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Issues

Humanists care about many things: humanity, other animals, the environment, our human rights, the future. Our members and individual humanists will work and campaign as humanists on any number of ethical issues.

As an organization, Humanist International has a strategic focus on a range of issues in our advocacy and campaigns work. They are issues which unite humanists, or on which humanists have a specific and unique input, issues which represent trends across international boundaries, or concerns that are sometimes overlooked or underrepresented on the international stage.

Expand the titles below to find out more about our strategic issues.

Freedom of Expression, Thought, Conscience and Religion

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right for individuals and the underpinning of any society which values equality, human dignity and progress. And freedom of thought is a right from which many others emanate, encompassing the right to access ideas, form your own opinions, and act according to your beliefs. Whilst freedom of thought and belief, including religious belief, must be protected, it is equally important to guarantee an environment in which a critical discussion about religion can be held.

Humanists believe that plurality of opinions is vital for social cohesion and progress in society. Protecting any ideas from criticism does them no favour: it allows them to survive unchanged without being adapted, corrected, or improved.

Basis of the rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion

The right to freedom of expression as well as the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief protect every human being. Both rights are protected by all major international human rights instruments, including Article 18 and 19 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ICCPR and have been clarified in the General Comment 22 of the Human Rights Committee.

Article 18 guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion which also includes the right to change or reject any religion and to manifest one’s religion or belief; in public or in private, in teaching, practice, worship, observance and expression.

Article 19 adds that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Whilst freedom of religion or belief is considered an “absolute” right, freedom of expression may be limited, but only for particular and carefully-defined reasons. The Rabat Plan of Action is clear on this: only advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence can be prohibited. It confirms the “fundamental principle” that “limitation of speech must remain an exception,” and that restrictions must not be “overly broad, so that they do not restrict speech in a wide or untargeted way” (Paragraph 18). This includes that laws aimed at protecting the “feelings” of religious believers through criminal law, where there is no incitement to discrimination or violence, does not pursue a legitimate aim.

Challenges to Freedom of Expression, Thought, Conscience and Religion

It is no coincidence that the right to freedom of expression and religion or belief are stated together. Articles 18 and 19 are intertwined, and generally stand or fall together. This is apparent when looking at “blasphemy” laws that claim to protect religious freedom, but in reality are incompatible with both the right to freedom of expression and religion or belief.

Challenges include:

  • Blasphemy laws still exist throughout the world and outlaw criticism of protected religions, religious beliefs, religious figures, or religious institutions. “Blasphemy” and religious insult laws:
    • are always subjective – depending on some standard of what counts as “blasphemy”, which assumes something like a correct, inviolable standard of religion which is being blasphemed against. Depending on context and belief, one person’s manifestation of religion might be considered as blasphemous for someone else;
    • prohibit, problematize, or chill free expression when it comes to the asking of questions, the offering of criticism, and the expression of satire or ridicule, in relation religion;
    • are prone to abuse – being used to target a variety of supposed “blasphemy”, from actual criticism or satire of religion, to merely stating an alternative belief.
  • Blasphemy laws prevent criticism on:
    • immoral or unlawful practices carried out in the name of religion (for example, child “marriage”, slavery, genital mutilation, stoning, denial of citizenship, bans on “inter-religious” marriage, persecution of religion or belief minorities, discrimination against sexual minorities);
    • religious institutions or leaders, that may prevent them from being prosecuted in case any crime was committed.
  • Countries which persecute “blasphemy” and “insult to religion” tend to suffer disproportionately from incidents of:
    • intercommunal and mob violence and vigilantism against individuals;
    • the general silencing and persecution of minorities.
  • In some countries it is outlawed to merely be or identify as atheist, member of a minority religion or to leave the state religion (“apostasy”). In some cases apostasy is punishable by death and “blasphemy” is considered as evidence.

Our work on Freedom of Expression, and Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief

We coordinate the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, calling for the worldwide abolition of blasphemy laws.

And we publish the Freedom of Thought Report, a global survey on the rights and legal discrimination against humanist, atheists and the non-religious.

In our advocacy programme, we work with the United Nations and other international bodies and lobby them to:

  • condemn any attempts to suppress freedom of expression with the threat of violence and other methods of blatant intimidation;
  • endorse the Rabat Plan of Action and the principle that the advocacy of hatred is best prevented through open dialogue rather than through censorship;
  • endorse programs that combat discrimination and promote intercultural understandings and inter-belief dialogue.

We work with our members to lobby national governments to:

  • implement a separation of state from religion;
  • bring their domestic legislation in line with universal standards of freedom of expression and religion and belief;
  • repeal blasphemy and defamation of religion laws;
  • revise their legislation regarding the prohibition of incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, such that:
    • criminal sanctions should be applied only in most severe cases;
    • it applies a broad set of measures to sanction and prevent incitement to hatred, including: promotion of free and open discourse and intercultural dialogue; pluralism and diversity and positive measures for the protection of minorities and vulnerable groups.
    • it ensures independent and pluralistic media;
    • it increases activities aimed at fostering inclusion and counter negative stereotypes, in particular at the grassroots level.

We work with our members and other NGOs to:

  • endorse, defend and promote the rights of expression and freedom of thought, consciousness and religion;
  • promote awareness of the violation of human rights through blasphemy laws and the cases of individuals that suffer around the world;
  • raise awareness of harm caused by discrimination and negative stereotyping
  • spread information about rationalism and the cultivation of critical thinking.

Discover more from Humanists International about freedom of expression and freedom of thought or belief.

See the resolution by the worldwide membership of Humanists International: The Oxford Declaration on Freedom of Thought and Expression.

The human rights of LGBTI+ people

Humanism is a long-standing and unfaltering ally of LGBTI+ individuals and their rights. Humanists International rejects and abhors prejudice, discrimination and violence against LGBTI+ people. Humanists International celebrates the range of consensual human sexualities and we support the rights of LGBTI+ people to express their sexuality and to enjoy their sex lives and love lives in open freedom and human dignity. Humanism stands for individual freedom, self-determination, self-development, and human solidarity, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Human rights should be defended against all forms of prejudice. This is reflected in the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s affirmation that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights encompasses equality for LGBTI+ persons and that all are equal before the law.

Challenges to LGBTI+ rights

However, in most countries LGBTI+ persons are subjected to violations of their human rights and face discrimination at many levels, including:

  • employment and access to services like education, housing, health, and social security;
  • inequality under criminal and civil law;
  • violence, harassment and other threats to life and health;
  • “religious freedom” claims being used to undermine or subvert the rights and equality of LGBTI+ persons;
  • failure to recognize LGBTI+ relationships and families;
  • lack of intersectional recognition or support, for example faced by LGBTI+ persons who are older or members of ethnic minorities or members of religion or belief communities.

Our work on LGBTI+ rights

We work with the United Nations and other international bodies and lobby them to:

  • condemn and take all possible measures to protect the dignity and worth of the human person and end discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression;
  • investigate patterns of murder and violations of human rights perpetrated against LGBTI+ individuals and groups;
  • document the status and situation of LGBTI+ persons and the specific risks and forms of discrimination faced in every country.

We work with our members to lobby national governments to:

  • enact and enforce legislation that protects any citizen from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, including to:
    • afford same-sex partnerships equal protection in law with regard to pension, inheritance, taxation, social security, custody and adoption, donor insemination and other services, in which discriminatory policies and practices currently exist;
    • protect LGBTI+ persons from being subject to discrimination in service procurement or employment;
    • revise laws, policies and administrative practices on refugees and migrants to ensure LGBTI+ persons equal treatment with regard to immigration and asylum, including the right not to be returned to a place or situation of persecution;
  • take legal action against any individual or group, including government representatives, who subject LGBTI+ persons to discriminatory violence, including torture and rape;
  • combat ‘social cleansing’ manifesting itself in murder and forced disappearances of male, female and non-binary prostitutes, street children, disabled people and other socially discriminated persons;
  • produce, disseminate and promote educational materials that counter discrimination and provide comprehensive education on LGBTI+ persons and relationships, and ensure that all relevant healthcare materials, campaigns and services provide appropriate information for LGBTI+ persons;
  • ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women;
  • document the status and situation for LGBTI+ persons and the specific risks and forms of discrimination faced in their country;
  • not define or treat homosexuality as a disorder or disease, never enforce psycho-medical treatment, and to tackle abusive so-called ‘gay cure’ treatment.

We work with our members and other NGOs to:

  • work to endorse, defend and promote the human rights of LGBTI+ persons;
  • promote awareness of the barriers and forms of discrimination that LGBTI+ persons face and how to counter these;
  • enact and enforce policies combating discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Discover more from Humanists International about LGBTI+ rights.

See the resolution by the worldwide membership of Humanists International: Protection of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Intersex, Queer and Asexual (LGBTI+) persons under The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Rights of Women

Considering the world-wide struggle for equality of sexes, humanism reaffirms its commitment to the right of every woman to choose a way of life reflective of her personal needs, growth, development, and wishes. Humanists value individual liberty, the right to self-determination, and the human rights which flow from these principles, as indispensable to the quality of life and to a democratic society.

Therefore, full and unrestricted freedom for women to make individual choices affecting marriage, family life, child-bearing, abortion, education, career development and equal standards of employment is essential.  Equality between women and men is an essential foundation of human rights. As the Vienna Declaration states, “human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.”

Equality of sexes is reaffirmed in the ICCPR, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Vienna Declaration. In these treaties, states are obligated to implement equality of sexes and to actively fight against the discrimination of women on all levels, including harmful traditional or customary practices, traditions and attitudes.

Every girl and woman has the right to own her life with dignity as a human being, to be equal to men and to participate in economic, social, cultural, civil and political activity. Women have the right to non-discrimination, the right to privacy, the right to make decisions about their bodies and the right to the highest attainable standard of health which includes the right to own reproductive choices, access to sexual and reproductive health and to the widest range of family planning services.

Challenges to the rights of Women

Humanists International expresses deep concern at the progressive violation of human rights of women around the world. Women’s rights are human human rights, which affect all of society, both women and men, in all areas of community life.

Discrimination against women takes many forms, for example:

  • discrimination under criminal and civil law including limitations such as to a women’s entitlement to divorce, custody for children and inheritance;
  • discrimination stemming from prejudices and negative attitudes towards women such as:
  • discrimination in the civil, political, economic and social realm; for example regarding education, job opportunities, decision making, access to councils and boards;
  • inequality in performing paid and unpaid labour which results in a double burden for women that perform household and family duties on top of their on economic activity
  • discrimination based on ‘honour’ and ‘son preferences.

Sexual and gender-based violence is rampant in many forms and is often enabled through discriminatory cultural, traditional or religious frameworks, including systems of caste and honour. Violence against women include acts such as: sexual coercion, forced marriage, trafficking of women, forced prostitution, marriage into slavery, rape, and domestic abuse. Specifically, there are a number of forms of abuse against women, categoried as “harmful traditional practices”. These include:

  • Honor based violence and honor killings. These are acts of violence that derive from a desire to control the behaviour of the female, regarding the honour of a family vested in her body. Defended in the name of family honour girls are being burned, shot, buried alive, strangled, stoned, and stabbed to death;
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM). This amounts to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Consequences include infections, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, psychological damage, and sexual dysfunction;
  • Child marriage – one the primary causes of maternal mortality and morbidity;
  • Cultural practices such as ‘Kuriti’ tradition in Nepal includes the prosecution of individuals accused of practising witchcraft (Boksi Pratha); child marriage; forcing women to stay in a tiny hut far from their own house during the time of their menstruation (Chhaupadi Pratha); and ritual sexual slavery via the offering of a girl child to a Hindu temple (Deuki Pratha).
  • Widowhood rituals. In some communities widows are forced to have sex with a stranger, in others they have to clean their husband’s corpse and then drink the dirty water.
  • Sexual cleansing. In the tradition, a girl or woman is expected to have sex as a cleansing ritual after her first period, after becoming widowed, or after having an abortion.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are violated through traditional and discriminatory practices that severely limit women in making decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives, such as:

