Sunday, 10 September 2017

International Humanist and Ethical Union

To celebrate World Humanist Day Guy Otten talked to the
Stockport Group about International Humanism.  Greater Manchester Humanists have, in the past year, joined both The International and Ethical Union (IHEU) and the European Humanist Federation (EHF). In this Brexit era, it is good to think about the international dimension of humanism.

IHEU is a bit of a mouthful, but they are consulting with their members about a rebrand! It’s a democratic organisation with the Board nominated and elected by the Member Organisations. Our own Andrew Copson is its president. It was founded in Amsterdam in 1952 and for a time was headquartered in the Netherlands. It currently shares offices with Humanists UK in Moreland St. Its mission is for . . .  everyone to live a life of dignity in a world where universal human rights are respected and protected, and where states uphold secularism.

Its Policy Agenda includes promoting the human right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief; opposing apostasy laws and state-endorsed doctrine; promoting the human right to freedom of expression; protecting the social conditions for critical open debate and opposing blasphemy and ‘defamation of religion’ laws; promoting the humanist worldview and humanist values; promoting the scientific approach and opposing the harm done by beliefs superstition, witchcraft, and magic; promoting freedom for all and the elimination of discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, caste and all other irrelevant grounds; promoting democracy, secularism, and peace; promoting separation of state and religion; and promoting equality before the law for those of all religions and beliefs.

The IHEU aims to have successful and sustainable member organisations in every part of the world through funding, training, intellectual resources and other support; Member organisations which are networked together as a co-ordinated global movement; International and regional government policies shaped by their policy agenda; and sufficient reputation, financial and human resources, and administrative effectiveness to achieve their goals

IHEU is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) with representation on various United Nations committees. It has Special Consultative Status with the United Nations in New York, Vienna and Geneva where they take part at the Human Rights Council and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. It has General Consultative Status at UNICEF (New York) and the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), and maintain operational relations with UNESCO (Paris). IHEU has observer status at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

At the UN in New York, the IHEU representation follows the work of the General Assembly and some of the committees, as well as taking active part in the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

At the UN in Geneva, the IHEU delegation is following closely the work of the UN Human Rights Council, and taking active part in the activities of the council and the other Non-Governmental Organisations there.

The Freedom of thought Report is the biggest thing IHEU does. It covers every country in the world, and is looking at issues as diverse as family law and religious identity, blasphemy and apostasy laws, as well as constitutional issues. It all assume a human rights based approach.

Campaign against Blasphemy Laws is another important part of their work. They aim to save lives by relocating verified at-risk individuals; to promote public knowledge of the threat to the non-religious; and to lobby for reform, justice and protection of those under threat.

Saudi Arabia has a place on UN Women’s Rights Commission which “brings our valuable international institutions into disrepute” – IHEU. Only one state in the world bans women from driving: Saudi Arabia. Saudi law encodes numerous forms of oppression against women, including segregation between unrelated men and women, strict rules on covering hair and body in public, and a ban on women traveling without a “guardian”. Ultra-conservative Salafi Islam is used as justification for this undeniable oppression.

By contrast, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is a panel whose role is “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women”.

To support the Future of the Global Movement there is a youth movement IHEYO, and a campaign to develop Humanist Groups in developing parts of the world.

The Amsterdam Declaration was agreed at the WHO in 1952 and updated in 2002. It was adopted by the IHEU General Assembly and has become the official defining statement of World Humanism. It can be found at  

World Humanist Day is celebrated every year on June 21. It is an opportunity for humanists and humanist organisations to publicise the positive values of Humanism and to share the global concerns of the Humanist movement, and we’ve been celebrating the day since the 1980s. There are many ways of celebrating the event. We chose to use our monthly meeting to find out more about this important organisation, the IHEU.