Canada At the UN Human Rights Council March 2015

On March 11, 2015 Canada’s Catherine Godin spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council and included comments about blasphemy laws; Ms. Godin’s comments begin at around 20:29

Following is an un-official transcription of Ms. Godin’s comments for consideration:

Canada remains deeply concernd about the plight of persecuted religious communities globally, targetted because of their faith, either through government restrictions, terrorist violence or extreme social hostilities.  The promotion and defence of freedom of religion or belief remains a central element in Canadian foreign policy.  We are deeply concerned by the alarming resurgent form of anti-Semitism seen today and increasing reports of violence against Jews around the world.  This is part of a worrying trend of persecution and human rights abuses against religious communities especially in minority situations.  We have witnessed in Nigeria, Syria and Iraq extremist interpretations of religion used by terrorist groups to justify attacks on others who do not subscribe to the group’s extremist views.  As outlined in your report,  tackling such violence requires concerted action by a broad range of actors with states having an over-arching obligation to respect protect and promote human rights.  The report also outlines the importance of freedom of expression in combatting hate-speech and we are sympathetic to the call for the repeal of blasphemy laws and other restrictions.  Canada has consistently spoken out about the importance of freedom of religion or belief and the need to combat religious intolerance in the world.  Our Office of Religious Freedom is funding programming implemented by civil society partners to promote interfaith dialogue, pluralism and human rights while both engaging governments and calling them to account to defend and promote religious freedom.

Ms. Godin conluded her question with the question, “How can the international community and governments better protect the vulnerable groups identified in your latest report?”scription of Ms. Godin’s comments are provided here

Centre For Inquiry Canada and Humanist Canada are two actors, to borrow Ms. Godin’s term, who offered thoughts to Ambassador Andrew Bennett during our December 2014 meeting, in a letter to Justice Minister Peter MacKay in January 2015 and a recent letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson:  Canada can repeal Criminal Code Section 296 – the blasphemous libel law.

If the Canadian government is in earnest about defending human rights and religious freedoms, if it is truly sympathetic to calls to repeal blasphemy laws, we must start in Canada.


End Violence Against Women

Over the centuries, women have endured and sometimes survived brutal and cruel attacks, ranging from systemic assaults on the emotional, physical and psychological person through to acts of such horror that they should be unspeakable.  But they must be spoken.

Some anti-feminist critics will be screwing up their tiny and indignant courage just about now in anticipation of hopping on a favorite hobby-horse.  I do not understand or respect people who insist on minimizing or deflecting attention from real and significant problems, travesties and outrages by drawing attention to themselves or lesser problems. They’re like that person with a broken finger who wants priority attention in the emergency room while fifty more serious patients are hanging by a thread.

All violence should be condemned whether the victims are men or women; whether the perpetrators are men or women. Let’s start where matters are the most serious and where the most good may be done.

For example, the Chhanv Foundation, an NGO in India works to oppose acid attacks.  If you choose to visit their website, the brutality of the attackers and the suffering of the victims are frightful and wrenching.  There is also a fundraising calendar produced to celebrate International Women’s Day.  It is crushing to use the term celebrate in relation to acid attacks.  But the celebration is for the endurance and strength which these women carry despite all attempts to literally and metaphorically dissolve them.

In this Quartz India story,  there is a picture of a woman holding a sign which says “I wanted to be a Doctor”.  There is also this story:

Dolly was 12 when she was attacked by a 25-year-old man. He wanted to have sex with Dolly even though she was a minor. The acid ruined her nostrils, causing a permanent breathing problem. For more than a year after the attack, she refused to step out of her house.

Those four sentences, or that picture, tell a story which should fill a library.  Please follow the link to read this child’s letter to her attacker and his family which includes this small passage “You burnt my face, but not my will to live. You can’t throw acid on that. I will fight this case in court, not only for myself but for other girls, so they do not lose their courage before people like you.”

Violence Against Women is a real and significant problem.  It needs to stop.

Violence is real.  We need to make it stop.

“Join Us in a Demand for Justice”

Canadian Atheist joins Center for Inquiry US and Centre For Inquiry Canada to share a statement from Rafida Bonya Ahmed, the wife of freethought writer Avijit Roy.

Center for Inquiry US explains,

Rafida Bonya Ahmed was viciously attacked in Dhaka, Bangladesh by Islamic extremists wielding machetes as she and her husband, renowned freethought writer Avijit Roy, were leaving a book fair at Dhaka University. Dr. Roy did not survive the attack, but thankfully Ms. Ahmed is now recovering.


