move from a reaction to an active paradigm; we need to extend the view and educate ourselves about this new horizons of human existence. We need to understand human rights from the perspective of principles and values and to connect responsibility with rights. It is imperative that human rights become embedded in the proper education of citizens of the world and we do so looking into the future and not into the past. One of the biggest contributions Soteria International has made is to bring to the table the issue of having a spiritual practice. A person that embrace a spiritual dimension of life is not anymore a believer but more and more a realist. The way we’ve shaped the society pushes out this need so when we speak of spiritual human rights we are trying to bring in something that we initially threw out. Human rights and spirituality are intrinsically linked and when we try to speak of one without the other then we encounter many problems.


Spiritual human rights are the rights of the human being viewed as a spiritual being, a being endowed with conscience and who’s view upon reality influence it as well. It is now becoming known that improvement in the environment and technology does not necessarily mean improvement for the human being but instead can mean degradation. Spiritual human rights defend the need of the human being to be spiritual. They could be better called spiritual human needs as it is much more than just a right. Formative, not just informative, education is what brings solutions in this direction. We need to provide spiritual solutions to pragmatic problems. This speaks to all audiences, from all walks of life because inside we have the same scale of values.

Soteria International made good steps in making ‘The Citizens Guide to the World’, a collection of fundamental principles that represents a genuine foundation for all human understanding. These are values we all agree upon and they bring the dynamics of human development into the spiritual world. Unfortunately, someone who advocates spiritual human rights these days is almost regarded as a dissident. Education is key as this will stop us from ‘reacting’. Claiming ‘it can happen to you too’ is not the answer. Demonstrations are not efficient and are only a reaction.

In my opinion, we have isolated spirituality, we removed it from the worldly, and now is the time to bring it back. We need to shift this paradigm that ostracise spirituality, to bring it back into the world again. A very important part of this is proper education.

I believe the work that needs to be done now is to put together a platform of fundamental education of the human being. A human being should receive a manual, a how-to of being a human being. We need to acknowledge that all the aspects of our being are entangled – emotional, mental, biological and spiritual. When we don’t acknowledge some aspects of our being and live according to this simplified view we grow a big void inside and this is then reflected outside. For example, World War I and II can be easily seen as results of this inner conflict becoming manifest in the outside world, they were the result of us not succeeding to make this platform in the 20th Century. I believe fundamental education of humanity needs to be implemented and then it will be hard to develop tyrannical, manipulative systems because citizens would not be easy to manipulate anymore.

When people are educated then they will immediately spot immoral and unethical behaviour in individual or systems and those attempting it will be held accountable. We need to start to become aware of our unified nature, that none of us are lesser than the other in our inner potential and together we make up one organism. We complete one another and when one organ in the body is not working in harmony with the rest of the organs then we encounter problems, conflict, suffering. Education should be plurivalent, only in this way it will fulfil its true objectives and the human being will be best served.


Mr. Swenninger concluded the conference stating how he saw this as being the most positive and coherent Soteria conference until now. He challenged all the panel members to continue this wonderful work and to use all the platforms and media available to make our voices heard. He suggested we all take on the personal challenge of making a post a day, to share our opinions on blogs, forums and social media. On behalf of Soteria International he invited everyone out there who wants to to be part of this important work in the field of human rights. “We don’t force this one anyone, but give place for those who want to be part of it to be able to.”

However, even with the success of the event and the positive feedback that many of the organisations have received, there is clearly still a lot of work to be done in the field of spiritual human rights. As Soteria International state in their written presentation, “We have witnessed a growing trend in society towards distrust, fear and suspicion regarding the intrinsic value of spiritual human rights. Moreover, this trend is fueled by mainstream media and law-makers, and governments around Europe seem more inclined to fear-mongers and social media thought-police.”

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. At its inception this charter was declared a work in progress, and today a revision of the declaration is more relevant than ever. At this year’s conference it was suggested that the participants set a goal for next year’s anniversary.


10 years ago, I also made a contribution to the Declaration of Human Rights in a post entitled ‘Towards a Revised Version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. Here you can read the post in which I made comments to the declaration:


In the comments to the document one can easily see that the declarations we make are often not sustained by real knowledge and by the real situation in the world. In many situations the initial Universal Declaration of Human Rights is at risk of being considered just a demagogic work, especially since there were and still are so many breaches in this field of human existence. Maybe now 70 years after it was brought into existence, it is the time for this fundamental charter to be officially updated and upgraded, to fit with the current socio-political climate on the planet and the innate, essential needs of the human being.  


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Advaita Stoian

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