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Humanism is International and People Everywhere Need It (Why I Went to Auckland)

I recently returned from a trip to Auckland, New Zealand for the General Assemblies of IHEU (International Humanist and Ethical Union) and the youth section IHEYO (I-H-E- Youth Organisation).

By the way, those names are soon to officially change to– simply– Humanists International and Young Humanists International. So now it won’t be such a mouthful to remember.

So I thought I’d take the time to explain what exactly I was doing Down Under and a little about the international Humanist work I do. (I wasn’t just feeding kangaroos and walking along the beach).

What is Humanists International?

Humanists International is, in essence, a defender of human rights and the global advocate of Humanist values. It’s the official global representative body of the humanist movement that unites a diverse body of non-religious organisations and individuals.

The organisation was founded in 1952 in Amsterdam. The vision is to build a world where human rights are respected and everyone can live a life of dignity.

This non-profit, non-governmental organisation is based out of London and has a membership of over 160 humanist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, and freethought organisations from 70 different countries. Our organisation has representation on several committees in the United Nations and other international governing bodies.

The Rationalist House in Auckland, just one of the member orgs in Humanists International
IHEU Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, addresses a UN conference in Vienna on the Fez Action Plan

The youth section, Young Humanists International, is the group of young adults ages 18 to 35 involved in the work of Humanists International with our own separate executive committee and democratic governing body for decision-making. (That’s where I’m involved directly).

The Annual General Assembly

Each year a General Assembly is held at a shifting location to bring together representatives of Humanists International Member Organisations from all over the world. Each member organisation sends a delegate and has votes based on that organisation’s size.

It’s important to note here that Young Humanists International have a General Assembly that’s separate to Humanists International. In the Assembly of Young Humanists International, I was representing the American organization Future of Ethical Societies (FES), the youth section of the American Ethical Union (AEU). However, in the larger Humanists International Assembly, I was simply an observer as there was another delegate present representing the AEU.

The representative’s name is Randy Best and he’s a longtime family friend! (Ignore the poor quality of the photo)

The 2018 Auckland General Assembly was a success both for the youth section and larger organisation. Some critical name and brand change resolutions were passed as well as some re-elections and there was an exchange of important ideas for the future of the global Humanist movement.

Not to mention there was some excellent socializing and bonding — arguably the cornerstone of any successful Humanist event. Quality work in the Humanist movement is more assured when you connect with the people you’re working alongside.

Young Humanists International General Assembly, Auckland 2018
From Left to Right: Marieke Prien, President of Young Humanists International (Germany) Kato Mukasa, Board Member of Humanists International (Uganda) Anya Overmann, Communication Officer of Young Humanists International (USA) David Pineda, Board Member of Humanists International (Guatemala)
Myself, Viola (a member of Young Humanists International from Uganda) and Marieke

The Work of Humanists International

Our organisation seeks to influence international policy such as ending blasphemy laws and advocating for human rights for all. Here is the core of the Humanists International work:

Representation at the UN and Other International Bodies

We have representation at the United Nations in Geneva and New York, as well as the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, the Council of Europe, and other bodies.

Here’s a fun little story about our involvement at the UN: Earlier this year the (Trump-chosen) US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, sent Humanists International a letter condemning our work on the Human Rights Council. There were specific accusations about our organisation colluding with Russia and China, and the irony of that accusation was not lost on us Humanists. (We actually found it pretty funny).

This, of course, was around the same time that the US decided to pull out from the Human Rights Council. I guess that goes to show that we’re leaving some impact internationally!

Support of Member Organisations

Aside from representing our member organisations on an international level, they also receive support for growth and development. We have a myriad of resources to support new Humanist and secular groups as well as offering more direct support.

Building the Humanist Network

The work of Humanists continues through our flourishing global network. The more connections formed globally, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more impact we can have.

It’s a priority of ours to foster these connections and build relationships with Humanists in every corner of the world.

Protecting Humanists at Risk

Some countries are safer than others when it comes to living as a Humanist. Humanists International makes a great effort to protect Humanists where it’s dangerous to live. That’s why we have an ongoing fundraiser to help those living in countries with apostasy laws and release an annualFreedom of Thought Report to highlight the risks Humanists face all over the world.

My Role in Young Humanists International & How I Got Involved

If you’ve read the piece I published earlier this year about the national Ethical Humanist conference I organized in St. Louis, you’re probably familiar with my involvement with young Humanists on a national level. I’ve been in elected leadership roles within Humanism since I was in high school. My volunteer involvement has been a passion of mine as I grew up in an Ethical Humanist community.

I got involved on the international level in 2015 when I attended the General Assembly in Oslo, Norway and helped FES become a member organisation. At the same time, I was elected as the onto the Executive Committee of Young Humanists International as the Communication Officer. I manage our social media, our content, and all other external communications.

Oslo General Assembly, 2015, when I was first elected to the Young Humanists International Executive Committee

When you think of Humanism and the priorities an international non-profit organisation should have, an online presence may not seem like it needs to be a main focus. With Humanist lives at risk in countries that do not observe their basic rights, why would an online forum deserve a priority?

Believe it or not, the online Humanist presence is absolutely vital. You can find Humanists in almost every corner of the world, but you may not be able to hear their voices. Many Humanists live in secret because their religious families or societies do not approve of their beliefs (or lack of religious belief). So connecting Humanists who feel isolated and threatened is a really important step in those folks feeling safe and accepted.

I had the privilege of speaking to several Humanists while in Auckland who live dangerous lives as Humanists in their home countries. You’d be surprised just how many Humanists have become estranged from their families, their communities, their former lives, just to stand up for Humanist values.

If you think it’s not a big deal to live as a Humanist in your home country, then you are lucky to live in a safe place. Not everyone is so lucky. Sometimes being a Humanist means fighting for your own survival. You may be safe and mostly protected as a Humanist in the US or the UK, but in places like Pakistan or Bangladesh, there is a serious risk. Even if Humanists in these countries manage to flee to a safer country, they’re still at risk due to the well-connected international community of religious extremists.

My goal as Communication Officer is to tell these people’s stories and make more people aware of the suffering that many Humanists must endure all over the world just to identify as Humanist. Their stories need to be told and shared over and over in order to create impact.

Our job is not easy because there’s a constant balance that must be struck in order to tell these important stories on a global scale but also protect their identities and their lives. In this work, safety is a major concern.

Conclusion

People everywhere need Humanism because people everywhere deserve to have their human rights respected. The work we do will never be easy, but it’s so well worth it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Humanism, here are some resources for you: