Lords debate human rights of humanists
February 25th, 2009
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today welcomed a call in the House of Lords for inclusion and equality for non-religious people in the UK and across the world.
The Rt Hon Lord Macdonald of Tradeston CBE, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, spoke in a debate last night on ‘Human Rights: Religious Belief’, speaking persuasively for the need to recognise continuing discrimination against humanists, and for progressive religious and non-religious people to work together against religious intolerance and persecution.
Lord Macdonald spoke positively about humanists, stating that, ‘The non-religious now make up a significant proportion of the UK population. Most of these non-believers lead good and responsible lives with commitments to human rights and democracy. We humanists have a long history of work for a more open, inclusive, just and tolerant society.’
Lord Macdonald then drew attention to the UN Special Rapporteur on Religion or Belief, whose remit includes non-religious beliefs. He said, ‘The UN rapporteur notes that, in many cases, societal pressures mean that the non-religious cannot openly express their beliefs. There is also concern about official intolerance expressed through policies on education and equality, and on blasphemy. While the UK finally abolished blasphemy laws last year, sadly, in Pakistan, it is punishable by death. Those who reject religion face particular dangers. These so-called apostates can have marriages annulled and their children taken away. In many Islamic countries, apostasy is indeed still punishable by death.’
Looking again internationally and to the UN, Lord Macdonald warned the House about grave problems with the UN Human Rights Council: ‘British humanists have been particularly concerned about the decisions being taken by the UN’s Human Rights Council, which seems increasingly to be dominated by undemocratic political and religious interests. The HRC recently amended the mandate of the UN’s rapporteur on freedom of expression to impose serious restrictions on “freedom of expression and belief”. This amendment was imposed by an alliance of Islamic Governments backed, significantly, by China, Russia and Cuba. Can the Minister confirm whether our concern is shared by the UK Government, and whether they are taking any concerted action with other democratic states to ensure that no state guilty of systematic violations of human rights should serve on the Human Rights Council?’
Finally, Lord Macdonald asked the Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown, whether he would encourage the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to bring the British Humanist Association on board to its “Freedom of Religion panel”, which advises the FCO on many important issues. Despite the need for equal treatment on grounds of religion or belief, which includes non-religious beliefs, and the willingness of humanists to contribute to the discussion, at present the panel has only religious representation.
For more information contact Naomi Phillips on 020 7079 3585.
Read more about the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, which now has 120 members from both Houses of Parliament and across all main Parties.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing the interests of the large and growing population of ethically concerned, non-religious people living in the UK. The BHA is deeply committed to human rights and advocates an open and inclusive society in which individual freedom of belief and speech are supported by a policy of disinterested impartiality on the part of the government and official bodies towards the many groups within society so long as they conform to the minimum conventions of the society.