Opinion Former Article

BHA welcomes UK chairmanship of the Council of Europe

In response to the UK assuming the chairmanship of the Council of Europe today, the British Humanist Association has said the chairmanship ‘provides a welcome opportunity for the UK to affirm the importance of strong and effective human rights legislation, and to promote the inclusion of humanists as well as religious people in European initiatives.’

The Council of Europe, founded in 1949, is an international organisation working to promote human rights across its membership of 47 countries with over 800 million citizens. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was one of the first treaties drawn up by the Council, which it seeks to uphold through the European Court of Human Rights.

Humanist MP Michael Connarty has been working closely with the BHA and the European Humanist Federation in his role as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – a forum within the Council of Europe that provides an opportunity for representatives from member states to discuss human rights issues.

In a recent House of Commons debate Mr Connarty spoke of the importance of including humanists and the non-religious in inter-cultural dialogue, and referred to attempts by evangelical Christian representatives to remove references to humanism in a paper on the topic at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly.

However, the references to the non-religious were eventually included, and Mr Connarty argued the place of Humanism was defended ‘by people of all faiths in the committee and in the Assembly, because it is not about being against something, but about including people and diversity in the real sense, not just in a small way’.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented that ‘Human rights are at the very core of the work of the BHA, and we have long been an advocate for the need for strong and clearly understood human rights legislation.

‘The government has an opportunity to build on our proud heritage of supporting progressive legislation that protects the rights and freedoms of us all, and we look forward to working with both the government and our supporters in parliament and the Council of Europe in maintaining and developing these essential measures in safeguarding freedom of conscience and action.’

The President of the European Humanist Federation (EHF), David Pollock, said: 'The European Court of Human Rights is an essential bastion of equality and non-discrimination but has shown signs of being politically intimidated – for example in the case about the Italian law compelling schools to display crucifixes. We are looking to Sir Nicolas Bratza, the new British president of the Court, to stand up to political pressure, not least from the UK Government. Human rights belong to everyone, including unpopular minorities, and the judiciary needs to protect us from an overweening executive.


For further comment or information contact Naomi Phillips on 07540 257101.

Read Michael Connarty’s remarks in full

Read more about the BHA's work on human rights

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