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Populism, extremism, and threats to humanism

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August 5th, 2017 09:00   --   17:00

Our programme

Time Speakers Session


10:00 Angelos Chryssogelos,
Emilia Palonen,
Guney Yildiz

The problems: nationalism and populism

So-called ‘populist’ parties and candidates have enjoyed considerable recent success across the world. In the UK, the US, France, Turkey, and India, traditional parties have been routed by political movements that advocate a return to national self-interest in contrast to the complexities of international cooperation and universal human rights. How has this happened?


11:20 Karima E Bennoune,
Elizabeth O'Casey

The problems: religious extremism and illiberalism

The populist forces that reject the reality and complexity of today’s world reject much else of liberalism and the idea of the open society. The protection of political and civil liberties is threatened by this rejection and almost everywhere this goes hand in hand with a resurgence of the older terror of religious extremism. Growing Islamic extremism in the Arab world and South East Asia, Christian extremism in the west, or the ‘traditional values’ agenda or Putin’s Russia: are these all part of the same global trend?

14:00 Petra Bard,
Bob Churchill,
Tanya Lokshina,
Ahmed Shaheed

The solutions: human rights

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…' (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). Seven decades since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, and the world is facing new darkness. How can the passion for the protection for all people and the resolution that motivated the originators of human rights be strengthened? How can we contribute to their protection today?

15:20 Sophie Gaston,
Brian Klaas,
Yascha Mounk

The solutions: democracy

Although many institutions of democracy are increasingly seen as a broken system, the principle that the people have a right to participate in their government remains one to which most people still adhere. Democracy is a political big idea. How can it be reconfigured to address the new challenges of today?

16:40 Close  


If you are an international delegate and member of an IHEU Member Organisation (excluding Humanists UK), please book through this page instead.

In 1938 the conference of the World Union of Freethinkers was organised in London by Harold Blackham. Humanists from across the world came together to discuss the dangers that had arisen to threaten democracy, liberalism, and reason. Bertrand Russell and many others spoke at the congress or helped to organise it and representatives from all the organisations of the nineteenth and early twentieth century were present. Just a few years later, the World Union of Freethinkers was gone, many of its member organisations rocked and destroyed before the twin onslaught of fascism and communism. In 1952 the same Harold Blackham who had organised its congress became the founding Secretary of a new global union for humanists: the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

In 2017 the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is returning to London in the context of a world where the multiple forces of unreason and inhumanity – populism, religious extremism, nationalism, xenophobia – are stronger than they have been since that final Congress of the old World Union of Freethinkers. Together with Humanists UK, IHEU is offering humanists from every country the chance to come together to explore these challenges, and discuss the best way to organise in the face of them in an effort to assert once again the humanist and universal values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, liberalism, and internationalism.

Our speakers

Petra Bárd

Since January 2010, Dr Petra Bárd January 2010 has been Head of the Criminal Law Division of the National Institute of Criminology, Hungary. As a lecturer at the Central European University’s (CEU) Legal Studies Department she teaches EU constitutional law, EU criminal law, and selected issues in criminology and forensic sciences. In her writings she primarily addresses European constitutionalism, human rights in the European Union, the rights of persons living with disabilities, and judicial and police cooperation in criminal matters. She has been the Vice-Chairperson of the Hungarian Europe Society since 2003.

Karima Bennoune


Karima Bennoune is a Professor of International Law at the University of California, Davis, School of Law in the United States.  She is a former legal advisor for Amnesty International. Her recent book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism details local struggles against extremism from Afghanistan to Mali and was inspired by her own father’s experiences in his home country Algeria.  The book is based on more than 300 interviews with people of Muslim heritage from more than 30 countries.  It won the 2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was named by the American Library Association’s Booklist as the top social science book of 2013. It has been translated into Czech, and a French translation is in progress.  The related TED talk, When people of Muslim heritage challenge fundamentalism, has received more than 1.4 million views.  

