Persecuted for his beliefs: the experience of an atheist refugee

ehf

Posted on the 18/12/18

Karrar Hamza Al Asfoor is a 31 years old Iraqi activist who was the first person to be granted asylum in Greece because he is an atheist. Back home, he was actively engaged in promoting atheism. This prompted Ismalist groups to threaten him. He fled to Europe in order to find safety and be able to continue his activist work. Karrar is also a representative of Netherlands based Nasawiya feminist organization.

We had the honor to meet him in Brussels and we asked him to tell us a little bit more about himself, his work and how he feels now that he is in Europe.


When you grow up in our society, there is no chance for asking questions or having doubts. Religion surrounds you. It’s everywhere. Losing one’s faith is difficult and scary.


EHF: How did you become an atheist?

When I was four years old, my mother told me about the night journey of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed who traveled through the whole universe on a flying horse. My reaction was that I laughed: already at that young age, I had to conclude that that was a myth. What struck me is how afraid my mother got, as she feared God’s punishment for this lack of respect. I got very scared and started to cry.

Already at that age, I experienced the fact that religion was taboo and there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed even though many questions went unanswered. For instance, how come everyone around me was so sure that the right way to heaven is the one prescribed by Islam, while, in the meantime, there are so many other religions? Were those people wrong? Weren’t they thinking the same about us?

I grew up in a religious family but I was not practicing Islam as such. For me, it was more a spiritual feeling. In 2015 however, I was looking for views about the meaning of life on the internet when I came across a page on Facebook. This page was criticizing religion. As I kept reading, many of the questions from my childhood came back to me. I started critically examining Islam, got agnostic for a few months until I ultimately relinquished my faith completely.

Did this have an impact on your social life?

Iraq has a very patriarchal, religious and tribal society. Living in such a society is exhausting for anyone but in the case of a non-believer, it’s a total nightmare.

I lost my social life. I could not fit into the society and I therefore spent most of my time in my room, alone, in front of the laptop. I built up my own world on social media. I laughed, I cried and I made friends on social media. Most of them had fake identities because being openly atheist in a Muslim society could lead to their murder. I, however, could not stay in the shadow. I decided to be active with my real identity.

I engaged in a number of debates on social media in different atheist Facebook groups. I wanted to contribute to changing society. So I joined these groups and became the admin of 4 of them. Some were public groups, others were closed ones. One of the biggest was called The world of feminism and atheism. It had almost 100 thousand members.


Many atheists are persecuted. Some of them are kicked out of their house, others are beaten or imprisoned and others are killed. Many incidents go undocumented because the honor of the family has to be protected.


That is truly impressive! How does this work in practice?

When you grow up in our society, there is no chance for asking questions or having doubts. Religion surrounds you. It’s everywhere. Losing one’s faith is difficult and scary. So we try to attract people to these groups, engage in debates with them and try to convert them into atheists. The idea is to try and open the eyes of as many people as possible so that one day we can declare a secular state.

Of course, this is not easy; often we end up with insults or being cursed. In these cases, we try shock therapy by openly disrespecting some religious symbols and showing that nothing happens. God’s revenge or punishment is not coming…

You also work on women’s rights. Can you tell us about that?

Women’s situation is horrible. They completely lack rights and protection in Iraq as well as in other countries in the MENA region.

What they think, how they behave or what they wear is not up to them. Many spend their whole life among four walls. They are subject to violence, rape, and honor killings.

Most of the time, there is no criminal or media investigation because respecting the honor of the family is the most important under tribal and religious rule. The family should not suffer public shame.

So with other activists like Dareen Hasan and Worood Zuhair, we try to help as many women as we can. Sadly however, all we manage to achieve is raising awareness because the situation is totally beyond our resources.


When I arrived last year, Kos Solidarity offered me an opportunity to deliver a public speech in front of 80 people. It was the very first time in my life that I criticized Islam in public. It was an awesome feeling. I really can’t describe it. The taste of freedom is so different from anything else. I just wanted to speak after all, and they gave me the chance to do so!


