How Atheist Ireland is briefing the UN on religious discrimination

Last week Atheist Ireland told a meeting of United Nations state delegates in Geneva that Ireland’s Constitution is incompatible with our human rights obligations in freedom of religion, blasphemy laws, religious discrimination in schools and religious oaths for politicians and judges.

Atheist Ireland attended and spoke at the Pre-Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Ireland. The Irish Human rights and Equality Commission, the Ombudsman for Children and four advocacy groups including Atheist Ireland told delegates from other States about problems in Ireland.

The Universal Periodic Review is a unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC). The aim of this mechanism is to try to improve the human rights situation on the ground in the member states. The human rights situation of all UN Member States is reviewed every 5 years.

The Human Rights Council is different to the Human Rights Committees, which Atheist Ireland has been attending aand briefing for several years. The Committees are composed of independent legal experts who monitor the various UN treaties, while the Council is a more political process whereby the UN States monitor each other.

The following international obligations of the Irish State will be addressed.

  • The Charter of the United Nations;
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
  • Human Rights instruments to which the State is party (human rights treaties ratified by the State concerned);
  • Voluntary pledges and commitments made by the State (including those undertaken when presenting the candidature for election to the Human Rights Council);
  • Applicable international humanitarian law.

The Pre-Session that Atheist Ireland attended last week is part of a process. Atheist Ireland has participated at every stage of this process by attending consultations, meetings, conference and making submissions. Our Submission to the UPR can be found here.

Civil society groups such as Atheist Ireland can contribute to the UPR process in the following manner:

  • Participate in the national consultations held by the State under Review;
  • Send information on the human rights situation in the country;
  • Lobby members of the Working Group;
  • Take the floor at the Human Rights Council during the adoption of the report;
  • Monitor and participate in the implementation by the State under Review of the UPR recommendations.

We are now at the stage that we are lobbying delegates from the various states before Recommendations are made. The Recommendations are due out in May and the adoption of the Report will be later this year.

In Geneva, Atheist Ireland was one of only four civil society groups selected to speak at the Pre-Session meeting for Ireland.

We also held meetings with State delegates from France, Belgium, Netherlands, Slovenia, Iceland and the United Kingdom, asking them to make recommendations for separation of Church and State in Ireland.

This week we will be contacting Argentina, Austria, Belgium Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Haiti, Honduras, Hungry, Iceland, Latvia, Maldives, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, United States and the European Union.

We are now finalising our documentation, based on feedback from last week, and we are hopeful of Recommendations that support freedom of religion and belief, freedom from discrimination, removal of blasphemy and religious oaths. Our submission also includes a Recommendation on repealing the Eighth Amendment.

We are also hoping to take the floor at the Human Rights Council during the adoption of the Report. We intend to do our utmost to achieve this in order to speak on the separation of Church and State in Ireland. This is all part of an ongoing process that we have prioritised since our foundation of using human rights law to promote ethical secularism in Ireland.

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