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.
Firstly, we receive a request for assistance. This could come from the individual themselves, a referral from one of our member organisations and associates, or trusted partners working in similar fields.
With any request we receive, we set about establishing the facts of the case, clarifying and verifying the details, and conducting a needs assessment. This process is led by the Humanists at Risk Coordinator. Our procedures also contain a crisis plan for what to do in the event of an urgent crisis.
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 many cases, it may be harmful for an individual to be publicly associated with a humanist or atheist organisation.
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. It can often feel frustrating, and there will be a desire for us to move quickly, but based on our years of experience we know that this verification stage is key, and must be conducted with rigour.
We can’t help everyone at once, so we also have to go through the challenging process of prioritising those individuals at the greatest risk who we know we can help in some way.
Having verified the case and identified how we can help, we take the relevant next steps. This could be reaching out to partner organisations 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.
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. Emma started working in this position in April 2020 and since then the casework management capacity of the organization has dramatically increased. 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).
In the last 12 months (July 2020-June 2021) the organization has received 200 requests for help from humanists facing persecution all around the world.
This corresponds to a request for help every two days. Each month, we receive indeed, on average, 16 requests for help from individuals across the globe who are at direct threat for their humanist identity or activism. We are talking about 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 72 individuals and spent a total of £26,790 in emergency grants. Amongst these individuals, we can see the names of activists who are finally free, such as Mahmoud Jama Ahmed (Somalia), Shakthika Sathkumara (Sri Lanka), Josef Moradi (Afghanistan) – but also the names of activists who are still at risk, like Mubarak Bala (Nigeria), Rishvin Ismath (Sri Lanka), or Said Djabelkhir (Algeria).
With our emergency grants, we help activists at risk to cover their medical expenses, legal fees, relocation costs and general subsistence, including rent and food. A big part of this fund has been allocated to assist Mubarak Bala, the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria who has been detained arbitrarily without charge for 428 days.
But our assistance is more than just grants. We help signpost individuals to local organizations, including our Members and Associates who can be of support to those left isolated; we support 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.
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