EHF and the 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 separate from the European Union (although they cooperate quite closely) and has 47 members.

The Council of Europe promotes human rights through international conventions, monitors its 47 member states’ progress in these areas and makes recommendations through independent expert monitoring bodies. Resolutions adopted are non-binding but have an important political impact. 

The EHF contributes to the work of the Council of Europe through the International Humanist and Ethical Union but also on its own name. Humanism is represented in the INGOs group (international non-governmental organisations) and the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) at the Council of Europe by the International Humanist and Ethical Union but by agreement with IHEU the EHF makes nominations to their delegation.  For reports on Council of Europe affairs see the IHEU websiteHowever, the EHF also takes part in the work of the Council of Europe in its own name through the annual conferences of the Committee of Ministers and the Lisbon Forum.


At the Council of Europe, EHF's contribution has focused on several issues : human rights, education, secularism and intercultural dialogue. In each of these political spaces, EHF has supported progressive humanist policies and opposed extremisms and the influence of religious dogma on CoE's work. 



Council of Europe 2014 ‘Intercultural Dialogue’ in Baku : Humanists raise concerns over Azerbaijan’s human rights record

‘Non-religious convictions’ were represented by David Pollock of the International Humanist Ethical Union (IHEU), Pavan Dhaliwal from the European Humanist Federation (EHF) and British Humanist Association (BHA), Jean De Brueker from the EHF and Centre d’Action Laïque (CAL) and Panayote Dimitras of the EHF and the Humanist Union of Greece (HUG). Only the Humanist delegation voiced their concerns on the human rights record of the host country. 

- Report 


Lisbon Forum 2013: Valuing civil society as actor of governance:  Perspectives for the South Mediterranean 

Meeting of the Committee of Ministers on on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, Yerevan (Armenia)


PACE resolution on living wills hijacked to condemn euthanasia




PACE recommends dialogue with religions and humanists

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.”

- Resolution

Forum on New Multicultural Challenges: how can NGOs play their part?, Istanbul


PACE Committee on Culture, Science and Education

EHF Memorandum
Draft report of the Committee



Lisbon Forum on Freedom of expression, conscience and religion

EHF contribution

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.

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. 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. 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.

EHF letter to presidents and vice-presidents of the Party groups in the PACE urging support for the resolution
EHF letter to presidents and vice-presidents of party group urging action to reverse this defeat
EHF letter to Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights



San Marino’ colloquium on the religious dimension of intercultural education



White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue "Living together in equal dignity"

EHF Joint contribution

Resolution on access to safe and legal abortion

EHF letter calling PACE to adopt the resolution



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’.


Debate on 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.

- EHF letter
- EHF press release