EU supports bilingual campaign to inform local population on COVID-19
The EU-supported Akhalkalki Local Action Group (LAG) in Georgia recently started a bilingual online campaign to raise awareness among the non-Georgian speaking population about the COVID-19 outbreak. The aim of the campaign is to inform non-Georgian speakers about the current state of emergency and the health protection measures available.
LAG has disseminated over 10 videos in both Georgian and Armenian through social media. In addition, over 15 bilingual posters have been circulated, containing information from the World Health Organization, the National Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, and the Georgian Government.
Locals are systematically informed about the lockdown and self-isolation rules, protocols for going out, healthcare measures and focal contact points.
The campaign is part of the project ‘Promoting a new rural development approach in Akhalkalaki’. It is implemented under the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD).
International Scholars Raise Concerns over “an Attempt to Destroy a New Religious Movement” in South Korea
On July 20, a webinar on a new religious movement in South Korea and its political, religious, and social dimensions with the recent COVID-19 crisis invited international scholars and experts in the field of religion, international law, and human rights.
Titled “COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Scapegoating Shincheonji in South Korea”, the webinar addressed the recent issues of aggressive attack from politically powerful conservative and fundamentalist Protestant churches in the country on a newly-established, fast-growing Christian denomination named 'Shincheonji (New Heaven and New Earth) Church of Jesus' founded in 1984.
The new Christian movement by Shincheonji has become a target of “persecution from fundamentalist protestants” because of its successful religious expansion “from the conservative and fundamentalist protestants who see Shincheonji as competitors and want to destroy it," said Massimo Introvigne as an Italian sociologist of religion who studied Shincheonji before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and published the first account of the religious group in English.
Alessandro Amicarelli, Chairman European Federation for Freedom of Belief, pointed out that the South Korean authorities problematized Shincheonji as a cause of the COVID-19 crisis to shut down the church. “Already 30 other people were tested positive before the patient 31 (a member of Shincheonji criticized for the widespread of the virus). Many Chinese including ones from Wuhan had visited Daegu (of South Korea) and infection spread,” he said.
Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), said that the recent attack on Shincheonji can be viewed as an attempt by the fundamentalist Protestant groups in South Korea to weaken and destroy the competitor in the religious market. He added, "Human rights violations against Shincheonji members through coercive conversion program (also known as 'deprogramming') with kidnapping and confinement for the last decade have been made as a result of the failure of competition from the Protestant churches in the country."
Ciaran Burke, Associate Professor in University of Derby, said that the South Korean health authorities explicitly link Shinchoenji and outbreak of the COVID-19 until now even though a greater link between the virus and confirmation cases has been found in other churches. He also expressed concerns over “collecting personal information of 300,000 domestic and international Shincheonji members by the government which is a possible violation of international agreement, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) South Korea ratified in 1990.”
The prosecution initiated investigation of Shincheonji leaders including founder Man Hee Lee for his alleged role in the widespread of the COVID-19. Three Shincheonji officials were arrested on July 8 on a charge of playing a role in major outbreak at its early stage by “(submitting) inaccurate list of members.”
“The authorities ignored requests to change the word ‘sect’ in their official reports when referring to Shincheonji church. Local governments encouraged the residents to report Shincheonji congregation and facilities to the authorities, creating stigma that the members were to be treated as criminals,” said a Shincheonji official in the webinar.
A recent statement issued by “families of the deceased and victims of COVID-19” wrote that "the thousands of the damage and deaths of Koreans reflect the failure of initial response to contain the virus by the government." It added that the Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae “allowed COVID-19 patients from China to enter Korea, leading to a widespread outbreak of the virus across the country, which resulted in the deaths of the Korean people.” It also stated that she is trying to avoid her responsibility for the damage by “giving direct orders to prosecutors for a raid and arrests against Shincheonji Church”.
A leading South Korean TV network, MBC reported that a recently conducted screening at Daegu, epicenter of COVID-19 major outbreak within South Korea added the weight to the failure of initial response to contain the virus by the government. The report, citing analysis from a local university hospital, inferred that at least 180,000 of the total population of 2.4 million people in the city of Daegu were infected with the COVID-19, 27 times to the official 6,800 confirmed cases. Most of the confirmation cases, over 5,000, are members of Shincheonji Church as their personal information was collected by the government, while the remaining 180,000 potential infections have not been investigated.
Press Release of the Department of Public Relations
Heavenly Culture, World Peace, and the Restoration of Light
EU launches new project to target organised crime in the Eastern Neighbourhood
A new Europol-led project, funded by the European Union, has been launched, focused on strengthening the capacity of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to fight organised crime more effectively. The project will contribute to reducing crime and creating a safer living space for citizens in the region.
Through this four-year initiative, Europol will support cooperation between law enforcement authorities, both on a strategic and operational level. Special funding will enable the Eastern Partner countries to participate in operational activities against some of the ten most significant threats to EU security listed under the EU Policy Cycle. Existing networks for information sharing and operational cooperation may be further extended into joint investigations to improve the effectiveness in fighting transnational organised crime.
“This initiative is an important step in developing strong operational cooperation and trust between the law enforcement authorities of the EU Member States and our Eastern partners,” said Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol. “Our aligned efforts will bring a stronger response to the common challenges and cross-border threats we face.”
Lawrence Meredith, Director for Neighbourhood East at the European Commission, stated: “Organised crime networks operate across national borders and destabilise the entire region. Tackling serious and organised crime is a shared challenge by the European Union and its partner countries. By strengthening the strategic and operational cooperation between Europol and partner countries, we are proud to contribute to joint investigation successes.”
Located along the Black Sea and forming part of the ‘heroin route’ from the Middle East to Europe, all six Eastern Partner countries are threatened by organised criminal groups active in the area. These groups are involved in migrant smuggling, organised property crime, trafficking in human beings, firearms and drug trafficking, money laundering, and other related crimes such as document fraud. These criminal syndicates threaten not only the safety and security of people, but also the stability of the Eastern Partnership region and of the whole EU. More cooperation between law enforcement authorities of EU Member States and the Eastern Neighbourhood countries is crucial to improving the effectiveness of the common response to organised crime across borders.
As part of a larger €10 million EU cooperation initiative, the EU has dedicated €2.5 million to support the project that will run for the next four years. Two other components are focused on law enforcement training and threat assessment (a project led by Cepol with the participation of Europol) and on criminal asset recovery (managed by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute - UNICRI).
UN and EU launch ambitious initiative for gender equality in Eastern Partnership
With support from the European Union, the two UN sister agencies will work with government bodies and civil society partners in six countries to challenge deeply ingrained gender stereotypes, increase men’s involvement in domestic work and childcare, and engage with potential perpetrators to prevent gender-based violence.
UN Women and UNFPA, together with the European Union (EU), have launched a three-year regional programme to tackle gender stereotypes and gender-based violence in six countries of the Eastern Partnership: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
The programme, entitled “EU 4 Gender Equality: Together Against Gender Stereotypes and Gender-Based Violence,” ultimately seeks to strengthen equal rights and opportunities for women and men by challenging perceptions about men’s and women’s roles in the family and in society and working to eliminate gender-based violence.
“This is our first regional programme covering gender equality in the Eastern Partnership region and we are intensely proud of it,” said Lawrence Meredith, Director for Neighbourhood East in the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations at the European Commission. “We can and we will do more to develop this underused economic and social potential with our Eastern neighbours. As we emerge from the pandemic, we will propose that the future Eastern Partnership be more inclusive.”
A first of its kind, the programme has been informed by an in-depth situation analysis and intergovernmental consultations with the six countries. It is designed to engage a wide range of government bodies, civil society organizations, and individuals.
“We will work closely with governments and civil society organisations in the six countries to ensure the success of the programme,” says Alia El-Yassir, UN Women Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. “This work is even more crucial now as the COVID-19 crisis has put into stark relief the imbalanced distribution of responsibilities based on traditional gender stereotypes.”
The programme aims at achieving real behavioural change. It relies on strategies designed to challenge structural gender barriers and norms, with particular emphasis on transforming gender-stereotyped behaviour, strengthening men’s involvement in parenting and domestic responsibilities, increasing men’s access to parental leave, and reducing the number of people affected by gender-based violence through prevention interventions with potential perpetrators.