And then, the threats came…

Indeed. I started receiving death threats constantly for both activities. I did not take them very seriously at the beginning but when I joined a gym in my neighborhood and three men came to threaten to kill me if I don’t suspend my social media activism, I got scared. One of them said “we are aware of your activism on Facebook, remove all your groups and pages and keep your atheism for yourself or otherwise, we will cut you in pieces and throw you to the dogs”.

Many atheists are persecuted. Some of them are kicked out of their house, others are beaten or imprisoned and others are killed. Many incidents go undocumented because the honor of the family has to be protected..

So I got home, I was extremely scared. I did not sleep that night as I realized how unfair the situation was. Indeed, no one could help me: even the authorities were part of the system. There is no rule of law, the country is controlled by tribes and Islamic militias. So, I decided to flee.

How did you arrive to Europe and how did the asylum procedure go?

Initially, I escaped to Turkey and from there I took a boat to Greece. It was a terrible experience. I however was optimistic as I knew I was on my way towards a land of freedom where I would be able to say what I want without being in danger.

The asylum procedure was extremely complex but I received help from the EHF, the IHEU, the Greek Humanist Union, the Council of Ex-muslims of Britain, the Atheist Union of Greece and Kos Solidarity. What really helped was that I had proof of my atheism thanks to my activity on social media. For others however, this is impossible as most atheists in Iraq keep their beliefs secret. So when the asylum authorities ask for proof, they can’t provide any.


I live in a neighborhood where there are a lot of other refugees. Many of them are Muslim. So, I have to do most of my activity in secret. Therefore, I still have to censor myself in my immediate surroundings, despite having arrived to Europe.


And how is life in Greece now? Are you still engaged in activism?

It is more difficult than I expected. Integrating is difficult. Apart from one time, I have received no support and I can’t find a job.

Housing-wise, it’s very complicated. Back on Kos Island, while I was waiting for my asylum papers, I could not stay at the refugee camp because it was full of Muslims and I was afraid. So I went to a hotel. Now, I am told that since I was not at the refugee camp, I cannot register for housing. I am also in contact with the Solidarity Now organization to apply for housing and join their mini business management course. I have to look for recommendations and contacts for that, else I heard my application might fail. So, for the moment, I depend on money sent to me by my family. But they will not be able to support me forever.

Although Greece is a quite religious country, the situation is incomparable to Middle Eastern countries. When I arrived last year, Kos Solidarity offered me an opportunity to deliver a public speech in front of 80 people. It was the very first time in my life that I criticized Islam in public. It was an awesome feeling. I really can’t describe it. The taste of freedom is so different from anything else. I just wanted to speak after all, and they gave me the chance to do so!

Greek people are very welcoming. People often immediately assume that I am Muslim. I understood this when in restaurants, they inform me about the food containing pork. However, when I tell them that I am an atheist, they understand. In the end, there is no difference: Muslim, Christian or atheist, we are all humans and they are not afraid of me.

And how about the death threats? Did they stop?

No. I still receive death threats on social media. They do not necessarily come only from Iraq though. They come from Arabic-speaking countries or even Arabic-speaking people in Europe or other countries.

At least I am not in the country anymore. The issue however is that I live in a neighborhood where there are a lot of other refugees. Many of them are Muslim. So, I have to do most of my activity in secret. Therefore, I still have to censor myself in my immediate surroundings, despite having arrived to Europe.

Of course, I continue being active in my Facebook groups and hope that I will be able to turn many people into atheists. We are however facing a number of issues online. Islamists use Facebook’s Terms of Services to their advantage. First, most of our members understandably use fake identities and this is not in line with Facebook’s rules. So Islamists report our groups or individual accounts and Facebook closes them down.

Furthermore, they also report our posts, groups, accounts and pages as containing hate speech or nudity. Criticizing ideas, religions and ideologies is however not hate speech. We also do not propagate nudity-related content. Some of my friends have to create accounts on daily basis.

Even if sometimes – rarely though – groups are restored, this harassment is extremely exhausting. It strongly hinders our efforts to enlighten people. In the meantime, Islamists have everything from large media corporations and hundreds of satellite channels to uncountable financial resources.

We tried to reach out to Facebook several times in the past but failed because Facebook does not provide any means of direct organizational contact for such specific issues. Also, these reports are regionally processed by their office in Dubai. This can explain why Islamist argumentation works. We are an oppressed minority and until a solution is found, Facebook is part of this oppression.

