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The IHEU General Assembly 2017 took place on Sunday (6 August), as part of a weekend of events hosted in London, UK by Humanists UK.

The programme of events began on Friday with IHEU Regional Networking workshops, as well as the General Assembly of our youth section, IHEYO, and a Humanist Professionals conference, discussing humanist chaplaincy and pastoral support, including the provision of support for so-called ‘apostates’.

On Saturday, Humanists UK hosted a conference on “Populism, extremism, and threats to humanism”. Among a host of experts on modern political movements, Elizabeth O’Casey (IHEU Director of Advocacy) discussed the overlap between populism and religious authoritarianism, and Bob Churchill (IHEU Director of Communications and Campaigns) outlined some beneficial features of work designed to change the world.

Panelists at the conference included (left to right) secular activist Gita Saghal, journalist Joan Smith, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune, and IHEU Director of Advocacy Elizabeth O’Casey

Bob Churchill discusses how the latest edition of the IHEU Freedom of Thought Report is designed to effect change

More on the day conference and other events is available via humanism.org.uk.

IHEU General Assembly 2017

On Sunday, Member Organizations of the IHEU came together for the annual IHEU General Assembly, the democratic governing body of the IHEU.

As part of his welcoming remarks to representatives at the meeting, IHEU president Andrew Copson said:

Obviously we have much business to do today, and in addition we will hear also about the work of the IHEU in the past year. We’ve appointed a new Chief Executive who has hit the ground running at a really extraordinary time for the organization, where we now have a new Growth and Development Officer delivering a new Growth and Development programme, which I’m pleased to see is already bearing fruit. We will hear about the latest evolution of the IHEU Freedom of Thought Report. And for the first time we have a full-time Director of Advocacy bringing us up to four full-time staff – that’s up from just two staff two years ago.

I believe that the work our staff do is extraordinary – especially when you think about the level of resources and the tiny number of staff we have. As a Board we’re building more and more into our long-term strategic plans about our sustainability and growth.

I believe some of our best work is work we do in cooperation with you, our Member Organizations, when we are able to uplift or inform each other – that goes in both directions. Many of our plans incorporate this interlinking with Members, and I think this cooperative stance will be a recurring theme of our discussions today.

I thank you all for coming here today, to support and engage with our work. You have come here today and a really difficult time for internationalism, for human rights, for the values of humanism. So thank you for not giving up! Thank you for your own efforts and through your membership or your cooperation for supporting the work of the IHEU. Please give yourselves a very generous round of applause!

In an invited keynote speech, Dr Ahmed Shaheed (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief) stressed that human rights violations against atheists and humanists in the past few years were of a particularly “brutal” nature, and that the kind of acts of violence recorded against the non-religious just for being non-religious and voicing their views was not found against other communities in the same proportionality. Dr Shaheed also noted the IHEU’s recent contribution to the recent Beirut Declaration, thanking Director of Advocacy Elizabeth O’Casey for insisting on strongly inclusive language.

Formal business of the General Assembly included the ratification of one of our largest ever cohorts of 18 new Member Organizations (out of 19 approved by the Board since the previous GA). These are: Ambedkar Social Institute (India), Atheism Chinese Association (China), Atheist Ireland, Atheists in Kenya, Atheists of Bogata, Brighter Brains (USA), Cyprus Humanist Association, Greater Manchester Humanists (UK), Halton-Peel Humanist Community (Canada), Humanist magazine (Israel), Humanist Society Pakistan, Humanist Union of Greece, International Institute for Development Facilitation (Zimbabwe), Jicho Jipya – Think Anew (Tanzania), Pacific Islands Secular Association, Secular Humanist Association (Puerto Rico), Secular Humanist Society Peru, and Urban House (Suriname).

In elections to the IHEU Board, Anne-France Ketelaer (Belgium) was returned as Vice-President. David Pineda (Guatemala), appointed last year as Board member for Latin America, was elected to the same position. With two further general Board places open, the General Assembly elected two new Board members: Rebecca Hale (United States) and Gulalai Ismail (Pakistan). Rebecca Hale has been involved in the governance of IHEU Member Organization the American Humanist Association since 2005 and served as president since 2013. Gulalai Ismail is a human rights campaigner, co-founder of IHEU Member Organization Aware Girls, and received the International Humanist Award from IHEU in 2014. There are nine current members of the Board.

Rebecca Hale (left) and Gulalai Ismail (right) join the IHEU Board in 2017

A resolution on changing the name of the IHEU was passed by the General Assembly with an amendment, mandating the Board to oversee a transition to a revised identity for the organization in the future…

There were two awards made at this year’s General Assembly. A special, posthumous Distinguished Services to Anti-Superstition Award was made to rationalist campaigner Narendra Dabholkar, who was killed in 2013, apparently in connection with his work against fraudsters and championing the anti-superstition law which was enacted days after his murder. Making the award, Andrew Copson said: “He once protested, in the face of the threats he was receiving against his life: “I’m fighting within the framework of the Indian constitution and it is not against anyone, but for everyone.” It is this universalism, this great humanism, which his attackers, and his opponents generally, obviously fail to comprehend — and for which he must be remembered.”

The 2017 Distinguished Services to Humanism Award was made to humanist activist Leo Igwe, long-time campaigner against violence and abuse linked to witchcraft beliefs and accusations in his home country of Nigeria. Collecting the award in person, which he dedicated “to all humanists at risk around the globe”, Leo received a standing ovation and tremendous applause.

Work of the IHEU

New Chief Executive Gary McLelland introduced the annual activity report (download PDF), covering the year 2016 under then-Chief Executive Carl Blackburn.

Bob Churchill highlighted the successful move of the Freedom of Thought Report into its new all-online format. And Elizabeth O’Casey spoke about the expansion of advocacy work under her new full-time role.

The meeting closed with a presentation on the new Growth and Development programme being implemented from 2017. Our new Growth and Development Officer, Giovanni Gaetani, spoke about the launch of new event series Café Humaniste, IHEU’s new online discussion series Qué Pasa Humanista, as well as upcoming resources and initiatives.

Giovanni Gaetani presents on IHEU’s new Growth and Development programme


Huge thanks to all staff, Board members outgoing and incoming, delegates from Member Organizations, Individual Supporters observing the meeting, and to our volunteers for helping to keep things running!

The IHEU General Assembly is held annually, usually in conjunction with a conference and events hosted by a national IHEU Member Organization. In the past few years the IHEU General Assembly has been held in Malta (2016) and the Philippines (2015). Next year’s General Assembly 2018 is due to be held in Auckland, New Zealand.

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One Response to Tears and joy at IHEU General Assembly 2017

  1. Tharaka Warapitiya says:

    Our solidarity for the general assembly !
    Sri Lanka Rationalist Association

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