Typically, humanists at risk across the globe report that they have rejected religion and all the associated traditional/conservative norms which have placed constraints on their personal lives, education, or career prospects; they feel trapped by circumstance owing in part to the conservative religious values that they reject. They report having received abuse or been threatened for their beliefs, many have faced ostracism or difficulty in securing employment.
We also work concertedly on cases of individuals who are facing charges or are already imprisoned for their promotion of humanist values and/or non-theistic beliefs. Such work is complex, and as such is carried out over long periods of time. The vast majority of our case work is confidential, and likely to remain so, to respect the individuals’ privacy, and also for their security and protection.
To read more about the challenges faced by the humanist community internationally, read our Humanists at Risk: Action Report 2020, which examines the experiences of non-theists in eight countries.
How can we help?
Our response is tailored to the needs of the individual, but might include one or more of the following:
Who can we help?
Humanists International works to support individuals who face direct persecution as a result of their humanist beliefs or identity.
Owing to the high numbers of requests we receive each month, we must prioritize those at the greatest risk whom we know we are best positioned to help.
Firstly, we receive a request for assistance. This could come from the individual themselves, a referral from one of our member organizations and associates, or trusted partners working in similar fields.
If they didn’t send it to us with their request for help, we will ask them to complete our application form, where they provide details about themselves, the persecution they face, and the help they are requesting. We will also ask applicants to attach any evidence they have that can support their account. This helps with step two
We take our work to support humanists seriously. To ensure that the support they receive is of the highest quality that we have to offer, we have to limit the numbers of individuals we support at any one time. We can’t help everyone at once, so we also have to go through the challenging process of prioritizing those individuals at the greatest risk who we know we can help in some way. For many, this will mean that instead of providing them with direct support, we will refer them to our Casework Resources page.
For those we can assist, we set about establishing the facts of the case, clarifying and verifying the details, and conducting a needs assessment.
The process of verification can be challenging and lengthy, so while there may be some cases which are straightforward where we can respond relatively quickly, there will be others that will take more time.
Having verified the case and identified how we can help, we take the relevant next steps. This could be reaching out to partner organizations running relocation programmes, it could be securing short-term grants, conducting public or private advocacy on their case, writing letters of support, reaching out to members.
Integral to our decision making is making sure we have consent to act on someone’s behalf and getting an understanding of the kind of action that might be welcomed. In some cases, it may be harmful for an individual to be publicly associated with a humanist organisation.
The key is to coordinate to ensure that we are supporting as many people as we can with the right kind of support. We are not always the best placed to provide it.
While in some cases, the need is short term – individuals may need to relocate temporarily until the situation in their hometown calms down, or they may need some funds to tide them over – in others, the support necessary is long-term and often involves behind-the-scenes advocacy, which may not ever be made public.
Where appropriate, we work together with our Member Organizations and local, national, regional and international partners to deliver the support needed.
By keeping lines of communication open, we are able to adapt our strategy as time goes on.
In an ideal world, no one would ever need to come back to us for more support, but we aren’t there yet. Even if we can’t provide the support requested, we can help individuals identify others to contact.
Emma Wadsworth-Jones works at Humanists International as the world’s only Humanists At Risk Coordinator. Before joining us in April 2020, she worked as a casework manager at PEN International, where she gained 7+ years’ experience in devising strategies to support individuals at risk in Asia, the Americas and MENA, and in organizing tailored trainings in physical, digital and psychosocial security. Please consider supporting Emma’s work with a donation or by becoming an Individual Supporter of Humanists International. Please consider supporting Emma’s work with a donation or by becoming an Individual Supporter of Humanists International.
Humanists International employs a small team of highly experienced staff, many of whom are experts in their field. We also employ the world’s only full-time Humanists at Risk Coordinator, who leads and manages our work in this area, along with a network of consultants, volunteers and members around the world.
We use our contacts and influence as the global representative body of the humanist movement, uniting a diversity of non-religious organisations and individuals. We maintain delegations to the United Nations in Geneva, Vienna, and New York; the Organisation of American States; the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the Council of Europe; UNESCO; the European Commission and Parliament and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Over the course of 2021, we received more than 250 requests for help from humanists facing persecution all around the world. Few of them are able to live a life true to their values safely; the majority are forced to conceal their humanist beliefs and identity even from those closest to them.
This corresponds to a request for help every two days. Each month, we received, on average, 22 requests for help; this was a 72% increase on the average number of requests we received each month in 2021.
The requests come from individuals across the globe who are at direct threat for their humanist identity or activism. Many of them are activists who advocate for human and scientific progress, social reforms, and a culture of tolerance and freedom. In this regard, they are often at the forefront of many progressive battles: secularism, democracy, women’s rights, LGBTI+ rights, freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, anti-racism, critical thinking, and so on. We need to support them.
In the last 12 months, we managed to assist 149 individuals from 35 countries across the globe with practical support and advice, and spent a total of £15,269 in emergency grants.
But our assistance is more than just grants, we have also helped signpost individuals to local organizations, including our Members and Associates who can be of support to those left isolated; we have supported asylum claims of individuals who have fled their homeland due to experiencing direct persecution as a result of their non-belief; we lead public campaigns and advocacy actions. We may even provide a combination of strategies, not limited to the above, that are tailored to the needs of those seeking our assistance.
Many of those we have supported have reported improvements in their situation at least in part as a result of our intervention, such as George Gavriel (Cyprus), Mommad (Pakistan), Shakthika Sathkumara (Sri Lanka), and Josef Moradi (Afghanistan). But among these individuals, are the names of other activists who remain at risk, like Mubarak Bala (Nigeria) and Rishvin Ismath (Sri Lanka).
One of the biggest challenges we faced in 2021, was in providing support to Afghan atheists and their families left exposed by the Taliban takeover. These individuals rightly feel that their very lives are in danger should they stay, but there are frustratingly few alternatives. International governments have been slow to respond to the unfolding crisis, and their resettlement mechanisms are only just being fully established.
We have seen successes this year, we have successfully supported:
A big part of our work over the last year has been in coordinating the campaign for the release of Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, who has been arbitrarily detained for more than 600 days without trial.
We know that this is a difficult time for everyone, and we understand that you may not be in a position to support our work financially at this time, but if you can, humanists at risk are in need now, more than ever. Any amount will go towards our work on behalf of individuals at risk.
Other ways you can get involved, spread the word:
Humanists International is a proud member of the European Union Temporary Relocation Programme