Humanists remind European Parliament that human rights can only be secular


Humanists remind European Parliament that human rights can only be secular

Posted on the 12/12/18

Poster of the event organised by the European Parliament

On 4 December, the European Parliament organized an event entitled Dialogue seminar with churches and religious communities: Religion and Human Rights within the EU – A shared responsibility.

The event was organized in the framework of the European Parliament’s dialogue with churches and non-confessional organization under Article 17 of the Treaty on the European Union. It was chaired by Mairead McGuiness, Vice-president of the European Parliament in charge of this dialogue.

The event was composed of two panels: the first one focused on “Evaluating the EU’s Framework for defending human rights in the EU” while the second one was dedicated to “Human Rights challenges and solutions in the EU”.

Humanists advocate for secularism as it is the only democratic principle that provides a framework for the effective realization of human rights.

By separating the state from religious organizations and by committing it to full neutrality, secularism ensures that everyone is treated on equal footing. Secularism therefore is by definition a necessary condition for the implementation of fundamental freedoms.

Among the speakers, Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency emphasized that when it comes to human rights, the role of churches is often seen from a negative angle although many positive contributions to the implementation of human rights by faith-based communities exist. He called on efforts to increase religious literacy in public debate in order to better grasp the role of churches and religion in this domain.

Birgit van Hout, Regional Representative for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reminded the audience, among other elements, that Human Rights cannot be subjected to religious norms.

Virginie Rozière, French MEP and co-chair of the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics acknowledged the role that religious organisations play in the implementation of certain human rights. She however also mentioned many others where the role of many religious organizations is detrimental.

She reminded the audience about the issues encountered in the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul convention. She mentioned for instance that in Slovakia, religious groups openly campaign against the convention spreading lies about its content and trying to impose a traditionalist vision of society stemming from religious dogma.

Giulio Ercolessi, President of the European Humanist Federation confirmed the analysis of MEP Rozière. He praised religious organizations for having made a long way since much darker times where most of their actions and doctrines were in full contradiction with human rights. He however also warned about continued positions and practices of many churches, including the Catholic Church, that directly undermine and threaten a number of other human rights. These particularly concern the health and safety of women and LGBTI people, end of life dignity and indoctrination at young age.

He also called on EU institutions to show the same determination in standing up for Bangladeshi humanist bloggers stabbed to death by Islamist groups or jailed for “blasphemy offence” as for rightfully helping Asia Bibi (a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for ‘Blasphemy’ and threatened by Islamists) and her relatives to find asylum in Europe.

The EHF is glad that such a debate took place in an event that was initially organized only with religious organizations. Despite the many areas where certain churches are at odds with basic human rights, we rejoice at the contribution they make in putting certain other ones in practice.

We however have to assert firmly that standing for human rights is by no means only a religious virtue. We feel compelled to remind that there cannot be any hierarchy between human rights, that Freedom of Religion or Belief does not supersede any other human rights.

This is why humanists advocate for secularism as it is the only democratic principle that provides a framework for the effective realization of human rights. By separating the state from religious organizations and by committing the state to full neutrality, secularism ensures that everyone is treated on equal footing. Therefore, secularism is by definition a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the implementation of fundamental freedoms.


Humanists present Freedom of Thought Report in the European Parliament


Posted on the 06/12/18

The European Humanist Federation and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) presented the Freedom of Thought Report 2018, this year’s edition of the yearly status report prepared by the IHEU.

The report documents the discriminations faced by people around the world because of their non-religious beliefs. It covers every independent country in the world and looks at issues like how freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression and association are respected in law and in practice.

The event was hosted by MEPs Sophie In’t Veld and Virginie Rozière who welcomed a panel of speakers stemming from very different horizons. Together, they shed light on the many discriminations that non-believers, free thinkers and humanists face across the world today.

Among the speakers, Bob Churchill, Communications Director at the IHEU and main editor of the report provided an overview of the many persecutions, discriminations death and jail sentences endured by many non-believers in a number of countries. He emphasized the 19 countries in the world that brutally repress the expression of humanist values. He called the attention of the audience on the fact that 6 countries in the world punish apostasy with prison sentences and 12 others 12 with death. He added that 71 countries punish blasphemy, out of which 7 with a death sentence. Moreover, in 34 countries in the world, law is partly or entirely derived from religion and in 30 countries in the world, it is difficult or illegal to run a humanist organization.

