Review: Human Rights in Action

A review of our November meeting by SELHuG committee member Helen Warner

The advocacy work of Humanists International with speaker Lillie Ashworth.

Humanists International (HI) is the global representative body of the humanist movement and a non-governmental organisation (NGO) with special consultative status at the United Nations. The charity focuses their work on defending human rights, particularly those of non-religious people, and promoting humanist values world-wide through advocacy and casework. 

Attendees were surprised to find out that there are only 8 staff (including the CEO, all based in London) and asked how the organisation is funded. Lillie explained that funding comes through membership, with a large percentage via the Norwegian (government funded) Humanists, special projects and fund raising. 

The advocacy work centres on key aims:

Freedom of thought and expression: particularly dealing with blasphemy and apostasy laws; cultural and artistic rights and promoting critical thinking, e.g. censorship issues around the world; advocating on school curriculums.

Equality and non-discrimination: such as the rights of women, e.g. sexual and reproductive rights; the rights of children, e.g. FGM, forced marriages; racism and caste-based discrimination. Highlighting ‘harmful’ traditional practices, where culture or laws are used as a reason to discriminate against a group, e.g. LGBTI rights. 

Defending democracy: within this period of ‘post-fact’ rise of populism.

For more detailed information on the current advocacy work go here.

Human rights are threatened and abused daily across the world. Casework has expanded enormously over the last year to c.300. Currently, the focus has been on freedom of non-belief in Afghanistan and trying to support identified individuals to leave Afghanistan. Advocacy has been around talking to government embassies and other organisations on the ground. 

Over the next two years HI have funding to work in South Asia (India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) for training on freedom of religious belief and protecting human rights.

Having recently undertaken a strategic review, HI are focusing on working with the United Nations via the Human Rights Council, General Assembly Third committee and the Committee on the status of women.

There was a challenge from attendees that there is a potential risk that the organisation may, with a ‘missionary zeal’, too readily try to impose western cultural values in their work and some lively discussion on the complexities around this. Lillie emphasised that Humanists International work through, and engage with, local people to spearhead campaigns and frame all work in terms of human rights. For example, a belief in witchcraft is not the issue but one that uses witchcraft as the rationale to discriminate and murder certain groups is.

Lillie highlighted two recent publications:

The Freedom of Thought Report 2021 – a global study: link here

The Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief, A Good Practice Guide: link here

You can access the slides from Lillie’s presentation here:

If you are interested in supporting further, you can sign up for the monthly newsletter or join as an individual member

They are also currently running a Humanists at Risk Fundraiser – we encourage you to visit the JustGiving page and contribute if you feel able.