Council of Europe
The Council of Europe – home of the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights – is older than and quite separate from the European Union (although they cooperate quite closely) and has 47 members, 20 more than the EU.
There are four levels of engagement with society (known as the ‘quadrilogue’) at the Council of Europe – national governments (in the Committee of Ministers), local and regionial government (in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities), national parliaments (in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) which is made up of nominees of the parliaments of member states) and civil society (in the Conference of INGOs - international non-governmental organisations).
Humanism is represented in the INGO group at the Council of Europe by the International Humanist and Ethical Union but by agreement with IHEU the EHF makes nominations to their delegation. Currently board members Julien Houben, Renate Bauer and David Pollock are serving in this capacity; previously Andrew Copson and before him Georges Liénard were in the IHEU delegation. For reports on Council of Europe affairs see the IHEU website.
However, the EHF also takes part in some Council of Europe events in its own name: on these, see below.
- January 2012: PACE resolution on living wills hijacked to condemn euthanasia
For a report, see here.
- January 2012: Conference of INGOs
The IHEU delegates (including the three nominated by the EHF) attended the INGO conference on 25-27 January.
- November 2011: Second Intercultural Dialogue conference on the Media
Jean de Brueker and David Pollock took part in a two-day conference in Luxembourg on Media, Beliefs and Religion, a follow-up to the meeting in September 2010 and the latest in the series of exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue.
- April 2011: PACE recommends dialogue with religions and humanists
At its meeting on April 12 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted with small amendments the report of its Committee on Culture, Science and Education (see at February 2011, below). It includes a lengthy recommendation to the Committee of Ministers which includes this:
17. The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
17.1. promote a genuine partnership for democracy and human rights between the Council of Europe, the religious institutions and humanist and non-religious organisations, seeking to encourage the active involvement of all stakeholders in action to promote the fundamental values of the Organisation;
17.2. establish, to this end, a place for dialogue, a workspace between the Council of Europe and high-level representatives of religions and of non-denominational organisations, in order to place existing relations on a stable and formally recognised platform;
17.3. develop this initiative in concertation with the interested parties, closely associate the Parliamentary Assembly and, as far as possible, the European Union, and invite the Alliance of Civilisations and, if appropriate, other partners to contribute;
17.4. continue, in this context, organising dedicated meetings on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue.
The EHF issued a press release warmly welcoming this move: it is available in English and French. Sadly the Committee of Ministers, meeting in January 2012, rejected the idea of a new dialogue: they referred to the existing “Exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue” which (they said) “in their present form, respond to a certain extent to the proposal of the Assembly. The Committee of Ministers may however return at a later stage, if appropriate, to the idea raised by the Parliamentary Assembly as regards a more stable Council of Europe platform for such a dialogue.”
Julien Houben was in Strasbourg for the April 2011 PACE meeting and his report is here (at item 2).
- March 2011: Forum on New Multicultural Challenges: how can NGOs play their part? (Istanbul)
Julien Houben represented EHF at this conference, held in Istanbul on 24-25 March. His report is here.
- February 2011: PACE Committee on Culture, Science and Education
The PACE Committee on Culture, Science and Education is undertaking a study on “The Religious Dimension of Intercultural Dialogue”. The EHF submitted a memorandum to the Committee and was subsequently invited to attend a hearing on 18 February 2011 held in the building of the Assemblée Nationale in Paris. Keynote speakers representing the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, Judaism and Islam had already been invited before we submitted our memorandum, but EHF President David Pollock was given the opportunity to speak.
He introduced the EHF and said that it represented not only those who explicitly adopted Humanism or atheist or agnostic attitudes but also those whom the European Court of Human Rights, in a judgement already quoted by some of the speakers, had called “the unconcerned”. We were therefore strong defenders of freedom of religion or belief, not only as a basic human right but also because it embraced freedom from religion – freedom to live without interference from religious authorities, something that had not been achieved in some states even within the Council of Europe, such as Malta, Greece and Poland. He referred to the Eurobarometer survey showing how religion was the least important of a set of values to European citizens (see details in our memorandum) and said that public policy needed to take this into account.
However, humanists were not hostile to religion – we were not “aggressive atheists” seeking to interfere with the beliefs of other people. He gave as an example that humanists in the United Kingdom had been developing for thirty years or more the approach to religious education adopted in the last few years by the Council of Europe (and previously cited at the meeting by the Director General of Education, Culture and Heritage). He therefore hoped that the Committee would find our contribution on the place of religion in society well argued, thoughtful and constructive.