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Παρατηρητήριο Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων για Ελλάδα: Βίαιες απωθήσεις (pushbacks) στα σύνορα με την Τουρκία – Να δοθεί τέλος στις Συνοπτικές Επιστροφές και στην Ανεξέλεγκτη Βία

Να δοθεί τέλος στις Συνοπτικές Επιστροφές και στην Ανεξέλεγκτη Βία

Human Rights Watch on Greece: Violent Pushbacks at Turkey Border – End Summary Returns, Unchecked Violence

hrw

December 18, 2018

Greece: Violent Pushbacks at Turkey Border

End Summary Returns, Unchecked Violence

Δεσποτοπούλου: ξανά ένοχη για δυσφήμηση ΕΠΣΕ – Κακλαμάνης: εκδίκαση έφεσης κατά καταδίκης για συκοφάντηση ΕΠΣΕ

despotopoulou-kaklamanis

Σήμερα δύο διαφορετικά δικαστήρια εξέτασαν την υπόθεση συκοφάντησης-δυσφήμησης-εξύβρισης του Ελληνικού Παρατηρητηρίου των Συμφωνιών του Ελσίνκι (ΕΠΣΕ) σε συνέντευξη τύπου της 19 Απριλίου 2005 από τους τότε Υπουργό Υγείας Νικήτα Κακλαμάνη (σήμερα Αντιπρόεδρο της Βουλής) και Γενική Γραμματέα Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης Ιωάννα Δεσποτοπούλου.

Η αρχική συκοφαντική δυσφήμηση του ΕΠΣΕ από Νικήτα Κακλαμάνη και Ιωάννα Δεσποτοπούλου

Την ημέρα εκείνη, όπως κατέγραψαν πολλές εφημερίδες την επόμενη, με πληρέστερη κάλυψη από το Βασίλη Βενιζέλο στο ακόλουθο δημοσίευμα στην Αυγή, το Ελληνικό Παρατηρητήριο των Συμφωνιών του Ελσίνκι (ΕΠΣΕ) κατηγορήθηκε από τους δύο κυβερνητικούς παράγοντες πως παραπλανά τους διεθνείς οργανισμούς με ψευδή υπερβολικά στοιχεία για τα θύματα εμπορίας ανθρώπων προκειμένου να εισπράττει επιχορηγήσεις εκβιάζοντας το Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών και πως είναι μη κυβερνητική οργάνωση-σφραγίδα.

avgi 20-4-2005

Ανάλογους συκοφαντικούς ισχυρισμούς επανέλαβε η Ιωάννα Δεσποτοπούλου κατά του επόμενους μήνες σε δημόσιες εκδηλώσεις.

Η πρώτη μήνυση κατά Νικήτα Κακλαμάνη και Ιωάννας Δεσποτοπούλου που κρίθηκε ένοχη

Κατόπιν αυτού το ΕΠΣΕ μήνυσε για συκοφαντική δυσφήμηση τους δύο κυβερνητικούς παράγοντες. Η Βουλή δεν έδωσε άδεια να δικαστεί ο Νικήτας Κακλαμάνης. Αντίθετα, η  Ιωάννα Δεσποτοπούλου, στις 21 Μαρτίου 2012 κρίθηκε ένοχη για εξύβριση από το Α’ Τριμελές Πλημμελειοδικείο Αθηνών (Πρόεδρος Μαρία-Γεωργία Τσάμη, Μέλη Αλεξάνδρα Νόκα και Άννα Χριστοδούλου – Εισαγγελέας Ελένη Ράιου που είχε προτείνει την αθώωσή της λόγω αμφιβολιών), αλλά λόγω του ότι το αδίκημα είχε παραγραφεί υφ’ όρων με το Ν. 4043/2012 δεν της επιβλήθηκε ποινή.