Ms. Ahmed’s family has asked the Center for Inquiry to share her statement:

My husband, Avijit Roy, wrote about science and rationalism and critiqued religious fundamentalism. Because of this, he was murdered. On February 26, 2015, he and I were attacked in a crowded area on the Dhaka University campus. Avijit was hacked to death by a machete; I survived.

As his wife, fellow writer, and a freethinker, I strongly condemn this gruesome act of terror.

The Dhaka University campus has historically been a space for progressive movements. It is also where Avijit grew up. Despite the death threat, we could not fathom that such a heinous crime could take place in such an area—a crime not only against a person, but against freedom of speech and humanity. While Avijit and I were being ruthlessly attacked, the local police stood close by and did not act. Now, we demand that the Bangladeshi government do everything in its power to bring the murderers to justice.

I do not believe that simply catching the killers will be enough. I urge the government to address terrorism and stop a legal culture of impunity, where writers can be killed without the killers being brought to trial. I urge the world to recognize what has happened and join us in this demand for justice.

            – Rafida Bonya Ahmed

IHEU Comment on Mumtaz Qadri Trial

Today, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) published its response to the Pakistani High Court’s decision to uphold Mumtaz Qadri’s 2011 conviction for murder:


Yesterday, the High Court in Lahore, Pakistan, upheld the murder conviction against self-confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, despite significant pressure from Islamist supporters of “blasphemy” laws to free him. The court also overturned his conviction for terrorism.

In 2011, Mumtaz Qadri assassinated his own employer, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer. Taseer had criticised ‘blasphemy’ laws, and supported those victimized by ‘blasphemy’ accusations, most famously championing the case of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death for supposedly insulting Islam during an argument with neighbours. Mumtaz Qadri, who was meant to be acting as Taseer’s bodyguard, shot him dead on the streets of Islamabad.

Qadri’s appeal case centered on the argument that extrajudicial killing could be a legitimate response to those criticising “blasphemy” laws or otherwise committing “blasphemy”, in effect that he was only carrying out a death sentence that the court might hand down anyway. In rejecting the appeal, the High Court decision refutes this argument as fallacious – the judges argued that even members of the judiciary did not have a right to personally kill someone even if they were found guilty of a capital crime.

Qadri, a self-confessed murderer, has been hailed as a hero by some supporters of the ‘blasphemy’ laws, who formed large crowds at his trial. Qadri received support from dozens of lawyers and his appeal was lead by a former senior member of the judiciary. In connection with Monday’s appeal decision, which had to be held behind closed doors, speakers at a rally of supporters threatened “extreme action if the decree was implemented”

The full response and a statement from IHEU president Sonja Eggerickx is available on the IHEU website.

For more information on blasphemy laws worldwide, please see the End Blasphemy Laws Campaign website

“Support Judge Marengo!”

Discussion about the hijab is ongoing. Last week, CBC announced that McGill student Soumia Allalou’s request for women-only hours at the university gym is causing an “uproar.”

According to CTV News,

Allalou said her religious beliefs exclude her from exercising in the presence of men, but added that all women would benefit from having the option of working out during exclusive hours.

Today, Atheist Freethinkers (AFT) published its latest blog post asking readers to support Judge Marengo. Marengo is the judge who dismissed Rania El-Alloul’s case because El-Alloul refused to remove the hijab she wore in court:

The same rules need to be applied to everyone. I will therefore not hear you if you are wearing a scarf on your head, just as I would not allow a person to appear before me wearing a hat or sunglasses on his or her head, or any other garment not suitable for a court proceeding.

Atheist Freethinkers’ “Blog 52: Support Judge Marengo!is unequivocal in its support for Marengo:

We must support judge Marengo because her decision is eminently reasonable, refusing to accommodate an arbitrary behaviour based on religious motives. The judge thus refused to discriminate on the basis of the religion of the person appearing before her court. . . .

The writer goes on to say,

With this decision, the judge reminds us that a religious symbol is just clothing – and clothing can be removed or changed. This very simple lesson is one which multiculturalists would nevertheless like us to forget, obsessed as they are with the promotion of religious privilege (which they falsely call a “right”). An Islamic veil – or any other religious symbol, sign or article of clothing – deserves no more consideration than a lapel button for a political party, or a pastafarian’s colander worn as a hat, or a tinfoil cap worn in order to keep extraterrestrials from reading one’s mind.

Please read the whole post on the AFT website and sign the petition to support the judge.

Note: As you will see from my comment at the bottom of Blog 52, I support AFT and Judge Marengo.

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