The Rising tide of Brutality and Intolerance

Human RightsYesterday, 10th December, was Human Rights Day and so it was appropriately the day that the fourth edition of the Freedom of Thought Report was published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

OK, yes, first a few side notes …

  • Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V), inviting all States and interested organizations to observe 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.
  • International Humanist and Ethical Union … is an umbrella organisation of humanist, atheist, rationalist, secular, skeptic, freethoughtand Ethical Culture organisations worldwide. Founded in Amsterdam in 1952, in 2011 the IHEU consisted of 117 member organizations in 38 countries

The IHEU Report

You can find details of the latest Freedom of Thought report here. The full pdf runs to 542 pages and goes into a lots of detail on what has been happened in every single nation on the planet, each country gets its own section.

To save you having to read 542 pages, the BHA pulls out a few disturbing highlights …

Developments over the past year that are highlighted include:

  • The spate of murders of humanist bloggers in Bangladesh by Islamists, to which the Government has failed to take effective action (and in fact blamed the bloggers). In her forward to the report, Bonya Ahmed, one of the bloggers who survived an attack, warns that ‘once a country silences and intimidates its intellectuals and freethinkers, a vicious cycle of terror and extremism becomes inevitable… from which it could take many, many years to revert.’
  • The ongoing human rights violations by Islamic State, both in Iraq and Syria and around the world.
  • Individuals like Ashraf and Mohamed Cheikh, who have been sentenced to death for apostasy, others also facing new sentences like Egyptians Sherif Gaber, sentenced to a year’s hard labour, and Karim al-Banna, sentenced to jail for three years, and ongoing cases like that of Raif Badawi.
  • Violent attack on the non-religious both by members of the public in countries such as the Maldives.
  • Some positive moves, such as Iceland and Norway abolishing their blasphemy laws.

As last year, the United Kingdom is given a rating of systemic discrimination, as a result of discrimination by, for example, state-funded religious schools.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, who is also the President of IHEU, commented, ‘Last year we recorded a rise in hate speech and rhetoric: Presidents saying “humanism” and “liberalism” were a threat to the state, laws branding atheism as “terrorism”, and so on. This year we’ve seen that rhetoric bubble over into truly malicious acts of persecution.

‘Our ongoing concern is that with jihadist extremism setting the bar very high for brutality, it is creating a space for this deepening, noxious hatred against the non-religious in a growing number of countries, primarily Islamic states. It’s almost as if there’s this false need to create an equal, imaginary threat from the opposite end of the belief spectrum, as a kind of false balance to the likes of ISIS. In fact this strategy is sometimes almost completely explicit, as in Egypt’s “war on atheism” for example. This entirely misplaced reaction against the non-religious is turning to increasing violence by non-state actors, and ever harsher, transparently unjust sentences from state authorities.’

Why document all the bad stuff going on?

By highlighting what is wrong and it can be a beginning to a wider awakening, a desire to fix things …

  • Leveraging criticism against countries on human rights grounds. In the days after the first report was published, the election of Mauritania and the Maldives to the vice-presidency of the UN Human Rights Council was criticised, their inclusion in the Freedom of Thought report cited as evidence of their human rights failures. Mainstream media in countries which were criticised in the report, for example Indonesia’s Jakarta Globe, not only covered the launch but were prompted to look in particular at the country’s freedom of religion or belief violations.
  • Highlighting individual’s stories. The report includes verified cases of violations again individuals. This serves to coney how bad laws can affect people, as well as corroborating those individual’s cases in a human rights context. On this site we provide resources and a walk-through of the United Nations complaints mechanism for people whose rights may have been violated.
  • Opening up discussion of persecution against the non-religious more generally. Around the publication of the report our representatives discussed the issues in article and live appearances and we worked to ensure that mainstream media reported on the publication (e.g. Reuters, Washington Post). The news was also taken up by citizen journalists (e.g., popular general interest sites (e.g. and many widely read special interest blogs (e.g. Friendly Atheist).

Human Rights truly do matter

We have learned, perhaps the hard way over many many generations, a few very valuable things, namely that all humans, without exception or qualification are entitled to both dignity and equality, and that we do not get to qualify that in any way. Race is not justification for discrimination, nor is culture. We should appreciate that nothing, not gender, religious belief, sexuality, wealth or poverty, or even disability should ever be utilised as a tool to divide and discriminate. This is not a western idea, nor is it a modern idea, but rather is a universal concept that transcends all cultures, and applies in any time.

Past generations might indeed have failed to appreciate this due to ignorance or because they embraced bad ideas that blinded them to this, yet that observation must not be a barrier for us. That need not become our inheritance, because we can recognise such mistakes, and brush off the clutter of the past, and instead stride forward with a renewed vision that is encapsulated with a hope and promise of a better future.

There is no “them and us”, but simply just “us”.

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