A victory for Humanists and End Blasphemy Laws Campaign: Greece quietly drops ‘blasphemy’ laws from new criminal code! Also religious oath was abolished!

The Humanist Union of Greece (HUG) said today they welcomed:

“these very important developments and especially that they were not met with any significant opposition. HUG hopes that they will be promptly implemented and can only regret that a week after the adoption of the new Codes by Parliament the service Minister of Interior was sworn in with a religious oath on 11 June!”

endblasphemylaws

Greece quietly drops ‘blasphemy’ laws from new criminal code

Blasphemy law will be abolished in Greece from 1 July 2019, when new criminal law comes into effect.

The change comes as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures. The two previous articles outlawing ‘blasphemy’ have been dropped. At the same time, oaths of affirmation have been overhauled so that everyone recites the same civil affirmation, as opposed to any religious oath.

While there have been some words of criticism from leaders of the Greek Orthodox church, wider public reaction against the move has been minimal.

Humanists in Greece and internationally had been campaigning against the ‘blasphemy’ law, which was still actively used, sometimes to suppress religious criticism in theatre and the arts, LGBT rights groups, advertising campaigns, and social media users critical of the church or religion in general. The Humanist Union of Greece (HUG) said today they welcomed:

“these very important developments and especially that they were not met with any significant opposition. HUG hopes that they will be promptly implemented and can only regret that a week after the adoption of the new Codes by Parliament the service Minister of Interior was sworn in with a religious oath on 11 June!”

In one of the most famous of ‘blasphemy’ in recent years, a Facebook user Philippos Louizos was dragged through the courts for several years, over an image he made which made a pun on the name of a Greek Orthodox monk. From 2012 he faced the prospect of prison, only for the charges to be dropped in 2017.

 

 

29/03/2019: Grassrootsmobilise Workshop on Religion and education in the ECtHR context: Papageorgiou v. Greece and beyond/Συνάντηση Grassrootsmobilise με θέμα: “Θρησκεία και εκπαίδευση στο πλαίσιο του ΕΔΑΔ: Παπαγεωργίου κατά Ελλάδας και πέρα”

EHF warns U.N. about obstacles to asylum for persecuted non-believers

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Posted on the 14/03/19

On 12 March, the European Humanist Federation took the floor at the United Nations in Geneva and urged the Human Rights Council to take strong action in order to facilitate asylum procedures for non-believers fleeing persecutions worldwide.

Although the UN Refugee Agency and the EU have issued guidelines to help governments dealing with this issue, in many countries, including EU Member States, the situation of non-believer asylum seekers is still very precarious, for various reasons.

First, despite both guidelines making it clear that religion-based asylum claims fully apply to people who hold non-theistic or atheistic beliefs, including those who leave religion (apostates), in several countries (e.g. Germany, the Netherlands or until recently the UK), government officers fail to correctly assess and understand the life-stances and situation of non-believers who seek asylum. Many of them are not aware of the risks that these people (and their relatives) face in their countries of origin and several cases have stressed the inadequacy of administrative questionnaires to assess claimants’ credibility.

Furthermore, where procedures have been improved (e.g. in the UK), it is thanks to the work of Humanist organisations that have provided trainings to government services.

Finally, the threats that target non-believers in their countries of origin (e.g. Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Sudan or Bangladesh – see last version of the Freedom of Thought report) do not stop when non-believers finally reach European countries. Too often, the threats continue in arrival centers, and come from believing migrants. Atheist and humanist asylum seekers are still not free to express safely their views once in Europe. This is the reason why, for instance, the NGO Atheist Refugee Relief in Germany urges the public authorities to provide for separate housing for non-believers.

You can read our full statement below

 


Human Rights Council, 40th session

General Debate Item 4

Geneva

ORAL STATEMENT

European Humanist Federation

 

Thank you Mr President.

 

The European Humanist Federation would like to draw the Council’s attention on an issue that is often politically neglected although it affects a large number of people worldwide.

Many people must leave their country and community after facing persecutions because of the beliefs and the religious views they hold or do not hold: these people are atheists, agnostics, rationalists, humanists, non-believers and free-thinkers.

Religion and beliefs are one of the five grounds on which people can request asylum or international protection. Both the UN Refugee Agency1 and the European Union2 have made it clear in their Guidelines on asylum claims that the concept of religion shall include the holding of non-theistic and atheistic beliefs.

However, in practice, asylum claims based on conversion to atheism and renouncement of religion are not well understood by government officers in Europe. This often leads to asylum denials that endanger non-believers’ life.

Except in countries where training has been provided by humanist organisations like in the UK, assessment procedures fail to understand the life-stance and the situation of non-believers who request asylum in Europe.

