Our CEO, Jillian Brennan, attended the 2023 World Humanist Congress, which took place in Copenhagen. Sandi Toksvig, the Danish-British writer, comedian, and broadcaster, opened the Congress where she spoke movingly about her journey to humanism, and threats to democracy, human rights, and humanist values around the world. It was a powerful opening speech, setting out why we as humanists must work together, and with others, to advocate for a better society for everyone.
More than 400 people from 40 countries around the world listened to talks and debated ideas on topics such as challenges to democracy, democratic backsliding, climate change, the Digital Humanism Initiative, art as an indicator of freedom of expression, rebuilding and strengthening Ukrainian democracy after the war, the rise of authoritarianism, as well as freedom of religion and belief. With a conference theme of “Building Better Democracies Through Humanist Values”, we heard how democracy is being put to the test, with people left wondering what is coming next. There was shocking film footage of the impacts of the Russian invasion on Ukraine, and journalist Remus Cernea received a standing ovation for his very moving video of a young Ukrainian woman singing the Ukrainian national anthem in the ruins of the recently bombed UNESCO-listed Odessa cathedral.
The Congress was addressed by Nazila Ghanea, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. She spoke about outrage at alleged acts of blasphemy, which puts pressure on State authorities to act against people asserting their right to freedom of speech. She cautioned that if we criminalise hate speech, then we may inadvertently also criminalise civil society actions – we should speak out against hate speech but stop short of criminalising it. The Congress was also addressed by many experts in the field of political science from around the world.
2023 General Assembly of Humanists International
The 2023 General Assembly took place alongside the Congress. Ireland, as a voting member of Humanists International, played its part in ratifying new members and associates, passing resolutions to change the bylaws, as well as electing new directors to the Board of HI.
The Congress affirmed a new declaration called ‘The Copenhagen Declaration on Democracy: a Humanist Value’, which will stand as the new democratic policy in our global Humanist movement. This declaration was unanimously approved by the General Assembly voting members. Democracy is one of the core values of humanism. It is the checks and balances that safeguard the system itself and it’s the rights and interests of minorities. The Congress was a wonderful opportunity to focus on democracy as a humanist value and to strengthen international humanist collaboration.