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IHEU Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, addresses a UN conference in Vienna on the Fez Action Plan

Representing the humanist movement, advocating on its behalf, and promoting humanist values at the United Nations and other international bodies is a core role and function of the IHEU.

Our work focuses on those rights that are threatened, abused or undermined by harmful traditional, cultural and religious practices. We have a specific concentration on freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, the rights of women, LGBTI equality and the rights of the child. We also speak out against forms of discrimination based on race and nationality.

The IHEU is an international NGO with: Special Consultative Status at the United Nations in Geneva, Vienna, and New York (including General Consultative Status at UNICEF); observer status at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul); General Consultative Status at the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), and a partner in human rights with UNESCO (Paris).

We also engage with the European Commission, European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).


Advocacy at International Institutions

United Nations (Geneva)

At the UN in Geneva, the IHEU delegation engages with the UN Human Rights Council, Universal Periodic Review and Committee work. We deliver oral and written statements, make submissions to UN consultations, engage at meetings, as well as network with states, experts and other civil society organisations.
The IHEU’s director of advocacy is vice chair of the UN NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Geneva.

United Nations (New York)

At the UN in New York, the IHEU monitors and engages with the work of the General Assembly, Third Committee, ECOSOC committee, Commission on Population and Development and Commission for Social Development. We also take an active part in the NGO Committees on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Human Rights, and on the Rights of the Child.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

The IHEU engages primarily with two of UNESCO’s programme areas: communication and information, where it focuses on UNESCO’s project for the promotion of independent media and freedom of the press; and education. It does this by attending meetings in Paris, making statements and submissions and working with its conferences of internationals NGOs.

Council of Europe

The IHEU engages with the Work of the Council of Europe (a 47-nation international organisation tasked with monitoring and upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law) primarily via two channels; lobbying the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is the parliamentary arm of the Council; and through membership and participation with the Conference of International NGOs.

We attend PACE and INGO committee meetings, follow and draft amendments for reports and resolutions, and meet individual parliamentary delegates. We also work particularly closely with a small group of progressive NGOs, focussing on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) issues, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and LGBTI equality.

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The IHEU has engaged with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), a quasi-judicial body tasked with promoting and protecting human rights and collective (peoples’) rights throughout the African continent as well as interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and considering individual complaints of violations of the Charter. by attending its Ordinary sessions in Banjul, communicating with its Special Rapporteurs, monitoring the implementation of its members duties under the African charter and working with the NGO forum on the ACHPR.


Engaging with the Universal Periodic Review

As part of our advocacy, the IHEU engages with the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and encourages its Member Organizations to do so too. The UPR is a great way for IHEU members, and civil society more broadly, to highlight human rights issues in their home countries and to bring a sharper focus on the plight of so many free thinkers globally.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is an opportunity for every state to be examined on their human rights record, with both other states and civil society feeding in.

This is a democratic and truly multilateral approach, and with all States and more than 800 non-state actors are involved, a lot of pressure can be exerted.

How can IHEU members get involved?

Most important: Download our full briefing on the process (PDF)

In addition, organizations can:

  • Encourage your own state, before its review, to organise national conferences so that you and other NGOs and Human rights defenders have the opportunity to bring flaws to its attention.
  • Submit a report to the UN on human rights situations of concerning in your country. This information will be processed and included the review.
  • Lobby reviewing States to ask specific questions and specific recommendations.
  • Take action to ensure governments live-up to their commitments in between reviews.
  • Other possible actions: organising side events, spreading information, publicising, encouraging wider involvement in the process.
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