Advocacy statements

The Durban Declaration and cultural rights

  • Date / 2018
  • Location / Egypt
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 9: Follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 38th Session (18th June – 6th July 2018)

General Debate on Item 9

The Durban Declaration reaffirms that “cultural diversity” advances the “welfare of humanity”. Several human rights instruments, including the UDHR and ICESCR, support this by affirming the right to culture and science.

Durban also recognises the central role that religion and belief can play in the “inherent dignity and worth of the human person.”

For humanists and freethinkers, the expression of cultural rights and science are fundamental to an expression of who they are and their worldview.

Yet those expressing the values of humanism and science are often silenced and penalised by states whose official belief system differs.

“I don’t need religion to have moral values or be a productive member of society.” These were the words expressed by Mohamed Hisham, an Egyptian atheist who also expressed his support for evolutionary theory in a TV debate. He was thrown out of the interview and told to seek psychiatric help.[1] This follows a media frenzy and state-led re-education campaign to “eradicate” atheism in Egypt, which began in 2014.[2] Hisham is now fearful for his personal safety.

Humanist scientists and computer programmers in Iran languish in jail on charges of insulting Islam;[3] whilst in Bangladesh, yet another freethinking writer, Shahzahan Bachchu, was recently murdered.[4] In Saudi Arabia, atheist poet Ashraf Fayadh is serving an eight-year jail term with 800 lashes for “apostasy” and “promoting atheism.”

Durban highlights the link between free expression of religion or belief and the eradication of discrimination and intolerance.

Yet, humanist artists and scientists are targeted because they are seen as a threat to states, often because they resist fundamentalist agendas, advocate democratic reforms, and promote tolerance over discrimination.[5]

We call on this Council to ensure that the commitments made in Durban apply  equally to humanists expressing their cultural rights.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5aseBw4BmM

[2] https://freethoughtreport.com/countries/africa-northern-africa/egypt/#Anti-atheist_campaign

[3] A/HRC/38/NGO/142

[4] https://iheu.org/freethinking-writer-politician-shot-dead-bangladesh/

[5] A/HRC/34/56*

Suggested academic reference

'The Durban Declaration and cultural rights', Humanists International

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