Atheist Ireland has been granted special consultative status at the United Nations. We are the first national-level atheist organisation to get this status. It means we can engage with the UN Economic and Social Council, Human Rights Council, General Assembly, and Secretariat, in order to advance our aims.
On January 24 and 25, we will attend our first UN session with special consultative status, when the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will be questioning Ireland in Geneva. We will be highlighting religious discrimination in Irish schools including the lack of objective sex education.
What have we done already at the UN?
Over the past decade, we have taken part in sessions when the UN has questioned Ireland under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
We have made over twenty submissions to the above bodies, the Committees on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Freedom of Opinion or Expression, and Minority Issues.
We work together on secular issues with the Evangelical Alliance and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland. We made a joint submission and took part in the session when the UN Human Rights Committee questioned Pakistan under the ICCPR. Jane Donnelly led our joint delegation and spoke.
What will we do now at the UN?
Now that we have special consultative status, we will participate as fully as we can in any activities related to human rights, equality, and social development based on universal secular values. We will promote human rights as the basis of universal rights for individuals, and cooperation between religious and nonreligious bodies. Our policies are based on human rights law including the General Comments of the UN on various issues.
We will promote an understanding of freedom of thought, conscience and religion as defined in UN General Comment no 22 of the ICCPR. We will use this General Comment as a basis to campaign on the right to freedom of religion and belief, and also the rights of parents and children in the education system. We will also use the various Reports by the Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion or Belief to campaign on this issue.
We will also promote General Comment no. 34 on Article 19: Freedoms of Opinion and Expression which we used in our campaign to remove blasphemy from the Irish constitution. We will campaign for equality before the law and equal protection of the law without discrimination of any kind. We will promote research and studies into the correlation between secularism and positive social values and outcomes, as reflected in the work of the World Values Study and other relevant bodies.
What does special consultative status involve?
As an NGO with special consultative status, we can advance our goals by attending international conferences and events; making written and oral statements at these events; meeting official government delegations and other NGO representatives; organising and attending side events; entering United Nations premises; and having opportunities to network and lobby.
We can also help the United Nations by providing expert analysis on issues directly from our experience on the ground; serving as an early warning agent; helping monitor and implement international agreements; helping raise public awareness of relevant issues; playing a role in advancing United Nations goals and objectives; and contributing with information at events.
The policy areas in which our special consultative status allows us to engage with the UN include accountability, children’s rights, citizenship, culture, education, ethics, family, governance, human rights, international law, justice, media, minority rights, peace, population, public administration, refugees, religion, science, security, social development, social policy, technology, transparency, women’s rights, and youth rights. We will focus mostly on the overlap of those policy areas with secularism.
We at Atheist Ireland are proud to be the first national-level atheist organisation to be granted special consultative status at the United Nations. It reflects the hard work of many Atheist Ireland members and supporters over the past fourteen years.
We will use this opportunity to continue to advance our goal of promoting ethical, secular government based on human rights, where states treat everybody equally regardless of their religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs.