During a meeting on Tolerance and non-discrimination at the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM)* in Warsaw, the European Humanist Federation (EHF) urged Member States to protect non-believers, atheists and free-thinkers from discrimination and persecution.
EHF President Giulio Ercolessi recalled that religious minorities are not the only ones to suffer violence and discriminations as the IHEU Freedom of Thought report highlights. He therefore urged OSCE Member States to put words into practice and effectively protect their people, including those who do not share the beliefs of the majority, or those whose life stance does not meet the requirements of these beliefs.
He urged them to pay a specific attention to those who seek asylum on the ground of beliefs and who continue to be discriminated against for the same reason once they are sheltered in OSCE countries. He recalled that ethnicity is no indication of religious affiliation, and that the practice of ascribing or considering members of any religion individuals that never declared to have joined them is a breach to individual dignity and self-determination.
The full speech is available below.
EHF president also took part in a side event of the Warsaw OSCE Human Dimension Implementation meeting, the public debate on the “Prosecution of Human Rights Defenders in Russia”, organised by the Foundation for Environmental and Social Justice and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Ercolessi highlighted the danger of the growing sympathy for Russia’s regime, as a model of “illiberal democracy”, shown by many European right-wing political parties and movements, and no longer by just the most radical populist Right.
*The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) of OSCE participating States is Europe’s largest annual human rights and democracy conference. It is organized every year by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) as a platform for the 57 OSCE participating States, the OSCE Partners for Co-operation, OSCE structures, civil society, international organizations and other relevant actors to take stock of the implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, discuss associated challenges, share good practices and make recommendations for further improvement.
HDIM Meeting, 14 September 2017 (Warsaw)
Discrimination against non believers
This session is largely devoted to the very serious issue of discrimination and persecution based upon religious belief or on the assumption of the religious affiliation of the victims.
I would like to raise a much less discussed kind of discrimination and persecution: that committed against non-believers, atheists, free-thinkers, and against individuals that have a life stance incompatible with the views of the religious majority existing in their countries or communities, beginning with LGBT persons.
In fact, the persecution of these minorities in some countries is no less serious and important than that of Christians. The periodic survey compiled by the International Ethical and Humanist Union, the Freedom of Thought Report, provides an appalling documentation of this reality.
Even in our own countries, and despite OSCE decisions and declarations, international obligations and constitutional provisions, non-believers, atheists, free-thinkers are often not granted, at least, equal social dignity; and are often called to contribute, as tax-payers, to the preservation of beliefs that they do not share.
What is particularly hideous is the treatment many of our countries often reserve to those who sought shelter here precisely because they could accept no longer to conform to legally binding or community-enforced religious obligations or to religious social conformity.
We often discuss the phenomenon of young Europeans with Christian or secular family origins who convert to authoritarian or fundamentalist brands of Islam. A similar and probably much more widespread phenomenon does exist in the opposite direction, but, due to family or communitarian pressure – and more concretely for fear of violent retaliation, hate crimes or even death – most of the concerned persons do not feel free to express their opinions, even after being sheltered in our countries. Sometimes, a large portion of the welfare benefits provided for them is even channelled by our governments through religious bodies acting in the framework of some sort of “interreligious dialogue”.
As a result, those non-believers, atheists, free-thinkers and/or LGBT persons assume that they must camouflage themselves in the great migration wave if they want to be safe. They came to get to know and love – much more than many of our fellow citizens and of many populist politicians – the basic principles and values of our common European constitutional heritage. Yet, until proven otherwise at their own risk, our governments and our societies assume that their place of birth determines their beliefs and allows arbitrary assumptions.
This attitude is also counterproductive. These individuals are among our best allies both against demagoguery and against all sorts of fundamentalism. Even in the eyes of our public opinions, made anxious and fearful by political and media scaremongers, becoming more aware of the diversity actually existing among immigrants could ease tensions and provide a more realistic appreciation of the phenomenon. For the sanity of our public debate, this diversity deserves to be valorised, not concealed.
The European Humanist Federation would like to remind OSCE participating States that freedom of belief includes the freedom not to share any religious belief, that ethnicity is no indication of religious affiliation, and that the practice of ascribing or considering members of any religion, even for merely statistical purposes, individuals that never declared to have joined them is a breach to individual dignity and self-determination and is inconsistent with European values and principles.
Warsaw, 14 September 2017.