  • restrictive access to pre- and post-coital contraceptives;
  • forced sterilization or virginity testing;
  • restrictive anti-abortion laws, which range from complete prohibition, denial or delay of safe abortion, or lack of post-abortion care. Restrictions may entail that a woman is only allowed to demand and obtain an abortion if her pregnancy would lead her to her death, in cases of rape or incest.
  • “religious freedom” arguments employed to undermine the SRHR of women. Throughout the world religious and cultural factors are used to disregard the dignity of girls and women, in opposition to their right to equality in health, specifically in instances such as:
    • The Catholic Church has wielded its significant power and global influence to control women’s reproductive rights and sexual freedom, campaigning to deny women abortion and the use of contraception;
    • In many self-described Muslim countries, religion, tradition and culture is used to control women in their sexuality and reproductive rights;
    • On the grounds of religious belief or conscience, practitioners have refused to provide services of sexual and reproductive rights making these services unavailable to women in certain areas.

Our work on the rights of women

We work with the United Nations and other international bodies and lobby them to:

  • Condemn the use of religious doctrine and the right to freedom of religion or belief to legitimize the violation of the rights of women and girls;
  • Increase efforts to investigate and highlight instances where the right to freely manifest one’s religion or belief is being fallaciously manipulated so as to discriminate against women and girls, to control their bodies, and to restrict their right to live their life as they choose;
  • Address the human rights violations arising from criminalization of abortion and the denial of access to safe and legal abortion services through its resolutions, decisions, and debates;
  • State clearly that reproductive freedom, safe abortions and access to all birth control methods should be recognised as a fundamental human right, and not as a privilege conferred by and regulated by the state;

We work with our members to lobby national governments to:

  • Comply with the aims set out by the Vienna Declaration and their obligations under the ICCPR, CEDAW and the CRC by meeting the SRHR of women and eliminating harmful traditional practices;
  • Abolish all laws that penalize or discriminate against women and observe their obligations in the face of discriminatory frameworks;
  • Fulfill their obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women, to punish those who commit it, and to condemn the culture of impunity and religious justification;
  • Abolish laws and policies restricting access to family planning, abortion and other reproductive services;
  • Organize their health systems to ensure that women are not prevented from accessing health services by professionals exercising conscientious objection;
  • Implement information campaigns in order to educate and mobilize public opinion against harmful traditional and cultural practices;
  • Provide information, education, and facilities so that persons may make informed, responsible, and free choices about their reproductive life;
  • Inform health and education practitioners, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary about the negative implications of harmful traditional practices on the health, well-being and human rights; and oblige them to report any such incident;

We work with our members and other NGOs to:

  • raise awareness about violence against women and SRH rights;
  • promote and participate in programmes of education and public information to spread the idea of equality of sexes in all areas of life;
  • considering men and women as equal members of the human race, they should be given the opportunity to contribute equally to the leadership and to the deliberations of all humanist bodies;
  • employ all reasonable methods to encourage and assist the international community to commit itself to unreserved support of the rights of women.

Discover more from Humanists International about the rights of women

The Rights of the Child

Humanism respects the autonomy of children and promotes the rights of the child which must be protected in line with the evolving capacities of the individual child. The Convention on the Rights of the Children (CRC) spells out the basic Human rights of children, including the rights to life, liberty and self-determination. Notably, the CRC includes the child’s right to health as a right to the “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” as well as calling on state parties to take appropriate measures to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children (Art. 24).

Children also have the right to education and access to any information aimed at promoting their mental and physical health.

Whilst parents have the right to raise their children within a religious tradition, the Convention also recognizes that as children mature and are able to form their own views, some may question certain religious practices or cultural traditions. The Convention supports children’s right to examine their beliefs, but it also states that their right to express their beliefs implies respect for the rights and freedoms of others (as also stated in ICCPR).