Inadequate administrative questionnaires and peer pressure in arrival centers are widespread obstacles that need to be addressed urgently and efficiently.

We therefore urge the Council to strengthen the existing UN Guidelines to improve the implementation of asylum procedures on belief grounds in Europe and beyond. These Guidelines should include the need for training government officers when it comes to “assessing” atheism and non-belief, but also cater for the effective protection of asylum-seekers in arrival centers.

 

Thank you Mr President.

 


 

1. GUIDELINES ON INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION: Religion-Based Refugee Claims under Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, 2004

2. DIRECTIVE 2011/95/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 13 December 2011 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted, article 10

 

European Humanist Federation: #HumanistEurope campaign – Priority 1/14: Democracy and the rule of law! …

#HumanistEurope campaign – Priority 1/14: Democracy and the rule of law!
📣🚀Join us and campaign for a #HumanistEurope 🚀📣

8️⃣0️⃣ days before the #EP2019 European elections, we are excited to launch our campaign showing our 1️⃣4️⃣ priorities to bring back humanist and European values into the heart of EU policies!

Let’s start right away with priority 1/14: Democracy and the rule of law

🏛⚖️☝️ – Democracy and the rule of law are the foundations of Europe! And while we monitor EU countries’ economic indicators, we don’t have good tools to monitor the decline of democracy and react if necessary. Let’s change that!

🤓 Learn more about our proposal at https://humanistfederation.eu/campaign/manifesto-for-a-humanist-europe-campaign-for-the-2019-eu-elections/


ehf

Between 23rd and 26th May, European citizens will be called to vote in the European elections.

In many countries, European elections are considered 2nd class elections and campaigns often focus on national politics or on expressing discontent towards one’s government. However, the outcomes of European elections are fundamental as they will shape the composition and the work of the European Parliament, thereby shaping EU policies for the 5 years to come. Furthermore, while it is Member States’ competence to nominate European Commissioners, the European Parliament has its word to say via the consent procedure foreseen in the treaties.

A memorandum and a manifesto for the EU elections

Memorandum for the European elections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As humanists, we feel that the question is not the scope of European competences per se but rather how our values can remain the basic drivers of European integration. This manifesto proposes a vision of a more humane EU that finds solutions to overcome the growing gap between its values and the policies it pursues. A Europe that is truly based on freedom, equality, solidarity and human dignity.

Because the EU is one of our main partners and because we want its action to fully embrace its fundamental values and principles – which, as expressed in article 2 of the treaty establishing the EU, are very much humanist values, we produced a humanist Memorandum for the European elections making a number of proposals in the following 6 key policy domains:

  1. Rule of law and democracy
  2. Civil society
  3. Fundamental rights and freedoms
  4. Equality and social justice
  5. Academic freedom and technology control
  6. Solidarity with the world

Our memorandum is available in English and French. You can download them in the download section on the right hand side.

Manifesto for a humanist Europe

We also drafted a shorter document: our humanist manifesto For a Europe that truly Respects Freedom, Equality, Solidarity and Human Dignity. 

This manifesto sums up the 14 key priorities where our memorandum proposes EU action:

  1. Preserving the rule of law and democracy
  2. Civil society as a counter-power and key promoter of European values
  3. Protect a secular vision of Europe
  4. Defend freedom of thought for everyone
  5. Defend freedom of expression
  6. Free and pluralist media as a backbone of citizen emancipation
  7. Freedom of choice, a building block of human dignity
  8. A society that values all people for who they are
  9. No human dignity without social justice and fairness
  10. Secular and public education as a condition for equality
  11. Scientific research and technology assessment
  12. A common immigration policy, based on solidarity and responsibility
  13. A strong Europe promoting peace and human rights on the world stage
  14. Solidarity with future generations: climate change and sustainable development

The manifesto is available in English, French, German and Spanish. You can download any version from the download section on the right-hand side.

Help spread the message!

Are you interested in helping us spread our messages and push humanist values into debates leading to the European elections?

Follow our campaign #HumanistEurope and spread our 14 animations on Facebook and Twitter. Below you can see the first one.

Should you want to translate these visuals, get in touch!

EHF comments on EU ethical guidelines for artificial intelligence

Posted on the 05/02/19

 

 

 

Following an online consultation organised by the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence (HLEG AI), we submitted our humanist contribution to the on-going debate on the European ethical guidelines that should accompany the development of this technology (or rather these technologies) that carry both tremendous potential but also very serious threats.

In brief, we welcomed the work done by the HLEG AI, which identified many areas of concern and sometimes brought interesting proposals to address them. We however also expressed our worries about quite a few issues that the group seems not to have tackled properly.

