Humanism Goes Global: Humanists International General Assembly 2019

Icelandic President Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson (middle) with members of Young Humanists International leadership.

The Humanists International (HI) General Assembly took place in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 31-June 2. Delegates from countries around the world came together to represent their respective humanist organizations, make important decisions regarding the future of HI and the movement, and enjoy the time spent together.

Humanists International was originally named the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) when the American Ethical Union, American Humanist Association,  British Ethical Union (later called the British Humanist Association and now Humanists UK), the Dutch Humanist League, and the Vienna Ethical Society founded it in 1952. During the first World Humanist Congress (held in Amsterdam that year), participants unanimously passed a statement on the principles of modern humanism known as The Amsterdam Declaration. It was updated in 2002 at the fiftieth anniversary of the first Congress.

Humanists International is now the global representative body of the humanist movement, uniting a diverse community of nonreligious organizations and individuals. HI’s membership includes more than 160 humanist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, atheist, and freethought organizations in more than seventy countries. Young Humanists International (YHI) is the youth section for ages eighteen to thirty-five. YHI has a regional presence in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

Group shot of the participants in the Young Humanists International General Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland.

I’ve been personally involved in YHI since the 2015 General Assembly in Oslo, Norway, where I represented Future of Ethical Societies as a member and was elected as the communication officer. Since I’ve been involved, I’ve seen Humanists International accomplish some great work, including the annual Freedom of Thought Report, the Auckland Declaration against The Politics of Division, and the Young Humanist Regional Hub Grants project.

YHI is currently in the process of unifying its membership with HI while still maintaining its own organization and leadership. This is in an effort to pave the way for a more diverse, inclusive Humanists International Assembly in the future. During this year’s YHI Assembly, held on May 31, Jad Zeitouni of Belgium was elected vice president and Scott Jacobsen of Canada was elected secretary-general.

On June 1 the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association—Siðmennt—organized a conference for assembly attendees around the theme “Ethical Questions.” The President of Iceland, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, provided welcoming remarks, after which four topics were addressed in their own, unique sessions: the environment, refugees, economic injustice, and democracy. The Humanist Honorary Award for Civilization was presented to students of Hagaskóli who fought against the deportation of their fellow student Zainab Safari and her family. The Humanist Education and Science Award for Civilization was awarded to Saevari Hegla Bragason for her work in the interests of environmental protection, science, and child and youth education.

Humanists International President Andrew Copson (right) and newly elected board member Roslyn Mould (left).

The Humanists International General Assembly took place June 2. Here, the Reykjavik Declaration on the Climate Change Crisis was ratified. Additionally, HI President Andrew Copson—also chief executive of Humanists UK—was re-elected for a second term, Uttam Niraula was re-elected as a board member, and Roslyn Mould—who had served with YHI since 2014—took a new role on the HI board. The former president of the American Humanist Association, Becky Hale, is also a member of the HI board.

The next international gathering of humanists will be in Miami, Florida, August 6-9, 2020. This will be a World Humanist Congress—which is only held every three years—and hosted by the American Humanist Association in conjunction with its annual conference. The theme is “Beyond Borders: Our Global Humanist Culture.” Presentation proposals are still being accepted and registration opens October 1, 2019. Learn more here.