Η δεύτερη συκοφαντική δυσφήμηση του ΕΠΣΕ από Ιωάννα Δεσποτοπούλου

Η Ιωάννα Δεσποτοπούλου όμως επανέλαβε τους συκοφαντικούς ισχυρισμούς της δύο μήνες αργότερα, στις 24 Μαΐου 2012 σε προτάσεις της σε πολιτικό δικαστήριο που δίκαζε αγωγή του ΕΠΣΕ εναντίον της, διανθίζοντάς τους και με νέους, πως το ΕΠΣΕ ισχυριζόταν δήθεν πως τα θύματα εμπορίας ανθρώπων στην Ελλάδα ήταν 20.000 (εκτίμηση του Καθηγητή του Παντείου Πανεπιστημίου Γρηγόρη Λάζου αλλά όχι του ΕΠΣΕ που τα εκτιμούσε περίπου στα 300) και όχι 13 όπως ισχυριζόταν η ίδια, και πως παραπλανούσε τους διεθνείς οργανισμούς και με ψευδείς ισχυρισμούς περί ύπαρξης μακεδονικής μειονότητας και τουρκικής μειονότητας στην Ελλάδα. Η αγωγή εκείνη απορρίφθηκε αφού το δικαστήριο δέχθηκε τους ισχυρισμούς της και εκκρεμεί η κατ’ έφεση εκδίκασή της.

Η δεύτερη μήνυση κατά Ιωάννας Δεσποτοπούλου που πάλι κρίθηκε ένοχη

Σήμερα, το Θ’ Μονομελές Πλημμελειοδικείο Αθηνών (Πρόεδρος Ευγενία Τζωρτζάτου) εξέτασε νέα μήνυση του ΕΠΣΕ για όλα αυτά που υπήρχαν στις προτάσεις εκέινες και έκρινε την κατηγορούμενη ένοχη για απλή δυσφήμηση αλλά λόγω του ότι το αδίκημα είχε παραγραφεί υφ’ όρων με το Ν. 4411/2016 δεν της επιβλήθηκε ποινή.

Δύο φορές, λοιπόν, το 2012 και το 2018, το τότε κυβερνητικό στέλεχος Ιωάννα Δεσποτοπούλου βρέθηκε ένοχο για εξύβριση ή  δυσφήμηση του ΕΠΣΕ.

Είναι αξιοσημείωτο πως ο Εισαγγελέας Ιωάννης Τριανταφυλλόπουλος έκρινε πως δεν υπήρχε αδίκημα γιατί ορθώς η Ιωάννα Δεσποτοπούλου απέδιδε στο ΕΠΣΕ τα στοιχεία του Γρηγόρη Λάζου για τον αριθμό των θυμάτων εμπορίας ανθρώπων αφού αυτός είναι μέλος του ΕΠΣΕ (όπερ ψευδέστατο, αφού άλλωστε κανένας δεν το ανέφερε στη διαδικασία)  και πως καλώς η Ιωάννα Δεσποτοπούλου αποκάλεσε ψεύδη τα περί μειονοτήτων αφού αυτές δεν υπάρχουν (και ας διαβάστηκαν οι σχετικές συστάσεις ΟΗΕ και Συμβουλίου της Ευρώπης και η απόφαση του ΕΔΔΑ για τη Στέγη Μακεδονικού Πολιτισμού)!

Είναι επίσης αξιοσημείωτο πως ο ένας από του δύο δικηγόρους υπεράσπισης της Ιωάννας Δεσποτοπούλου ήταν ο Κώστας Πλεύρης που δεν κάθισε μέχρι το τέλος και δεν αγόρευσε ενώ ο άλλο δικηγόρος της που κάθισε μέχρι το τέλος επίσης δεν αγόρευσε συντασσόμενος πλήρως με την τοποθέτηση και πρόταση του εισαγγελέα!