Quick access: read the draft guidelines or our response to the consultation.

Explainability as a key element of user empowerment: the document considers that users have to receive sufficient information on an AI application so as to give informed consent about the way it functions. We argue that the relationship between the user and the provider should be bidirectional and continuous, in order to empower the user and better inform the provider. In this domain, a lot still has to be done.

No evidence provided on certain claims: the document claims without any proof that the benefits of AI largely outweigh its potential threats. We argue that the understandable race to reap the economic benefits of this technology should not result in a lack of methodology, especially when the matter at hand is to draft ethical guidelines.

As any technology, AI has to be subject to societal control: recognizing the threats, the document attempts to address them in advance, mostly at design stage. We do agree with this approach, we however also argue that given the nature and pervasiveness of AI technologies and the necessarily unknown future developments, this has to be complemented with strong control mechanisms, including by allowing quick and easy compensation when citizens are harmed.

No consensus on key threats: the document contains an entire chapter on critical threats. These include identification without consentcovert AI systemsmass citizen scoring and lethal autonomous weapon systems. It is however exactly this chapter which seems to be controversial within the HLEG AI. We sincerely hope that the presence of many actors having strong economic incentives in the domain of AI will not undermine the comprehensiveness of the ethical guidelines.

Avoid reproducing or reinforcing discrimination: we highlighted another threat: the risk that algorithms based on machine learning reinforce discrimination. This can happen both intentionally and unintentionally, either because the data used to train the algorithm contains discriminative tendencies present in society or when a moral dimension is missed in decision that was identified as yielding better results from a quantitative perspective. The document identified the issue but seemed to assume that a simple cleaning of data sets would address all issues.

Make sure third party interests do not prevail: In areas that are particularly sensitive, such as healthcare, we should be able to guarantee that decisions put forward by AI systems are solely based on the patient’s interests and not on the commercial interests of third party providers (e.g. health insurances). This becomes all the more important when it comes to the freedom to die in dignity. The patient’s perspective should always prevail and it should be possible to discard an AI decision or recommendation when it poses a threat to the patient’s health or dignity.

Much more stress on education: citizens must be aware of the functioning, the problems and the risks related to artificial intelligence. This implies that school curricula should raise their awareness about the reality of algorithms and promote genuine education in terms of values, citizenship and critical thinking. Beyond school, public authorities must develop awareness programs on these issues and foster public debate on artificial intelligence in general. This should be a priority of EU policies in the domain of AI.

OUR MAIN PROPOSAL: A EUROPEAN OBSERVATORY FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.

In order to properly address already identified and yet unknown concerns related to AI, we propose the creation of a European Observatory for Artificial Intelligence. This EU body would accompany user acceptance, boost public debate and implement societal control over the risks related to AI.

Such an EU Observatory would benefit society as a whole:

  • citizens would become real actors of the development of AI and would be able to provide systematic societal feedback while being guaranteed efficient redress in case they are harmed,
  • developers would benefit from society’s feedback and identify new threats or risks, find solutions that truly boost societal acceptance and improve their services as a whole,
  • policy makers would be able to better identify when and where government intervention is needed and select the best policy responses.

In general, systematic and continuous societal oversight would allow making sure that EU level debate will be continuous and that the final version of the ethical guidelines will not be used as a baseline to consider whether a specific AI application is deemed ethical by European standards – whether it is “trustworthy AI, made in Europe”, as the document puts it.

In any case – whether these are codes of conduct, standardization or regulation – responses to the exposed issues have to be carried out at European level. This would make it make it possible to leverage the weight of the Single Market and impose a set of high ethical standards at global scale.

Background

Artificial Intelligence plays a growing role in our daily lives and socio-economic systems, the race for innovation on a global scale has already begun, and many countries and companies are heavily investing in this sector of huge economic and strategic potential. Sensing this trend, the European Commission published in April 2018 a Communication on Artificial Intelligence for Europe in which it proposes:

  • to boost Europe’s competitiveness and investment in this field;
  • to prepare citizens and businesses for the socio-economic changes related to AI;
  • to ensure the development of an appropriate ethical and legal framework.

To this end, the European Commission set up a High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence and tasked it elaborate recommendations on future-related policy development and on ethical, legal and societal issues related to AI, including socio-economic challenges. Concretely, the group will publish two deliverables in the first half of 2019: ethical guidelines and policy recommendations.

Last week, was the deadline to comment on the draft version of its ethics guidelines for “trustworthy” AI. You will find our contribution here.

 

02/02/2019: Unbelievable but Greek: Catechism and confessor at the Fire Brigade

Unbelievable but Greek:
Catechism and confessor at the Fire Brigade

2 February 2019