“During the COVID-19 crisis, we have unfortunately seen an increase in women’s unpaid care workload and in cases of gender-based violence across the six countries,” says Alanna Armitage, UNFPA Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “Our programme comes at the right time to fight these trends. We all have to work hand-in-hand to build a more just, equal, safe and secure world for all.”
The programme has a budget of €7,875,000 and is anchored in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework, launched by the United Nations in 2015, and the EU Action Plan 2016-2020 on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women Through EU External Relations. It provides a unique opportunity for the EU and the six participating countries to affect social discourse, perceptions, and practices related to gender equality with the ultimate goal of achieving gender equality and related SDGs.
For more information, please visit: https://europa.eu/european-union/
NGOs in the UN and Religious Leaders Demand Correction on Repression and Violation of Human Rights against Religion
NGOs in association with the United Nations and religious communities in the globe are raising their voices on the need to correct inappropriate persecution and human rights violation against a religious group in South Korea named Shincheonji Church of Jesus.
11 NGOs including European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience (CAP-LC) submitted a report for “annual report for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights” to the UN Secretary General at the 44th session in the UN Assembly Human Rights Council. The report is titled “scapegoating members of Shincheonji for COVID-19 in the Republic of Korea.”
By referring to the report from United States of America Commission of International Religious Freedom, the report to the UN said, “Shincheonji was suffering harassment from the South Korean government and society. Although some government measures appeared to be driven by legitimate public health concerns, others appeared to exaggerate the church’s role in the outbreak.”
“The government of Seoul locked down Shincheonji churches in the capital, and some mainline Protestant groups have accused the church of deliberately spreading the disease,” it continued.
The report stated, “The virus cannot be an excuse to violate human rights and religious liberty of hundreds of thousands of believers. Intolerance, violence, and discrimination against Shincheonji should be put to an end.”
Religious communities initiated to issue statements to advocate improvements in the unequal treatment against Shincheonji.
"The news of Chairman Lee and Shincheonji are being singled out and blamed for COVID-19 spread and sued is deeply concerning to all faith leaders who valued freedom of religion and the protection of human rights. This adverse action shall have chilling repercussions through the religious world," said Mr. Sheikh Musa Drammeh, Chairman of Islamic Cultural Center of North America.
And Swami Vedanand Saraswati, a Hindu Spiritual Leader based in Durban stressed the tolerance and harmony. “As members of the HWPL, our primary goal is unity, equality, respect and tolerance. Only together can we overcome the enormous challenges we face. United we stand, divided we shall fall. Let us unite and support each other and stop these unwarranted attempts to tarnish pure intentions and righteous actions.”
Recently, Chairman Lee of Shincheonji Church of Jesus encouraged the members who recovered from the COVID-19 to voluntarily join in donation of plasma. Around 4,000 recovered members said they are willing to donate plasma for research on a new treatment.
He said that there has been political motives in persecution of Shincheonji Church of Jesus and HWPL (a peace NGO) by “using us (Shincheonji), the victims of COVID-19, as their scapegoat in order to hide their own faults.” He added, “Persecuting peace organizations, religious organizations, and violating human rights must be stopped in Korea.”
Press Coordinator of Georgia
Department of Public Relations (International)
Heavenly Culture, World Peace, and the Restoration of Light
Czech contribution in monitoring COVID-19 in Georgia was invaluable and hugely important” - Georgia’s Health Minister
"Czech contribution in monitoring COVID-19 in Georgia was invaluable and hugely important” - Georgia’s Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze praised the Czech Republic’s contribution during Friday meeting with the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Georgia, H.E. Petr Mikyska as the Georgian and Czech sides met to discuss various aspects of joint collaboration.
In return, Ambassador Mikyska highlighted Georgia's notable success in dealing with the pandemic, saying that Georgia is "Deservedly considered among the best countries worldwide when it comes to combating COVID-19”.
The meeting was also attended by the representatives of the health sector and the Czech non-governmental organization the Caritas Czech Republic in Georgia, which presented two new projects: “Way to Home: Development of Adult Alternative Social Services in Georgia” and “Support to Primary Healthcare Strengthening in Georgia (Phase II)”, funded with more than 2 million euro from Czech Development Cooperation.