Η καταδίκη Νικήτα Κακλαμάνη και η εκδίκαση της έφεσής του

Μετά το τέλος της δίκης αυτής, στο Μονομελές Εφετείο Αθηνών εξετάσθηκε η έφεση του Νικήτα Κακλαμάνη που είχε καταδικασθεί ερήμην από το Μονομελές Πρωτοδικείο Αθηνών στις 4 Μαρτίου 2013 να καταβάλει αποζημίωση 40000 ευρώ στο ΕΠΣΕ και 40000 ευρώ στον Εκπρόσωπό του ΕΠΣΕ Παναγιώτη Δημητρά για τη συκοφαντική δυσφήμησή τους στις 19 Απριλίου 2005. Ο Νικήτας Κακλαμάνης κατέθεσε ο ίδιος για να δηλώσει πως οι φερόμενες από το δημοσίευμα της Αυγής (και άλλων εφημερίδων) δηλώσεις του περί ΜΚΟ-σφραγίδας δεν κατονόμαζαν το ΕΠΣΕ ενώ δεν αναφέρεται πουθενά τεκμηριωμένα η συμφωνία του με τις θέσεις της Ιωάννας Δεσποτοπούλου από τις οποίες προσπάθησε να αποστασιοποιηθεί. Επειδή δε σε σχετική ερώτηση ανέφερε πως οι συνεντεύξεις τύπου απομαγνητοφωνούνται, η Πρόεδρος ζήτησε από τη γραμματέα να ζητηθεί η απομαγνητοφώνηση από το Υπουργείο Υγείας. Η απόφαση θα εκδοθεί προσεχώς.

Ευχαριστίες στη δικηγόρο Ειρήνη Νομικού

Το ΕΠΣΕ θεωρεί υποχρέωσή του να ευχαριστήσει τη δικηγόρο Ειρήνη Νομικού που χειρίσθηκε σήμερα με εξαιρετικό τρόπο την πολιτική αγωγή κατά της Ιωάννας Δεσποτοπούλου στην πρώτη δίκη και την αντίκρουση της έφεσης του Νικήτα Κακλαμάνη στη δεύτερη δίκη. Απαραίτητο να υπενθυμισθεί πως τις αρχικές δίκες είχε χειρισθεί ο αξέχαστος Χρήστος Γραμματίδης (τη μία με το Βασίλη Σωτηρόπουλο).

Torture and ill-treatment by police officers in Greece

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Torture and ill-treatment by police officers in Greece

By Panayote Dimitras, Spokesperson, Greek Helsinki Monitor

In mid-August 2002, Georgios Sidiropoulos and Ioannis Papakostas, two youngsters who had never met each other before, were taken to an Athens police station on alleged traffic violations (never subsequently confirmed by the courts). A police officer on duty took them to an office and repeatedly used a taser gun against them, to punish them because they had allegedly resisted arrest. The complaints launched in the following days led to an administrative investigation that concluded that their claims were false as the officer simply had used a wireless . A criminal investigation which after several years led to the only trial in Greece where a police officer was irrevocably convicted for torture – a full 12 years after the eents, in 2014 . The sentence was a mere 5 years converted into the minimum fine possible of 5 euros per day. The officer convicted for torture did not spend even one day in detention or in prison.

 

  Source: Panayote Dimitras

Source: Panayote Dimitras

 

In January 2018 the European Court of Human Rights found Greece in violation of Articles 3, 6.1 and 13 of the Convention. In particular, the Court found that “the criminal and disciplinary system had proved to be seriously lacking in rigour and incapable of having a deterrent effect to ensure the effective prevention of illegal acts such as torture.”

This was the most recent of the thirteen cases in the Makaratzis group, concerning impunity for the use of potentially lethal force; ill-treatment sometimes amounting to torture; absence of effective administrative and criminal investigations; inadequate criminal proceedings and penalties; and in some cases a failure to investigate possible racist motives. The leading case (the shooting of Christos Makaratzis) dates from 1995

The Committee of Ministers had confined its three examinations of the execution of these cases in 2012, 2015 and 2017 to welcoming the information provided by Greece on the modernization of the law on the use of arms, the establishment of an office to review the related complaints, and the possible reopening of the cases adjudicated by the ECtHR. Three written submissions from the Greek Helsinki Monitor and one from REDRESS highlighted the ineffectiveness of the Greek state’s response. These were followed by an oral briefing to CM representatives by GHM in November 2018. In December 2018, for the first time, the CM issues a very strong decision seeking a detailed set of information from Greece by September 2019

Greece is now obliged to provide documented information about the effectiveness of the Ombudsman as an Independent Complaints Mechanism. This relates not only to the reopening of investigations in old cases, but also to reviewing new complaints that, as GHM has noted, number in the hundreds. Greece must also amend its legislation to bring the definition of torture in line with international standards and prevent the conversions of imprisonment imposed for torture and other ill-treatment into fines. The state must also provide information on the investigation of possible racist motives when ill-treatment occurs in the context of law enforcement; and, finally, implement its commitment to issue written apologies to the victims.