In 2015, she was named UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.  Her 2017 report to the UN Human Rights Council, presented in March, addressed the impact of fundamentalism and extremism on the enjoyment of cultural rights, and her 2017 report to the General Assembly, to be presented in October 2017, focuses on the specific impact of these phenomenon on the cultural rights of women.

Since 2015, Bennoune teaches in the Oxford University/George Washington University School of Law summer human rights program.  Her topical writing has been published widely, including by the New York Times, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Reuters, and Al Jazeera.  She has made numerous media appearances, including on CNN, Fox Business News and MSNBC, as well as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, BBC Radio, and National Public Radio.  In 2016, Bennoune received the Rights and Leadership Award from the International Action Network for Gender Equity & Law. Her field missions throughout her career have included Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cyprus, Egypt, Fiji, Lebanon, Mali, Niger, Pakistan, Serbia and Kosovo, Southern Thailand, and Tunisia.

Angelos Chryssogelos

Angelos Chryssogelos teaches European politics at the Department of European and International Studies of King’s College London. He studied in Greece and the Netherlands before obtaining his doctoral degree in political sciences from the European University Institute in Florence. He has taught at universities in Belgium and Ireland, and has been a postdoctoral researcher at the Hellenic Observatory of the LSE. He has also worked in think tanks and policy institutes, and is today an associate fellow of the Martens Centre in Brussels and Chatham House in London. His research interests are in European politics broadly defined, including EU politics and questions of democracy and populism in Europe. He has published in numerous prestigious political science journals and is the co-editor of the forthcoming special issue of the International Political Science Review Populism in World Politics. A research report on the EU’s crisis of governance and its impact on European foreign policy he wrote for Chatham House was named one of the 50 best reports produced by a think tank in 2016. He has commented on European affairs for, among others, BBC World News, Bloomberg, CNBC, Financial Times, and Voice of America.

Sophie Gaston

Sophie leads international projects and partnerships at Demos think tank in London, overseeing research and events on global political trends and social change. She is particularly focused on the topics of populism, liberalism and the relationship between media and politics, and recently coordinated a pan-European project on the rising culture and politics of fear in Europe.

Brian Klaas

Dr. Brian Klaas focuses on global democracy, democratic transitions, political violence and volatility (particularly coups and civil wars), and rigged elections -- and the economic risks of all these challenges. He is also a former US campaign adviser and frequent political analyst of US domestic and foreign policy in mainstream media outlets. Klaas is the author of "The Despot's Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy," (Hurst & Co./Oxford University Press). He is also the co-author of the forthcoming book “How to Rig an Election” (Yale University Press, 2018) written with Professor Nic Cheeseman.

Tanya Lokshina

Tanya Lokshina is the Russia program director and a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and is based in Moscow. Having joined Human Rights Watch in January 2008, Lokshina authored several reports on egregious abuses in Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus region and co-authored a report on violations of international humanitarian law during the 2008 armed conflict in Georgia. Her recent publications include a range of materials on Russia’s vicious crackdown on critics of the government and on violations of international humanitarian law during the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Yascha Mounk

Yascha Mounk is a Lecturer on Political Theory at Harvard University's Government Department, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy of the German Marshall Fund, and a Nonresident Fellow at New America's Political Reform Program. Yascha's primary research interests lie in political theory and comparative politics. His first academic book, The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice and the Welfare State, was published by Harvard University Press in Spring 2017. It is based on his dissertation, which he completed in spring 2015 at Harvard University's Government Department. Yascha is now working on the crisis of liberal democracy. His papers on the rise of populism and the growing openness of citizens of democratic countries to authoritarian alternatives have been published by the Journal of Democracy and Foreign Affairs, among others. In his second academic book, which is under contract with Harvard University Press, he argues that liberalism and democracy are coming apart, creating forms of both 'illiberal democracy' and 'undemocratic liberalism'.

Elizabeth O'Casey

Elizabeth has been Director of Advocacy at IHEU since January 2016, after three years as a delegate and head of delegations. She focuses her work on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, LGBT rights, and the rights of women, particularly in relation to religious, traditional, and cultural practices. She manages IHEU delegations at a number of UN institutions and at the Council of Europe. Elizabeth is also Vice Chair of the UN NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief (in Geneva), an International Patron for the Pink Triangle Trust and an International Advisor at the Raif Badawi Foundation. She has also done work as a consultant on sexual and reproductive health and rights at the EU level. Elizabeth has a PhD in International Political Theory from the London School of Economics, where she was a Michael Leifer Scholar. She has spent time as a Global Justice fellow at Yale University, and worked in various policy and advocacy positions in the UK and EU.

Emilia Palonen

Emilia is Chair of Finnish League Science Publishers, Board Member of the Finnish Political Science Association, and vice board-member of Finnish Federation of Learned Societies, and Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Helsinki. She has been founded Finnish PSA's online magazine Politiikasta and the Society for Cultural Policy Research in Finland. Her research interests revolve around politics and cultural studies, with particular specialties identities and identification, populism, urban politics and memory, cultural politics and policy, and Europe. She has especially engaged with populism and political polarisation in Hungary, and right-wing populism in Finland. She is a senior researcher at the research consortium on Mainstreaming Populism funded by the Academy of Finland from September 2017 to 2021.

Gita Sahgal

Gita Sahgal is the executive director of the Centre for Secular Space. She is also a writer and documentary film maker, and the co-editor of Refusing Holy Orders: Women and Fundamentalism in Britain. She has written on gender, fundamentalism, and human rights for the American Society of International Law, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, and openDemocracy, and has made documentary films on forced marriage and human rights violations during the Bangladeshi war of liberation. She was a member of Southall Black Sisters and a founder of Women Against Fundamentalism and Awaaz: South Asia Watch.

Ahmed Shaheed

Dr Ahmed Shaheed is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and also  Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran. Dr Shaheed is an internationally recognised expert on foreign policy, international diplomacy, democratisation and human rights reform especially in Muslim States. He has twice held the Office of Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Maldives, a position he used to promote human rights standards and norms. During his time in government, he played a leading role in the Maldives democratic transition and in its human rights reform process over a period of transition from a thirty-year-old autocracy with widespread human rights abuses, to a Muslim democracy which, in 2010, became a Member of the United Nations Human Rights Council with a record number of votes. In April 2009, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington presented him with the “Muslim Democrat of the Year Award,” and in 2010, the President of Albania awarded him the “Medal of Gratitude” for his contribution to peace and human rights in the Balkans. The UN Human Rights Council appointed Dr Shaheed to the office of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran in June 2011, and he began his mandate on 1 August. Dr Shaheed is also a member of the Advisory Committee on Interfaith Dialogue established by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect. He is the founding Chair of the Geneva-based human rights think-tank, Universal Rights Group.

Guney Yildiz

Guney Yildiz has been a reporter and producer at BBC News for the past four years. He secured one of the BBC's biggest scoops of 2014 – an interview with US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, often blamed by the Turkish state for alleged attempted coup in summer 2016 – and broke news of the fall of the UNESCO-recognized city of Palmyra to Islamic State. Since January 2017, he has been a Special Adviser to the UK Parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee, where he advises on Turkey and its foreign policy, the human rights situation in the country, and the future of NATO cooperation with Turkey.
More speakers will be announced in the following weeks.

Humanism2017 Dinner

Following the day conference, from 19:00 we will be hosting a special dinner for delegates at the Kingsway Hall Hotel, in Bloomsbury, where we will play host to our speakers and many of our international visitors. More details will be available soon.

Conference: £15.00
Conference plus dinner: £75.00


The Royal Society
6-9 Carlton House Terrace
St James's
London, SW1Y 5AG
United Kingdom

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