Challenges to Children’s rights

Nevertheless, throughout the world children’s rights are impaired. Different, interrelated areas can be identified that often entail challenges to children’s rights, including:

  • Education:
    • The practice of corporal punishment in schools;
    • Failure to ensure freedom of religion and belief for children through:
      • lack of information made available to them;
      • lack of alternatives to religious education in schools;
      • privileged positions of religious schools sustained and supported by state funding.
  • Harmful traditional practices, including:
    • Child marriage, entailing forced marriage and rape. Often child marriage goes hand in hand with other forms of violations against a child’s human rights. Girls subjected to child marriage are more likely to be denied the right to education, be subject to domestic violence, psychological damage and their life is at risk in case of early pregnancies.
    • Female Genital mutilation (FGM). This practice ranges from cutting off a girl’s clitoris to cutting off all of her external genitalia and sealing her vulva. Countless girls have died as a direct result of infection following FGM, and many more as a result of later problems in pregnancy and childbirth. Whilst reported to occur in many areas of the world, FGM is most prevalent in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa.
    • Child sacrifice. Children disappear frequently, murdered or mutilated by witch doctors as part of ceremonial rituals, for example practiced in South Africa and Uganda. Children are preferred in these rituals as they symbolize youth and energy; moreover, they are easy targets.
    • Forced “religious dedication.” For example, as part of the ”Devadasi system” in India, girls from the age of 7 or even younger are given to temple deities, thereby forced into prostitution and sexual slavery. This practice also takes part in “Kuriti” culture in Nepal, which may as well include the offering of a girl child to a Hindu temple (Deuki Pratha).
  • Children in conflict or fleeing from conflict, are the most vulnerable. They are at high risk of forced labour, sexual exploitation or recruitment in armed force.

Our work on the rights of the child

We work with the United Nations and other international bodies and lobby them to:

  • Condemn the employment of ‘cultural rights and traditional values’ arguments as an excuse for the abuse of human rights – especially with regards to children and the attempts to control their minds, bodies or sexuality;
  • Encourage exchange of information and good practices by promoting the collection and sharing of data on the prevalence and trends in harmful traditional practices;
  • Encourage and implement awareness campaigns against harmful traditional practices throughout the world.

We work with our members to lobby national governments to:

  • Fully implement all relevant Human Rights Conventions, in particular the Convention of the Rights of the Child;
  • Comply with their obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against children;
  • Guarantee the right of access to education, especially for girls;
  • Ensure the Freedom of thought, conscience and religion of Children by providing every child with the option to a humanist alternative of religious education;
  • Ensure evidence-based impartial sex education, making comprehensive sexuality education available to all;
  • Enact and enforcing the legal prohibition of harmful traditional practices and witchcraft related abuse;
  • Inform health and education practitioners, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary about the negative implications of child marriage, female genital mutilation and corporal punishment and legally oblige them to report such incident when they come across them;
  • Raise the legal age of marriage to 18 and rectifying the legislative loopholes between religious, customary and civil marriages;
  • Ensure the registration of birth and thereby a legal record of age;

Discover more from Humanists International about the rights of the child.

Right to science and culture

The right to science and culture is expressed in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: “(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits;” and “(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.”

The right to science and culture also appears in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognises everyone’s right to: “(a) To take part in cultural life; (b) To enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications; (c) To benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” It also says that states should “undertake to respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity.”

Humanism and the importance of science and culture

Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself. Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment. Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Cultural diversity has brought colour to our lives and a greater awareness that we all, regardless of our origins, share a common humanity. Humanists International believes that:

  • Artistic creativity and imagination can transform.
  • Artists give voice to our collective conscience; literature, music, and the visual and performing arts is essential to personal development and fulfilment.
  • We should promote respect above all for intellectual honesty, and for the supremacy of reason and the scientific method in the search for knowledge. No subjects should be taboo in the search for knowledge. Free inquiry must be limited only by respect for the rights of others and by concern for all sentient creatures.
  • Artistic and scientific freedom is one of the hallmarks of a free and progressive society.
  • “The arts question or give contours to what it is to be, while human rights empower people to be who they are.”
  • The arts dignify human experience by giving voice to thoughts and feelings, which trigger recognition of one’s own humanity, and hence the contemplation of our collective humanity

Challenges to Cultural Rights

The UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights has said: “We face a worldwide struggle to defend intellectual freedom and the rationality on which it is based. Moreover, at the heart of the fundamentalist and extremist paradigms are rejections of equality and universality of human rights, making unwavering defence of those principles the touchstone of the human rights response.” A/HRC/34/56, §2 There is a rising trend of states and non-state actors who use arguments based on anti-rights interpretations of religion, culture and tradition to roll back fundamental rights – particularly women’s rights and gender justice – and justify state impunity. Culture and religion must not be used/misused to justify violence and discrimination towards anyone, including women and girls; ethnic or religious minorities; or gender and sexually non-conforming persons. Everyone has the right to take part in cultural life. Yet these ideologies oppose equality and seek to enforce monolithic, exclusionary and patriarchal conceptions of ‘culture’ that ignore the equal right of all to participate in and create, shape and interpret culture – and the dynamic and pluralistic nature of culture itself.

