Advocacy statements

The anti-rights movement in the context of UNESCO’s International Day for Tolerance

  • Date / 2023
  • Relevant Institution / UNESCO

Statement by Humanists International
General Policy Debate at the 42nd Session of the UNESCO General Conference (7th to 22nd November 2023)

Madame President of the General Conference, Madame Director-General, Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Humanists International, the global representative body of the humanist movement, was established in 1952. UNESCO’s first Director-General, Julian Huxley, was co-founder of the organisation.[1]

Next Thursday marks International Day for Tolerance, an annual day established by the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance made by UNESCO Member States 28 years ago.[2]

Despite the longstanding nature of this Declaration, across the world we see a proliferation of exclusionary narratives and policies, often based on ethno- and religious- nationalisms and populism, that are used for promoting intolerance and the othering of minorities and often-marginalised groups – including migrants, and sexual, racial, and belief minorities.

Made up of both state and non-state actors, the movements advocating these discriminatory positions denigrate people and groups who do not wholly subscribe to, or are perceived not to fit, the static and homogeneous conceptualisations of cultural and national identity that these actors wish to impose.

Hijacked values of “family” and “tradition” are championed, and “parental rights” and national sovereignty are prioritised in the place of an international human rights framework grounded in concepts of equality, dignity, autonomy, and diversity. As part of this, the multilateral institutions which exist to uphold that framework, are targeted; their legitimacy questioned and capacity to function undermined and disrupted through defunding and misrepresentation.[3]

Indeed, work by UNESCO has been targeted within this context. As a body founded to foster equality, tolerance, science, and education, its promotion of gender equality, reproductive rights, and comprehensive sexuality education – which includes promoting respect for, and understanding of, people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities – has been the subject of disinformation and smear campaigns by those seeking to undermine progress on human rights standards and evidence-based education.[4]

When UNESCO member states made the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance they recognised education as ”the most effective means of preventing intolerance,” stating that it should counter “influences that lead to fear and exclusion,” and help “develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning.”[5] They conceived tolerance as a “rejection of dogmatism and absolutism” and instead grounded in international human rights standards.[6]

Ahead of the International Day for Tolerance,  we urge UNESCO Member States to reaffirm their commitment to these principles laid out in the Declaration, both by giving active support to UNESCO in its educational work on fostering equality and non-discrimination, and by rejecting exclusionary narratives which weaponise fear, instil division and work in diametric opposition to the dignity and equality upon which the human rights framework, belonging to us all, is built.

Thank you.


[1] https://humanists.international/about/

[2] Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, Proclaimed and signed by the Member States of UNESCO, on 16 November 1995, https://www.refworld.org/docid/453395954.html

[3] E.g. https://eclj.org/geopolitics/un/-corruption-silencieuse–a-lonu–le-nouveau-rapport-de-leclj, https://www.valeursactuelles.com/politique/comment-george-soros-etend-son-influence-sur-les-nations-unies, https://eclj.org/geopolitics/echr/limpartialite-de-la-cedh–presentation-du-rapport, https://www.ejiltalk.org/the-scandal-of-foundation-support-for-un-human-rights-special-procedures/

[4] E.g.: Family Watch International at the The African Bar Association Conference 2022, on Vimeo, https://vimeo.com/738021132/0e3816b69a?inf_contact_key=1d26ee20d36271debb619f20bd2 492567e470d92b8b 75168d98a0b8c ac0e9c09;  Family Watch International (2009), Family Policy Brief on The International Guidelines on Sexuality Education: Comprehensive Sexuality Education Defined, https://familywatch.org/fwi/documents/fwipolicybriefunesco2ndREVISION.pdf; Center for Family and Human Rights (September 2022) “Evidence of Systemic and Unlawful Promotion of Comprehensive Sexuality Education by UN Secretariat, Agencies, and other Entities,” https://c-fam.org/briefing_paper/evidence-of-systemic-and-unlawful-promotion-of-comprehensive-sexuality-education-by-un-secretariat-agencies-and-other-entities/

[5] Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, paras 4.1 & 4.3.

[6] Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, para 1.3.

Suggested academic reference

'The anti-rights movement in the context of UNESCO's International Day for Tolerance', Humanists International

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