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Saturday, 12 April 2008

17th World Humanist Congress

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has announced that the 17th World Humanist Congress will be held on 6–8 June 2008 in Washington, DC (USA). Anyone interested in attending can register here. The IHEU General Assembly 2008 will also be held in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the Congress, on Thursday, 5 June (9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.), and Sunday, 8 June 2008 (2.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.). Forms to register for the General Assembly, make nominations to fill the two vice-president vacancies on the IHEU executive committee and propose resolutions for the GA and/or the Congress are available on the website.

What follows is a summary of IHEU's latest news update.

  • Freedom of expression: A vote on the freedom of expression marks the end of Universal Human Rights. For the past eleven years, the organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), representing the 57 Islamic states, have been tightening their grip on the throat of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
         On 28 March 2008, they finally killed it. In a follow-up to IHEU's written statement to the UN Human Rights Council describing Islamic efforts to undermine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Roy Brown, IHEU's main representative at the UN in Geneva, prepared an oral statement (below) for Council debate on 13 March 2008 but was prevented from giving it in full because of repeated objections from two Islamic delegations. Reuters, Yahoo! and a number of other news channels have picked up the story.
         Meanwhile, a representative of Pakistan used “point of order” to claim, “It is insulting for our faith to discuss Shari’a here in this forum.” A video of the "ambush" of IHEU at last week's session of the United Nations Human Rights Council is now available.
         The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, has submitted an important report to the UN Human Rights Council (which has just been published) defending the freedom of expression. Most of the report is concerned with blatant violations of press freedom, including the arbitrary detention and murder of journalists; but he shares IHEU's concerns about inappropriate attempts to extend limitations on freedom of expression to give unfair "protection" to religions.
         The International League Against Racism and Antisemitism has launched a petition calling on democracies to defend the freedom of the individual at the UN, in the face of attacks on the universality of human rights. To sign the petition, send an email to
  • IHEU–HIVOS grants: IHEU, in partnership with HIVOS, has announced the recipients of its latest funding round. In June 2006, IHEU was awarded a three-year "block grant" of €225,000 from HIVOS for the purpose of funding projects in the developing world. The grant covers the years 2006, 2007 and 2008. IHEU then invited grant proposals through this website, International Humanist News and by word of mouth. The grants were decided on the basis of IHEU's published grant criteria.
  • China and Tibet: The Chinese delegation to the Human Rights Council succeeded in blocking all criticism of their actions in Tibet by invoking a series of 12 points of order during statements by the United States, Switzerland and Slovenia (for the European Union), while several states, including Zimbabwe, Cuba and Pakistan, raised points of order in favour of China. As the general debate degenerated, point of order followed point of order until the chairman, Ambassador Costea of Romania, called for a ten-minute adjournment to allow tempers to cool.
  • Conference: New dilemmas in medicine: three current controversies in genetics, religion and big pharma is a one-day conference organised by IHEU-Appignani Center for Bioethics and Bioethics International.
  • India: In a shocking affront to freedom of expression, Tarksheel Society of Punjab reports that the Punjab government in India has banned four rationalist books and threatened legal action against the authors and translators. The supposed grounds for the ban are that the books are “incorrect literature” about Hindu deities. Meanwhile, IHEU has welcomed a final report by the outgoing Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, Asma Jahangir, warning of the risk of religious violence in India, and has used a meeting with her to highlight human rights problems in the country. At a meeting in Mumbai on 11 March 2008, IHEU International Director Babu Gogineni made a presentation to Jahangir on separation of religion and state in India and the rights of Humanists.
  • BHA: The British Humanist Association (BHA) has launched a new website of resources to support learning about Humanism, including videos featuring celebrated children’s author Philip Pullman. At the heart of the new site are six “toolkits” of resources, each containing a slideshow of videos and other content, supported by teachers’ notes and student worksheets. In addition, downloadable PDFs contain revised versions of the BHA’s briefings on ethical and philosophical issues from a Humanist perspective, previously hosted on the BHA’s main website and much used by teachers and students. Videos integrated into the toolkits (but also available to download from the site for use in other contexts) include humanists talking about their beliefs and values.Arab Charter on Human Rights: The charter came into force on 30 January 2008. In response, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, stressed that the charter is incompatible with international standards for women’s, children’s and non-citizens’ rights, and that it continues to equate Zionism with racism.
  • The Libre Pensée Marches Ahead at Full Speed!: Freethinkers in France will remember fondly the Easter weekend of 2008 for many years. On the allegedly Good Friday of 21 March, about 50 banquets were organised by freethinkers. This is a tradition that goes back to a grand antireligious banquet organised in 1868 in Paris, at the behest of Sainte-Beuve, Ernest Renan, Prince Napoleon and other republicans of the time: it was to break a religious taboo, as on this day it was traditionally forbidden to eat “flesh meat”. Read more here.
  • Islamic Law v. Human Rights: IHEU has responded to claims that the “Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam” is “not an alternative” to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but “complementary” to it. In a written statement to the UN Human Rights Council, IHEU opposed any resolution that seeks to limit the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. We now have the official UN publication of the statement available for download.
  • Obstetric fistula: “The Impact of Obstetric Fistulas on Economic Empowerment” was the title of a topic dissected by a unique panel discussion held in New York City on 3 March 2008. The medical and socioeconomic impact of obstetric fistulas was considered under the auspices of the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women, with the co-sponsorship of the IHEU-Appignani Center for Bioethics.
  • International rights: IHEU vice-president Rob Buitenweg has published Human Rights, Human Plights in a Global Village.
  • In memoriam: Sib Narayan Ray died on 26 February 2008 in Santiniketan, India, at the age of 85. Ray served on the IHEU executive committee from 1952 to 1962.
  • Embryology Bill: Finally, IHEU has covered the press release issued by the PTT in March. “The gay Humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust has added its voice to those of the hundreds of charities that are supporting the UK government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. It also endorses the eminent scientist and fertility expert Professor Lord (Robert) Winston’s description of the Catholic Church's statement on this as ‘lying’ and ‘misleading’.”

For more about IHEU, visit its website here.

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