IHEU General Assembly in Washington

  • post Type / Humanists International News
  • Date / 26 June 2008

IHEU’s 2008 General Assembly was held in Washington, DC, USA on the 5th and 8th June 2008 before and after the 17th World Congress on Reclaiming Humanist Values. President Sonja Eggerickx opened the meeting with her address (attached) covering the increasing work that IHEU has achieved over the past year. Items included in the GA were:

Human Rights: to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration, there was a session moderated by VP Rob Buitenweg at which the meeting discussed the dire developments at the Human Rights Council, which had now been taken over by the Islamic states and it was now impossible to discuss religion at the Council.

Representing Humanism: a session moderated by Treasurer, Roger Lepeix, which highlighted the way the NGO involvement in UN processes was changing, with less opportunity for them to work directly at UN meetings.

Campaign Against Untouchability: Babu Gogineni reported on his work on the campaign. He explained the issue of Untouchability in different countries in the world and that IHEU had a project ‘Adopt a Village’ working with member organisation, Social Development Foundation. He said that IHEU was in contact with organisations who would join together to form a Global Alliance Against Untouchability which it was planned to launch at a conference in London, held in conjunction with the next IHEU GA in June.

IHEU’s work in Africa: as IHEU’s two Representatives in Africa, Leo Igwe and Deo Ssekitooleko, had not been able to get US visas to attend the meeting, Barrie Berkley gave a presentation of their work. The IHEU focus on Africa began 4 years ago at the 2004 GA in Kampala. Leo worked in West Africa and was IHEU’s representative at the Africa Commission for Human and People’s Rights and had also held a conference against witchcraft at which there were 80 participants. He was also organising a conference later in the year against Untouchability, the Osu people in Nigeria. Deo worked in East Africa and in Uganda there were 3 Humanist schools being set up: Issac Newton School, Mustard Seed School, and the Humanist Academy. He was planning a conference for the Humanist organisations in East Africa in February 2009.

Administrative issues

New Member Organisations: Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal; Taraskeel Society of Punjab; Council of Ex Muslims of Britain, and Asian Rationalist Society of Britain were accepted by the GA as new Associate member organisations.
Elections: Mel Lipman and Ron Solomon were elected as Vice Presidents for 3 years, and Larry Jones and Rob Buitenweg, the Vice Presidents who were standing down, were thanked for their work for IHEU. Jack Jeffery was elected as First Vice President.
Finance: the 2007 accounts were approved and Knox Cropper were reappointed as auditors and the budget for 2008 noted.
IHEU-Appignani Bioethics Center in New York: after 4 years the funding for the center as originally set up had ended, but the good news is that Louis Appignani has funded the AHA to continue the center and the Director, Ana Lita, will continue following the transfer of ownership to the AHA.
Paid consultants: there now six paid people working for IHEU: Babu Gogineni, International Director in South Asia, based in India; Leo Igwe, International Representative for West Africa, based in Nigeria; Deo Ssekitooleko, International Representative for East Africa, based in Uganda. Sangeeta Mall, editor of IHN. In London are based Lee Chester, Finance Officer and Robbi Robson, Administrator and Company Secretary. Jeremy Gibbs is the volunteer Web Master.
Revision of IHEU’s Byelaws: the progress of this work was reported and new draft Byelaws will be sent out to member organisations in November for consultation, with an amended version brought back to the 2009 GA for approval.
GA 2009 will be held in London on 7th and 8th June in conjunction with the European Humanist Federation’s GA on 5th June, a conference on 6th June, hosted by IHEU, EHF and BHA to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and a World Conference on Untouchability on 9th and 10th June.

Congress 2011 is to be held in Norway at the beginning of August 2011, with the theme of Humanism and Peace


At the Congress award dinner the International Humanist of the Year award was given to Philip Pullman, the internationally renowned author.

Distinguished Service to Humanism – 2008 award was given to Roy Brown, a past President of IHEU, particularly for his work representing IHEU at the United Nations’ Human Right Council in Geneva.

Lifetime Achievement award was given to Levi Fragell for his work building up the Norwegian Association and his international work developing the membership of IHEU. Sadly he was not able to attend at the last moment due to illness.

A fundraising appeal at the dinner also raised over $38,000 for IHEU

IHEU President’s Address at the 2008 General Assembly

Dear Friends,

As we are in Martin Luther Kings’ country, I must confess that I had a dream, as he did. I dreamed that we would be able to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in a world of peace and social justice, with people respecting one another’s choices and ways of life. In this world everyone would live together with their neighbours, regardless of life stance, colour, gender, or other differences. Alas, in 60 years we have not acquired more sense or reformed our behaviour. On the contrary, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is controlled by countries that are far from being the most democratic or respectful of human rights. We will hear more about it in this meeting.

When we met last year I said that I hoped to involve our Member Organisations (MOs) more in the daily work of IHEU. We may not have achieved complete success, but communication is still improving. On the fringes of this General Assembly and World Congress many smaller meetings are taking place involving members of different working groups, committees, or MOs, as well as the informal conversation that is so valuable in giving us a better knowledge and understanding of one another. This is a step that increases everyone’s involvement.