Jan Figel, Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) outside the EU, reminded the audience that Freedom of Religion or Belief includes the freedom not to believe or to change one’s religion. He also explained his view that the level of respect for Freedom of Religion or Belief in a country is a test for the level of democracy in general, as FoRB encompasses many fundamentals such as freedom of expression or freedom of assembly. He also emphasized that in his view instead of a confrontative approach with countries violating FoRB, a more encouraging approach should be adopted with those where change is happening.

The highlight of the event however was the testimonies provided by two atheist activists who fled their countries because of death threats from Islamists.

Karrar Hamza Al Asfoor, an Iraqi atheist activist who manages one of the largest atheist Facebook groups of his country told about the doubts he experienced since early childhood about the contradictions of his family’s faith, Islam. He explained that relinquishing his faith and how this cost him his entire social life. He became a known activist managing large atheist, feminist and pro-LGBT Facebook groups in Irak. After having fled to Greece, he is struggling against Islamist attempts to shut down his atheist Facebook groups arguing that the fact that most people in these groups – understandably – use fake identities,  violates Facebook’s terms of services. Many groups have already been shut down in this way

His contributions were complemented by Nacer Amari, a Tunisian human rights activist, Co-Founder of United Atheists of Europe and Prometheus Europe. Mr. Amari explained that despite a reputation of being quite secularized Tunisia still has a blasphemy law, there still is a state religion declared in Article 1 of the Constitution and public office can be held only by Muslims. Many other examples exist.

The panel was concluded by Giulio Ercolessi, President of the European Humanist Federation who called for breaking the populist and extremist views that see all those coming to our countries as necessarily opposite and different from us. On the contrary, he emphasized that many who come to Europe appreciate our European open societies, our civic values and our rule of law more than populist politicians.

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Will European Parliament truly stand up for all people persecuted worldwide?


Will European Parliament truly stand up for all people persecuted worldwide?

The role of Special Envoy Jan Figel is currently under discussion by MEPs. [EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET]

On 6 December, the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee will vote an important report for people who are mistreated, discriminated or persecuted for their beliefs worldwide, writes Giulio Ercolessi. At stake here is whether the EU will step up for everyone whose human rights are violated worldwide, including non-believers.

Giulio Ercolessi is the president of the European Humanist Federation.

It all started in 2016 after strong lobbying by the Catholic Church urging the EU to take a stand against the persecution of Christian minorities in the world. The response was the creation of the position of EU Special Envoy on the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU.

Ján Figeľ, the first such Envoy, former Commissioner, Slovak politician and convinced Christian, was appointed by Jean-Claude Juncker at a special ceremony in the Vatican, in presence of Pope Francis. The tone was set.

Two years on, there has been no reporting or evaluation of the work of the Special Envoy. The priorities of the mandate have never been clearly defined despite several requests by MEPs. Tireless efforts of non-confessional organisations to raise awareness about the reality of humanists, atheists and freethinkers persecuted for their beliefs worldwide resulted in more attention being paid to the matter by the Special Envoy, at least in words.

However, at the political level and especially within the European People’s Party, the understanding that the EU cannot only focus on the protection of Christians but has to stand up for the protection of all people discriminated for their beliefs, whether religious or not, is still far from being secured.

This lack of recognition was confirmed during a meeting held on 5 November by Polish EPP (Christian-democrat) MEP Andrzej Grzyb, the rapporteur of a report asking for the strengthening of the Special Envoy’s mandate.

In an offensive and particularly rude speech, one member of the EPP Working Group for Interreligious Dialogue requested that the mandate be limited to the protection of Christian minorities only, insisting on the need to raise Christian values as European ones.

He even questioned the usefulness of discussing these issues with non-believers – “those people who believe in nothing”.

Across Europe and worldwide, humanist, rationalist, atheist, laïque organisations work on the field and with decision-makers to build a better society and make sure that everyone is allowed to believe or not.

They work with their Home Offices, pleading the cause of atheists, humanists and freethinkers at risk in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mauritania or Sudan. They work with migrants and asylum-seekers in Europe, ensuring they are sheltered, fed and treated with dignity.

They work in school with pupils and children, giving them the tools to become responsible and critical-thinking adults. They campaign for non-discrimination and equality, trying to advance women’s and LGBTI’s rights. They offer humanist counselling for people in hospitals and prisons and provide humanist ceremonies for people’s major life steps.

Drafted and endorsed by the EPP group, the Grzyb report, in its original form, excluded all issues related to non-believers and completely ignored the work of non-confessional organisations. It praised the role of churches, religious communities and faith-based organisations in a wide range of areas (peace building, fighting radicalisation and humanitarian work) and invited them to collaborate further with EU institutions.

Now, after fierce discussions, compromises seem to have been found to take into account the persecution of both believers and non-believers and recognize the work performed by humanist organisations worldwide. However, issues do not stop here.

First, given prior experience, one can rightfully have doubts that intentions will be followed by deeds.

For instance, one would expect the same energy in standing up for Bangladeshi humanist bloggers stabbed to death by Islamist groups or jailed for “blasphemy offence” by their own government since 2015 as for helping Asia Bibi (a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for ‘Blasphemy’ and threatened by Islamists) and her relatives to find asylum in Europe.

The latter case was – and we praise that – championed by MEPs Antonio Tajani and Peter van Dalen, the co-chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Second, the report currently discussed in the EP Foreign Affairs Committee foresees an institutionalization of the EU Special Envoy into a Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief serving a multi-year mandate. A Special Representative, who in the mind of the drafters, would have solely spoken up for Christian minorities.

Even if now it seems that other beliefs or non-beliefs will also be included – the compromises still have to be confirmed by the vote on 6 December – many rightfully question why there should be a Special Representative dedicated to this specific human right and not to other ones.

Especially, the mandate of the representative, if this position is to be institutionalised, must in our opinion explicitly include discriminations based on any possible cause for individual non-conformity with religious groups’ pressure and pretensions, including sexual orientation and gender. And what will be the relation between this person and the existing EU Special Representative for Human Rights?

At the European Humanist Federation, we stand for the protection of all human rights. While it will potentially contribute to effectively help certain persecuted people, appointing a Special Representative focusing on only one human right seems to have a lot to do with the intention to voice a political affirmation on the roots of Europe.

Beyond debating the missions of a Special Representative, what is capital is that people persecuted throughout the world for their beliefs, their life stances or their differences systematically find in EU officials a reliable source of effective support, both in words and deeds, whether they are Christian or not.

With the European elections approaching, more than ever, the European Humanist Federation will keep drawing the attention on the imperative need for EU institutions to be fully neutral when it comes to their relationships with confessional and non-confessional preoccupations.

Polina Papanikolaou to address European Parliament on Women and Disabilities tomorrow [live coverage 18h00-18h10 CET]


09-10-2018 – Hearing on the rights of persons with disabilities

PETI 04-10-2018 – 16:46


The Committee on Petitions each year receives a considerable number of petitions referring to difficulties encountered by people with disabilities in the EU in various fields, such as access to employment, education systems or public transport facilities.

Following a prior public hearing on the topic held by the Committee on 19 October 2015, the upcoming hearing will focus on two specific aspects: i) the legal capacity of persons with disabilities and their right to vote, in the run-up to the European elections in May 2019, and ii) women and disabilities.

The hearing will present the possibility to exchange views with experts, including representatives of the Fundamental Rights Agency and the European Commission, on the role the Committee on Petitions can play in protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, in the context of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

[Addition: Polina Papanikolaou is also a contributor to Greek Helsinki Monitor‘s reports on the rights of persons with diabilities to the UN and elsewhere. The hearing will be transmitted live at]

Final Programme PETI Hearing on The rights of persons with disabilities-1

Final Programme PETI Hearing on The rights of persons with disabilities-2

Requested by the PETI committee

2018 Update of the Study on
the protection role of the Committee on Petitions
in the context of the implementation of the UN Convention
on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities





Greece continues to foster and promote anti-minority behaviors

One month after the attack of Golden Dawn MPs and militants against a debate on minorities in Athens, organised by EFA member party DEB, and the Greek authorities are yet to conduct a thorough, transparent and impartial investigation to bring the well-known perpetrators before justice.

Commenting on the situation, EFA President Francois Alfonsi underlines: “For yet another time, we have witnessed acts of violence during a debate organized by a minority party in Greece. The perpetrators are the same and well-known to the Greek state and para-state. Yet, the results always remain the same. No one ever gets to be held accountable for these despicable acts. The people who disrupted the event of our member party DEB were identical to those who did the same back in 2009 during the presentation of the Macedonian –Greek dictionary, organized by our other member in Greece, EFA-Rainbow. The only alarming difference is that now these fascists are members of the Greek parliament. This fact alone speaks on how worse things have become for minorities in Greece.”


This text in Greek

This text in Turkish

Βίντεο από εισβολές Χρυσής Αυγής σε εκδηλώσεις ΕΠΣΕ-ΚΙΕΦ/DEB (Αθήνα 12/12/2016) και ABTFF (Βρυξέλλες 2/3/2016) για τις εθνικές μειονότητες στην Ελλάδα