Humanist delegations speak out against human rights abuses in UN debate

5 June, 2013

Humanists have spoken out against human rights abuses at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.  The international humanist team, led by the British Humanist Association (BHA), International Humanist Ethical Union (IHEU) and Centre for Inquiry (CFI) delegations contributed extensively to a debate on civil and political rights.

Hannah Bock, speaking on behalf of the BHA, described the cruelty involved in restrictions on abortion.  She also highlighted the role of the Catholic Church and religious fundamentalists in running anti-abortion campaigns which have led to these restrictions.  She described the situation in various countries where abortion is heavily restricted, such as Malta, where women have no right to an abortion at all, and Nicaragua, where abortions are not allowed even in the case of ectopic pregnancies (which kill both mother and child if allowed to proceed to term).  She urged the Council ‘to make it clear that legal and administrative obstacles that restrict access to contraception, and that deny a woman’s right to an abortion, especially after being raped or when her life is at risk, are utterly abhorrent to this Council.’

Roy Brown, speaking for IHEU, criticised inhuman and degrading punishments administered in member states of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation).  Mr Brown pointed out that the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) states that ‘no-one shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’, but that several OIC member states still use punishments which fit this description, including public executions.  For example, in Saudi Arabia last month, five Yemeni men were publicly beheaded and their bodies were displayed in public.  Mr Brown called on the OIC to condemn public executions and physical mutilation, to abolish the imaginary offence of witchcraft, and to implement a moratorium on the death penalty.

Elizabeth O’Casey, speaking for the Center for Inquiry, condemned the practice of honour killing and the impunity often granted to the perpetrators.  There are estimated to be between 5,000 and 20,000 honour killings committed every year, and she described how ‘this barbaric practice is justified on cultural and religious grounds’.  She also called on UN member states ‘to do more to protect women from this sort of violence, to punish those who commit it, and to condemn the culture of impunity and religious justification, which not only allows, but encourages, such barbarity’.


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, at or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the statements on:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union:

The Center for Inquiry:

The UN Human Rights Council:

Human Rights Council concludes general debate on the thematic reports and promotion and protection of all human rights:


The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.