IHEU’s 2007 General Assembly was held in Torino (Turin) Italy on 17/18 June following the European Humanist Federation’s GA and a one-day conference on Secularism and Civil Rights.
The two day meeting focussed on the campaigning and lobbying activities of the international movement and how IHEU’s member organisations can participate and contribute to the work. Our main strength is the skills of members within the national organisations and all delegates were asked to go back to their organisation and stimulate them to make a contribution to the international agenda.
President Sonja Eggerickx opened the meeting with her address covering the challenges and successes of the past year. The address is available here.
The 2007 award for Distinguished Service to Humanism was awarded to Keith Porteous Wood from the National Secular Society in the UK for his work in building up that organisation and campaigning for secularism both nationally and internationally. The award citation is available here.
International delegations: representing the humanist movement and promoting humanist values at international bodies is an IHEU priority. However it is the local member organisations who mostly provide the volunteer representatives. Matt Cherry from HIS, a member of the New York delegation, spoke of his work as President of the NGO Committee of Freedom of Religion and Belief. Roy Brown, IHEU past President, painted a gloomy picture of the working of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, but more positively about how he had been able to speak at the UN sessions on Dalit rights, freedom of expression, Dafur, child marriage and female genital mutilation.
A document outlining the role and responsibilities of IHEU’s international representatives was presented to the GA and it was announced that the EC had appointed Leo Igwe as the representative at the African Commission on Human People’s Rights (ACHPR).
The challenge for the future was to improve communication between the delegations and the EC and member organisations. National associations could lobby their national missions to the UN if they were aware that an important issue was coming up.
Campaigns featured at the GA were:
Untouchables and Dalits: Babu Gogineni, IHEU’s International Director, spoke of his work in India supporting the empowerment of Dalits and the social programme of liberating villages, starting with the symbolic act of all villagers eating together, regardless of caste. Member organisations could Adopt a Village for liberation in India for 2,000 Euros.
Separation of Church and State: Keith Porteous Wood from the UK National Secular Society gave a strategic overview of how member organisations could research the issue in their country, decide what needed to be changed and build alliances within civil society. Phillippe Besson, from Libre Pensee in France, said that liberty from religion was a world wide challenge and that all member organisations needed to find and promote the facts in their country, while recognising that solutions were likely to differ.
Freedom of expression: Roy Brown said that this was the basis of all other freedoms and it was under increasing threat. Islam’s major weapon was to prevent freedom of expression by violence and death threats. Ideas must always be up for debate – it is people, not ideas, who need human rights protection.
Child marriage: Diana Brown said that child marriage is always  forced marriage because children could not give informed consent. One campaign objective was to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 across the world, and to get civil registration in developing countries. Member organisations could lobby their governments to take action, although not everyone agreed with raising the legal age for marriage to 18.
Growth and development
2006/7 was the first year in IHEU’s refocused work on development of South Asia and Africa. Babu had relocated to India and Leo Igwe had been appointed international representative for in West Africa. Barrie Berkley, from the North East Humanists in the UK, reported and showed slides of the development of two Humanist schools in Uganda. Roy Brown reported on the hugely successful WIN project in Mumbai.
The programmes that member organisations could support are:
• Women of India – a programme to provide primary health care and training in urban slums using local women as the agents of change.
• Village Liberation – by adopting a village for Dalit empowerment
• Dalits Rights campaign
The programmes that member organisations could support in Africa are:
• Humanist schools in Uganda
• Outreach to Humanist groups in West and East Africa
• Anti-witchcraft programme in Nigeria
Details of how to support these either through IHEU or the International Humanist Trust for UK tax payers, was on the website. Member organisations were asked to be careful when supporting development projects because not all applicants are equally honest and may try to get funding from several sources (double dipping). Those considering funding development projects could seek confidential information from Babu or Roy.
Levi Fragell, past President and member of the Growth and Development Committee, spoke of the need to continue to seek out and develop humanist organisation, linking them to IHEU and the humanist movement.
New Member Organisations: Netradana Prosahaka Sangham and Manava Vikasa were accepted by the GA as new member organisations. The following membership applications have been put on the IHEU website and member organisations have more than 30 days to review them and comment. If there are no adverse comments by Monday 30 July, they will be accepted into membership:
• Mouvement Europe et Laicite
• Ligue d’Ensignement
• Consulta Torinese per la Laicita delle Instituzioni
• North London Humanists
Elections: Jack Jeffery and Roger Lepeix were re-elected as Vice President and Treasurer respectively, for 3 years.
Finance: the 2006 accounts were approved and Knox Cropper were reappointed as auditors and the budget for 2007 noted..
Fundraising: Larry Jones, First Vice President, spoke of the need to raise money for robust administration of the organisation as well as for projects
Staffing: concern was expressed that there was no-one full time in the IHEU office. But the work was continuing to be done. There are now four paid people working for IHEU: Babu Gogineni, International Director, in India; Ana Lita, Director of the IHEU-Appignani Bioethics Centre in New York; Lee Chester, Finance and Administration based in London, and Leo Igwe, international representative in Nigeria. Jeremy Gibbs is the volunteer Web Master. All incoming telephone calls to the new number (+44 870 288 7631) and faxes to IHEU are now covered.
Revision of IHEU’s Byelaws: a process was agreed to revise the Byelaws during the next 2 years.
Congress 2008 is to be held in Washington 4-8 June 2008, with the theme: E Pluribus Unum: Reclaiming Humanist Values. The GA appointed 5 people to the Resolutions Committee
Congress 2011 is to be held in Norway with the theme of Humanism and Peace