The draft report of the Committee, to be considered at the PACE meeting on April 12, recommends:
“the promotion of a partnership for democracy and human rights between the Council of Europe, the religious faiths and the main humanist organisations; the establishment, to this end, of a stable platform for dialogue. . .”
- November 2010: Lisbon Forum: “Freedom of expression, conscience and religion”
On 4-5 November 2010 the Council of Europe and the UN Alliance of Civilisations held a conference on “Freedom of expression, conscience and religion” in Lisbon. EHF was represented by Jean de Brueker and Pierre-Arnaud Perrouty, who presented a paper “Freedom of Expression and related issues”.
- October 2010: Defeat of Resolution on Need to Regulate Conscientious Objection
In October 2010 an alliance of reactionary forces mounted a successful campaign to subvert a resolution on the need to regulate the exercise of conscientious objection if patients – women especially – were to be able to access legal rights to abortion, euthanasia (where legalised) etc. (On the problems raised by unregulated use of conscientious objection, see EHF president David Pollock’s speech at the OSCE in 2009.)
The resolution and report came from the PACE Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee and called for regulation of the use of conscientious objection in health services. EHF wrote in advance to all the presidents and vice-presidents of the Party groups in the Parliamentary Assembly urging support for the resolution. We supported the Committee’s warning that women in particular were at risk of being unable to access lawful services such as abortion and emergency contraception. Our letter warned of deliberate campaigns by religious opponents of abortion to persuade medical staff to opt out of providing services and of dishonest campaigns against the report.However, following a concerted lobbying campaign by these aggressive and reactionary religious forces, involving serious distortion of what was proposed, the resolution was amended so as to make it incoherent, retaining parts of the original text but prefixing them with an extreme demand for unfettered rights to conscientious objection not only for individuals but also for institutions:
No person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason.
The EHF wrote subsequently to Presidents and Vice-Presidents of broadly sympathetic party groups urging action to reverse this defeat. We wrote also to Thomas Hammarberg (in French), the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, asking for his intervention.
- September 2010: Intercultural Dialogue conference on the Media
Jean de Brueker represented IHEU and EHF as well as the Centre d’Action Laique at a conference in Ohrid, Macedonia, on Media, Beliefs and Religion, the latest in the annual series of exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue. Previous meetings were on education – see below at 2008-09.
- October 2008: Meeting of INGOs
Read a report here.
- 2008: White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue
The Council of Europe in its 2008 White paper on the Intercultural Dialogue, “Living together in equal dignity” (available (in English and in French) on Council website) is explicit in recognising the role of the non-religious:
(70) Part of Europe’s rich cultural heritage is a range of religious, as well as secular, conceptions of the purpose of life. Christianity, Judaism and Islam, with their inner range of interpretations, have deeply influenced our continent. . .
(73) . . . Those holding non-religious worldviews have an equal right to contribute, alongside religious representatives, to debates on the moral foundations of society and to be engaged in forums for intercultural dialogue.
(156) An appreciation of our diverse cultural background should include knowledge and understanding of the major world religions and non-religious convictions and their role in society.
It also refers to the colloquium on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue on the theme “Teaching religious and convictional facts” in which EHF participated.
EHF contributed in February 2007 to the consultation with NGOs that led to the White Paper: we submitted a joint response (in French) with our partners in the 3Is group (the group that later organised the conference in Strasbourg).
- April 2008: Abortion
EHF wrote to members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on 13 April 2008 appealing to them to support a resolution on access to safe and legal abortion. The resolution was adopted.
- 2008-09: Colloquia on education about religious and non-religious convictions
EHF was specifically invited to contribute to the Council of Europe’s meeting on 8 April 2008 on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, which had as its theme “Education about religious and non-religious convictions”. Andrew Copson and Georges Liénard attended the meeting on 8 April. Read a report and Andrew Copson’s paper. We took part in the 2009 event in the same series – read Andrew Copson’s report.
- April 2007: Privileged Position for Churches?
In April 2007 EHF wrote to the President of the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly, Mr René van der Linden, protesting at his invitation to the Pope to address the Assembly. No acknowledgement or reply was received. Mr van der Linden has previously made a speech proposing that churches should have ‘an official status with the Council of Europe’. This is referred to in our letter.
- June 1999: Euthanasia
In June 1999 EHF appealed to Belgian non-Catholic members of the PACE to adopt a policy favourable to the right to die with dignity. Regrettably the Parliamentary Assembly adopted a position hostile to euthanasia. In October 2002 EHF issued a statement on euthanasia calling on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to reverse its policy.
This content last updated 25 February 2013 @ 3:19 pm