This is your new Members Newsletter from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
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January 2016

Panel event for the launch of the IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2015, at the European Parliament in December

Welcome to your new Members Newsletter

This is the new Members Newsletter for IHEU Member Organizations! Previously, we have been writing to you with the most important news from the IHEU, but it is time that we have a more permanent, open and regular conversation.

With this in mind, in the past few years we have been asking for more email addresses for staff and representatives at IHEU Member Organizations – including you! And now, with this broader base of contact, and with a growing staff team ourselves, we want to stay in much closer contact.

We hope this Members Newsletter will help us all work together to stay informed, to share ideas and to collaborate as a global, democratic movement. Keep reading below, and we would love to hear your comments and ideas on this new format.

Email us your feedback
(Left to right) Siddhartha Dhar (Bangladesh blogger), Bob Churchill (IHEU), Dennis de Jong MEP, Elizabeth O'Casey (IHEU), and Heiner Bielefeldt (UN Special Rapporteur) at the European Parliament launch of the Freedom of Thought Report 2015.

IHEU Freedom of Thought Report welcomed at European Parliament

The latest edition of the IHEU Freedom of Thought Report was given a a "clear and unambiguous" welcome by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief at our launch event in Brussels last month. Responding to our evidence on violations in Saudi Arabia, one MEP even said, “Why should we pamper Saudi Arabia for oil? We can be too sweet and moderate, and it’s time the EU gets tough”!

You can read all about the launch on the IHEU website, including reactions to the new edition, and how Members like the Dutch Humanist Association, Humanistisch Verbond, and the American Humanist Association are promoting and working with the Report.

New IHEU Director of Advocacy

Today we are announcing that Elizabeth O'Casey has taken up the brand new role of Director of Advocacy (based in Brussels at the offices of deMens.nu). Our Chief Executive Carl Blackburn says, "International advocacy is a key area of work for IHEU. Elizabeth will be working to create a higher profile for humanists at international institutions and campaigning for progressive policy changes." Read the full announcement on the IHEU website.

Advocacy and Campaigns

News on our policy agenda, campaigns, and advocacy work

Poet's apostasy death sentence

We joined around 60 human rights organizations internationally, protesting the death sentence handed down to Ashraf Fayadh in Saudi Arabia.

Following an unfair trial during which he was denied access to a lawyer, Fayadh was accused of (among other things) promoting atheism in his poetry, then in November he was found guilty of "apostasy". Read more on the case and the full open letter.

This month we also promoted and participated in a Worldwide Readings event in solidarity with the condemned poet, coordinated by the Berlin International Literature Festival.

Response to Paris attacks

Our statement on the November Paris attacks was well-received (and widely-shared on Facebook and on Twitter).

With so much of the world experiencing tensions around migration, terror and extremism, we focused on the need to "always promote humanity and hope over hatred and fear".

We also wrote to the President Hollande, and received an official reply stating that he was moved by our message and stressing that "the values of tolerance, peace and freedom" would never be given up, and that, "In this particularly difficult period the messages of friendship and solidarity that we received from the entire world... are a valuable aid in our fight against hatred and barbarism".

The year ahead at international forums

Here is your sneak preview of the year ahead in IHEU representation!
We will continue to use the Freedom of Thought Report, making the most of our investment of time and effort, using our evidence as a basis for advocacy especially on issues around secular equality and rights violations. In lobbying terms a significant effort this year will be on the European Union resolution on 'freedom of religion or belief', ensuring the EU takes the right approach: favouring individual human rights and freedom of expression.

We'll be putting more focus on South America, a priority region for IHEU, because it is seeing huge demographic change and opportunities but also a considerable fightback from religious conservatives.

More immediately, we were conducting training in Croatia last week on religious fundamentalist lobbying (drawing on experiences in Russia and USA) and we'll be using this experience to produce a written paper. At the Human Rights Council we will likely focus on Saudi Arabia's continually worsening behaviour, including Ashraf Fayadh's case (see above). We'll share more details with you next time, when the formal agenda for the March session in Geneva is confirmed, and we'll keep you updated on all our advocacy work throughout the year.

Bangladesh: in public and behind the scenes

After hacking to death four humanist bloggers, Avijit Roy, Washqiur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das and Niladri Chatterjee in 2015, unknown murderers most recently attacked publishing houses and killed a secular publisher, Faysal Arefin Dipon.

The IHEU has been very vocal publicly on the issue of Islamist extremist violence against humanists and freethinkers in Bangladesh during this crisis; we have been speaking on the issue at the UN, organizing an unprecedented joint open letter (reported in Bangladeshi national media) and monitoring and lobbying on the response by the authorities.

At the same time, behind the scenes, we have built and maintained an intelligence network of secular Bangladeshi contacts enabling us to monitor, analyse and verify all aspects of the crisis. We have been working with verified individuals under serious threat and with some Member Organizations able to provide local support for relocation. We met with the European External Action Service both to lobby and to advise them. And we were a founding member of a new informal network coordinating between various support and relocation institutions (such as Shelter Cities) and human rights organizations such as Amnesty and PEN; together we are verifying, referring and supporting at-risk persecuted freethinkers whenever we can.

Membership

News and achievements by IHEU Member Organizations

Icelandic Humanists' research goes viral

The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, Siðmennt, has commissioned a survey which found increasing social secularization in the country. One finding, that "0.0%" of young people (25 or under) believe in Creationism, went viral. Siðmennt tells us they were inundated with national media requests and international attention.

As managing director Bjarni Jonsson (pictured above) says, "It should be emphasized that when people stop believing, it has no effect on morality." The poll found not only decreased rates of literalist religious belief, but also a preference for Siðmennt has advocated, including church-state separation and reform of the law on assisted dying. Read more analysis, and comment from Bjarni as well as IHEU president Andrew Copson, at IHEU.org.

Third International Conference on Untouchability

The Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal, is hosting the Third International Conference on Untouchability, 14-15 April 2016 in Kathmandu.

IHEU supported the first world "Untouchability" conference, in London in 2009, and the second conference, also in Kathmandu in 2014. The Third International Conference on Untouchability is funded in part by the IHEU-Hivos grants program.

Discrimination based on "caste" is a clear issue of human dignity, sustained by cultural taboo and religious dogma, prevalent in far too many parts of the world, yet often under-represented in international human rights work. As such, IHEU has actively campaigned on caste discrimination many times over the years.

Reason Rally

In the United States, Reason Rally 2016 is once again supported by IHEU Member Organizations including the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Center for Inquiry, the Freethought Society, and MAAF, working together on this national show of strength. Details at: reasonrally.org.

International Darwin Day

And don't forget 12th February is Darwin Day, aiming to "to inspire people throughout the globe to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity, scientific thinking, and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin." If your organization is marking the day with an event of any kind, make sure it is registered and mapped on the international site run by the American Humanist Association at darwinday.org.

Carl Blackburn,
IHEU Chief Executive

"I am proud to have joined IHEU at this time, as our work is being evermore recognised and celebrated, and with the worldwide need for humanist values clearer than ever. With the support of you, our members, IHEU is growing. But we face many challenges.

With the elected Executive Committee, I've been making strategic plans since my appointment in October, and I look forward to working more closely and collaboratively with members.

I want to thank all those at IHEU Member Organizations who contributed to the most recent edition of the Freedom of Thought Report. This year we will be migrating the Freedom of Thought research online, with a dedicated webpage for every country in the world. It means that your contributions will be more visible and the Report more important than ever.

I am also finalizing the details of a special IHEU Policy Working Group. This will take forward the discussions and decisions of members at last year's General Assembly in Manila, ensuring IHEU has up to date, relevant and consistent policies.

I welcome any feedback, questions or requests for additional information that you may have. IHEU is a democratic organization that belongs to its Members, and I want you to feel properly informed and involved. Happy new year!"

News from around the world that you may have missed...

Measures to prevent child "marriage" in Pakistan were shot down because the proposed law was branded "blasphemous" by the Council of Islamic Ideology. The head of that Council has previously argued that girls as young as 9 should be eligible for marriage.

After "distortion" by the far-right, France is revising how it teaches secularism in schools, emphasising to students "that whatever their faith, they belong to this idea and they’re not excluded. Secularism is not something against them; it protects them".

It was said on 23rd December that Boko Haram was "technically" defeated and there is some evidence that this terror group plaguing northern Nigeria has been "militarily degraded". However the conflict is "ongoing"; Boko Haram are "down but not out".

And a year on from the Charlie Hebdo massacre, columnist Ian O'Doherty for the Irish Independent highlights how the "lessons of free speech 'Charlie Hebdo' taught us have been forgotten already".

United Nations observances in February

The first week of next month, 1 – 7 February, is World Interfaith Harmony Week. Unfortunately this week has previously been cast as "deeply rooted in the world’s major religions", apparently precluding nonreligious lifestances. Nevertheless it may be a chance to raise humanist voices and to engage in dialogue.

6 February: International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

11 February: International Day of Women and Girls in Science (no website appears to exist yet, but it was apparently approved last year)

20 February: World Day of Social Justice.
Raphael Vassallo of the Malta Humanist Association at the IHEU General Assembly in Bucharest, 2013

IHEU General Assembly

We sent out the formal notice last week, and if you haven't done so yet please save these dates: Friday 20 – Sunday 22 May.

Alongside the General Assembly of our friends at the European Humanist Federation (Friday 20 May) and a conference by our hosts the Malta Humanist Association (Saturday 21 May) this year's IHEU General Assembly is on Sunday 22 May at the Grand Hotel Excelsior in Valletta. Delegates from your organization can register now on the notice page and we'll send more information to delegates in due course.

(Pictured: Raphael Vassallo of the Malta Humanist Association at the IHEU General Assembly in Bucharest, 2013.)

A Better Life

We plan to have a special preview screening of the documentary A Better Life at the IHEU General Assembly in Malta this year.

The film's director Chris Johnson will join us, and he's also interested in touring film screenings to IHEU Members around the world.

If your organization might be interested in hosting Chris and a showing a screening of A Better Life, let us know and we'll put you in touch.
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