Our advocacy work on cultural rights

We work at the UN and with our members to lobby national governments to:

  • Recognise Cultural rights defenders (e.g. writers, filmmakers, musicians, visual artists etc.) as human rights defenders.
  • Invest in the field of culture and in the conditions that allow people to learn, develop their creativity, experience the humanity of others and exercise their critical thinking are necessary to create cultural democracies and foster civic engagement.
  • Foster artistic creativity; it necessary for the development of vibrant cultures and the functioning of democratic societies.
  • Protection freedom of expression, including expression through the arts; it is especially significant for those artists and cultural workers who are contributing to addressing intolerance and exclusion or rebuilding trust in deeply divided societies and in the aftermath of human rights violations or violence because their cultural productions are likely to be controversial, both to those whose understanding of the world is defined by single, often rigid narratives as well as to members of institutions, Governments or non-State actors who might prefer to leave past atrocities unexamined and unexplored.
  • Reject hateful ideologies, including diverse forms of fundamentalism and extremism, represent grave threats to human rights and their universality in general and to cultural rights and respect for diversity in particular. Ideologies based on monolithic world views and enmity toward “the other” divide societies between those who adhere to the advocated mindset and all the others, who are not to be tolerated.
  • Condemn the employment of National security measures, religious norms and fundamentalism, and cultural relativism and harmful traditional practices to undermine the rights of minority belief groups, such as freethinkers and humanists, women and LGBTI artists.

Discover more from Humanists International about cultural rights.

Racism and caste-based discrimination

Humanists believe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to be one of the great achievements of the international community. Specifically, we support the UN’s programme for elimination of racism. Certainly one of the significant failures of modern society has been the continuation of racist policies and practices, and caste discrimination. The elimination of these is crucial to achieving the ends enunciated in the UN Declaration.

Challenges of racism and caste discrimination

In many countries throughout the world, persons and groups are subjected to violations of their human rights and face discrimination due to their race and / or ethnicity. These include:

  • Lack of full citizenship rights, Discrimination in employment and access to services like education, housing, health, and social security;
  • Unequal political rights and representation;
  • Unequal support from the state, such as financial support;
  • Hate speech and racial slander;
  • Unfair detention, slavery or persecution;
  • Violence, harassment, torture, rape and other threats to life and health;

These challenges act as a barrier to eliminating discrimination, racism and ethnic cleansing throughout the world.

Caste-based discrimination

One form of discrimination affecting millions of people worldwide is caste-based discrimination, despite being prescribed by Article 1 of the CERD. Caste discrimination is a pernicious and deeply ingrained form of structural discrimination, involving massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Caste systems, have a doctrine of inequality at their core, divide people into unequal and hierarchical social groups.

Whilst caste-based discrimination occurs in many countries throughout the world including Nigeria, Mauritania, Yemen, Gambia, Japan, and Korea, it mostly affects the Dalits of the Indian sub-continent. Many States have criminalised caste discrimination, though the recourse to justice for Dalits is notoriously non-existent. Those known as ‘Untouchables’ or Dalits in South Asia, are considered ‘lesser human beings’, impure’ and ‘polluting’ to other caste groups. This widespread caste discrimination against the Dalits has resulted in harassment, segregation in society, lack of access to public services and places, inability to own land, torture, rape and brutal murders. Some Dalits are also forced into the practice of manual scavenging which is the act of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling human and animal excreta from dry latrines, sewers and streets, using brooms, small tin plates and baskets carried on the head. Since Dalits are considered to be polluted by reason of their birth, the task of removing human and animal waste is allocated to them and strictly enforced. They have to work in filthy and abhorrent conditions and are furthermore socially ostracised by most of society in the form of people refraining from touching them (or items they have touched), being verbally abused and being excluded from social functions. Refusal by the Dalit people to perform such tasks leads to physical abuse and social boycott.

