Kevin Sheehan and I are on our way back from Warsaw, where we were representing Atheist Ireland at the annual OSCE human rights dimension meeting. It was a very productive three days.
We formally highlighted Ireland’s breaches of human rights of atheists and minority faiths in education, politics, law and healthcare, including schools admission, discrimination against teachers, religious oaths for high office, abortion rights on health grounds, symphysiotomy, and blasphemy law.
We also asked the OSCE to quantify and combat discrimination against atheists in the same way that it quantifies and combats discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of other religions. We will have video online of our formal contributions over the next couple of days.
We made a lot of new contacts with OSCE staff, NGOs from other countries, and civil servants from various countries including Ireland, the Holy See and the incoming OSCE chair Serbia. As one outcome, the NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide will be highlighting with their Indian members the blasphemy charges against Sanal Edamaraku.
We took part in an important session on combating hate speech online. And I suspect Kevin may have joined the Raelians, whose UFO philosophy is technically atheist, after he won the toss to attend their side event while I attended a less surreal session about the human dimension priorities of the incoming Serbian OSCE chairmanship in 2015.
UN Human Rights conclusions add extra weight
Our successful briefing and lobbying of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva in July added weight to the issues that we were highlighting. We are no longer simply making complaints as an NGO. We now have the questions and conclusions of the UN’s independent human rights experts to support our interventions.
It is also helpful that the chair of the UN Human Rights Committee identified the common factor in many human rights breaches in Ireland as being “the institutional belief system that has predominated in the State and that has occasionally sought to dominate the State.”
This is a high level independent recognition that these are not isolated incidents of human rights breaches, but a pattern of behaviour to support and reinforce the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.
Combating discrimination against atheists in OSCE States
We also asked the OSCE to quantify and combat discrimination against atheists in the same way that it quantifies and combats discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of other religions.
The OSCE has hosted events to specifically combat discrimination against these three religious groupings, but has yet to host a similar event about discrimination against atheists.
This is significant because the OSCE’s guidelines on legislation regarding freedom of conscience, thought, and religion or belief stresses the ‘or belief’ part of that phrase. That is the part that protects us as atheists.
It is accepted under international human rights treaties that the right to freedom of religion includes the right to not hold a religion, and that atheists and agnostics are as entitled to freedom from discrimination on the basis of our philosophical convictions as are religious believers.
And the OSCE guidelines highlight that national laws relating to freedom of religion or belief often do not protect atheists, and indeed often do not even mention us. We will continue to lobby the incoming OSCE chair, held by Serbia, to see what progress we can make on this during 2015.
Combating hate speech online
We also took part in a session on combating hate speech online, hosted by the Council of Europe, who have been assisting NGOs in Europe to quantify and combat this phenomena through education and law enforcement.
Some of the data on European online hate speech includes that it is mostly aimed at, and engaged in by, younger people rather than more mature adults, and that the excuses of perpetrators range from not knowing that it was hurtful and thinking it was funny, to believing that the victims deserve it.
One survey showed that the categories of people most targeted by online hate speech were LGBT people, then Roma, then Muslims, then women. We will be liaising with the people running these campaigns to get more information and to help bring about more civil and respectful online discourse.
Full report at Atheist Ireland AGM on 25 October
We’ll have a full report at the Atheist Ireland AGM on Saturday 25 October in Wynnes hotel in Dublin, as part of our review of our past year’s work. You can join Atheist Ireland on the day, or you can attend the afternoon session without joining.