This decision is a powerful weapon in view of the CPT visit to Greece in 2019, the review of Greece by UN CAT in July-August 2019, and the probable new review of the Makaratzis case by the CM in December 2019. The Greek Helsinki Monitor will seek to capitalise on this decision, by seeking the apologies promised from the authorities; pressing the Ombudsman to conclude at least some of the hundreds of the investigations it has been carrying out since mid-2017 so as to assess their effectiveness; and review the proposed amendments to the criminal code announced by the government so as to assess if they are up to the standards defined by ECtHR, CM, CPT, and CAT. These institutions will be kept closely informed of developments.

Η νέα κανονικότητα στον Έβρο: αμείωτες συνεχίζονται οι παράνομες επαναπροωθήσεις πολιτών τρίτων χωρών

Η νέα κανονικότητα στον Έβρο: αμείωτες συνεχίζονται οι παράνομες επαναπροωθήσεις πολιτών τρίτων χωρών

 

Το Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες – Greek Council for Refugees, η ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth και το HumanRights360 που δημοσιεύουν την παρούσα έκθεση —η οποία περιέχει 39 μαρτυρίες προσώπων που επιχείρησαν να εισέλθουν στην Ελλάδα από τα σύνορα της χώρας με την Τουρκία στην περιοχή του Έβρου και αναφέρουν ότι επαναπροωθήθηκαν, κατά παράβαση του εθνικού, ενωσιακού και διεθνούς δικαίου, στην Τουρκία— θέλουμε να εφιστήσουμε την προσοχή των αρμόδιων αρχών και οργάνων στο ιδιαίτερα συχνό φαινόμενο που περιγράφεται.

Οι συνεχείς αναφορές που λαμβάνουμε τόσο στα γραφεία μας, όσο και στους χώρους κράτησης, προστατευτικής φύλαξης και σε κέντρα υποδοχής και ταυτοποίησης, μαρτυρούν ότι το φαινόμενο των επαναπροωθήσεων, παρά τη σιγή και άρνηση των αρμοδίων φορέων και αρχών, είναι ιδιαίτερα έντονο και δεν έχει μειωθεί, παρά τις αναφορές και τις καταγγελίες που έχουν λάβει χώρα στο πρόσφατο παρελθόν.
Οι πρακτικές αυτές, που τεκμηριώνονται από τις μαρτυρίες που καταθέτουμε, αναδεικνύουν μία συνεχή, αδιάλειπτη πρακτική παράνομων επαναπροωθήσεων. Ακόμη χειρότερα, εμφανίζονται ποικίλες «πρακτικές» και μοτίβα: ιδιαίτερα ανησυχητικό είναι το γεγονός ότι τα πρόσωπα που εμπλέκονται σε αυτές τις πρακτικές φέρονται να ομιλούν άλλοτε την Ελληνική γλώσσα και άλλοτε γλώσσες διαφορετικής προέλευσης, ενώ φέρουν και διαφορετικό ρουχισμό – άλλοτε στρατιωτικό και άλλοτε αστυνομικό. Πρόκειται εν ολίγοις για μία ανησυχητικά γενικευμένη πρακτική, συχνά συνοδευόμενη από βία, που εκθέτει ανεπανόρθωτα την πολιτεία και πλήττει το κράτος δικαίου.
Oι οργανώσεις που υπογράφουμε την παρούσα έκθεση μαρτυριών αιτούμαστε από τις αρμόδιες αρχές όπως ερευνήσουν τα αναφερόμενα περιστατικά και όπως απόσχουν από οποιαδήποτε παρόμοια ενέργεια που παραβιάζει το εθνικό, ενωσιακό, και διεθνές δίκαιο.

Download attachments:


The GCR – Arsis – HumanRights360 report in English:

The new normality: continuous push-backs of third country nationals on the Evros river

 


 

Humanists remind European Parliament that human rights can only be secular

ehf

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.