Our work on racism and caste-based discrimination

We work with the United Nations and other international bodies and lobby them to:

  • Condemn those committing acts of discrimination, racism and ethnic cleansing;
  • Take all possible measures to protect the dignity and worth of the human person and end discrimination based on racial and ethnic factors;
  • Investigate patterns of murder and violations of human rights perpetrated against minority persons and groups caused by racism and ethnic cleansing;
  • Document the status and situation of discrimination, racism and ethnic cleansing, and the specific risks and forms faced in every country.

We work with our members to lobby national governments to:

  • Enact and enforce legislation that protects any citizen from discrimination, racism and ethnic cleansing, including to:
    • Protect minority persons from being subject to discrimination in service procurement or employment on the basis of race and/or ethnicity;
    • Revise laws, policies and administrative practices on refugees and migrants to ensure all persons equal treatment with regard to immigration and asylum, including the right not to be returned to a place or situation of persecution;
    • Provide an “equitable” level of support to all racial and ethnic groups.
  • Take legal action against any individual or group, including government representatives, who subject persons to discriminatory violence on the basis of race and/or ethnicity;
  • Combat ‘social cleansing’ manifesting itself in murder and forced disappearances of minority persons and other socially discriminated persons;
  • Ratify international laws and conventions that aim at stopping discrimination, racism and ethnic cleansing;
  • Document the status and situation of discrimination, racism and ethnic cleansing, and the specific risks and forms of discrimination faced in their country.

We work with our members and other NGOs to:

  • Endorse, defend and promote the human rights of all persons regardless of race and/ or ethnicity;
  • Promote awareness of the barriers and forms of discrimination that persons face due to racial and ethnic differences, and how to counter these;
  • Enact and enforce policies combating discrimination based on race and/or ethnicity;
  • Support laws and policies which replace “racist” behaviours and institutions with democratic, humanistic, and ethical ones.

Discover more from Humanists International about racism and caste discrimination.

Democracy and populism

Over recent years across the world we have witnessed a marked increase in populist governments and movement. Many of these movements at their base are rooted in demagoguery, where power is gained by the exploitation of prejudice, fear and ignorance, the whipping up the passions and shutting down of reasoned deliberation.

Their tendency toward post-fact, anti-expert, simplistic and intolerant standpoints serve only to nurture an anti-universalist tyranny of the majority which inevitably undermines the human rights of minorities, allows for extremism, and threatens the very democratic system which gave them a voice in the first place.   Research has revealed a trend showing that populists in power undermine democracy in a number of specific ways, including: the erosion of checks and balances on the executive branch; less media freedom; civil liberties being diminished; and the quality of elections declining.   We argue that democracy is much more than a periodic opportunity to vote. For democracy to flourish it must be underpinned by the rule of law and the principle of equality under the law for all. Respect for human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, including the right to freedom of expression, should be a minimum standard for all democracies. The human rights of minorities, not just majorities, must be upheld and protected.

Freedom of expression must include the right to openly criticize political parties, leaders, and policies. As well as voting positively for representatives, democracy must respect the value of a free press and include systems of transparency, accountability, and the capacity for the people to criticise and peacefully replace failing and unpopular governments.

In order for democracy to stand robust and flourish, states need to better engage with the fear and frustration of so many of their citizens; they need to do more to acknowledge and respond to the voters’ feeling of dejection, being failed by the state and mainstream parties and better heed their concerns.   We argue that this needs to be done in a climate of open debate and education, evidence-based political action, and of unwavering respect for human rights universally applied. If a democratic system loses sight of these foundations just to appease the populist agenda, that system will inevitably eventually crumble.

Our work on democracy and populism

We work at the UN and with our members to lobby national governments to address the social causes of the politics of division: social inequality, a lack of respect for human rights, popular misconceptions about the nature of democracy, and a lack of global solidarity.

Discover more from Humanists International about democracy and populism.

See the resolution by the worldwide membership of Humanists International: The Auckland Declaration against The Politics of Division.

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