Our website is a growing success and you all get regular updates about it in separate newsletters. And of course there is no doubt that this year all the documents were sent in time. We are catching up very well with administration, financial matters and communication. This is due to our very professional staff, none of whom are full-time, but all of whom work very efficiently. Our thanks are due to Robbi Robson, Jeremy Gibbs and Lee Chester.

We had planned to work in different parts of the world, and we did indeed do so. It has proved a fruitful initiative. Babu Gogenini is doing a wonderful job in India and S.E Asia. Thanks to him, we have succeeded in involving our Indian MOs in our Dalits project. Of course we cannot on our own solve the overall problem, but IHEU can make a difference and help to raise awareness of the Dalits’ plight. When I was in India last year, it was clear that our strategy does work: we have been able to convince some officials that it is necessary not only to pass laws, but also to enforce them.. It is reassuring that we can rely on Babu to continue this important work.

As I said last year, what is matters is that there should be no idea of us telling them what to do. Humanism is about the emancipation of humanity, and each of us has to work for it ourselves, in our own way. That applies not only in Europe and America, but also in India and Africa. It is not always easy to respect traditions and at the same time to try to make substantive changes. It is obvious that sometimes traditions must be fiercely fought. We cannot accept child marriage, female genital mutilation or child labour. We cannot accept witchcraft. But we shall need a lot of patience, endurance, time and reasoning to bring about change.

We have been working in Africa. Unfortunately, none of our African colleagues was granted a visa for the USA. We do, however, have their reports, and we are trying to have official attendance at the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights. Leo Igwe is making contact with Humanists, both individuals and groups of various sizes. He is very active wherever he finds that human rights are being violated, and he is doing a lot to raise awareness of the need for self-esteem and self-determination. Great effort is needed in tackling witchcraft, improving education, empowering women, fighting discrimination against gays and lesbians, and solving many other problems. Deo Ssekitooleko is working on our school project in Kampala, building our MO there, and making contacts in East Africa.

Having our own consultants working in Africa is indeed effective. We certainly do not want to colonise: we know that we cannot export "Humanism"; it is for people to discover and explore for themselves. Our role is to provide them with material and to show them that living without supernatural beings is not only possible but more satisfying. In Uganda, women who have started their own Humanist group are doing a wonderful job. But traditions are very strong and the women encounter a great many obstacles and prejudices.

Having looked at our successes, we must admit that we are not always successful. We have had to give up our Bioethics Centre because the funding came to an end, but I am delighted to tell you that last night the American Humanist Association agreed to take over the Centre – and so it has been saved for humanism.

We have been working hard at the UN in Geneva. Although, as I stated before, it is not a very satisfactory situation: we could hardly claim to be on the winning side. We must, however, continue our struggles to save as much as possible and at least let the world know what is being perpetrated there in the name of the UN. Roy Brown works hard to draw attention to the overt and implied attacks on human rights.

We have a strong delegation at UNESCO in Paris and are also active in the Council of Europe. Via some of our European MOs, operating within the European Humanist Federation, people have been made aware that Europe should not be described as Christian, or even religious in general, since there is a strong presence of Humanism and secularism. There are, unfortunately, some who still try to ignore this fact.

I may be called naïve for my belief in humanity. But I am not ashamed to declare it. As a consequence, I don’t understand why a few people try to discredit IHEU. Some months ago, you will have heard that IHEU received a substantial legacy and were congratulated for it. But I have to tell you that although some money is on its way, we haven’t yet seen a single cent of it. I promise that as soon as we have gone through all the legal processes, as soon as it is in our account, you will be the first to know. It must be clear that we want to share good news with you. And I am glad to be able to assure you that Lee Chester, who looks after our accounts, keeps a meticulous and stringent control of IHEU’s funds.

Our work seems never to be over. I started with the UDHR: we can have the impression that even that achieved little, that even after the horror of World War II, we were not intelligent enough to behave in such a way that the world could live in peace. Humanists must be optimists. We have to believe in a better world, in the feasibility of making it better, in the perfectibility of humans. In that way we need be a little bit naïve, in order not to give up.

Dear friends, I really am looking forward to the day when IHEU can dissolve itself and conclude that we are no longer needed. At the same time I know too well that it will take years before we do reach such a point. We must remember that, as long as we see what is wrong and comment on it without acting, we fail.

It is our moral duty to denounce the killing, terrorism and discrimination (not only racial but also social and financial). The disasters humanity has been responsible for continue. Wars are still being fought, people are still being killed, and children are still starving or dying from easily cured diseases. Not that much to be proud of.

There is also continuing damage to the environment and abuse of science. Indeed dear friends, however naïve I am, I know very well that we will meet again next year in order to decide how to continue our work for a better, more humane world. At least the idea of meeting you again is positive!

I do hope that this General Assembly, and the Congress, will give us strength to continue our work and wisdom to enable us – back in our countries – to act at a more local level, so that in the end we will finally discover the beauty of life.

Thank you

Sonja Eggerickx

Thursday 5 June 2008

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