In 2014 the preface to the Freedom of Thought Report is by Aggie Ojera and Gulalai Ismail. They shared a stage at this year’s World Humanist Congress in Oxford, in a truly inspiring plenary session about advocating humanist values in hostile environments. They both work for organizations doing tremendous work advocating human rights, training and empowering women and girls.

Here follows in full their introduction to the report:

IHEU president Sonja Eggerickx (centre) with Aggie Ojera (left) and Gulalai Ismail (right) at World Humanist Congress 2014

IHEU president Sonja Eggerickx (centre) with Aggie Ojera (left) and Gulalai Ismail (right) at World Humanist Congress 2014

“In too many countries, caveats and legal loopholes have been intentionally created to try to circumvent or supersede international human rights obligations. This trend continues, with efforts to introduce parallel “Islamic human rights” frameworks, or ad hoc constitutional opt-outs, sabotaging the very basis of specifically human rights: namely, that we have them because we are human and they derive from our humanity. Human rights do not derive from any one religion or from religion in general, and human rights must not be bypassed or suspended based on spurious claims to collective belief or to the alleged necessity of keeping a particular ruling party in power! States have no moral jurisdiction to evade human rights obligations, either to enforce conformity to beliefs, nor to evade criticism and suppress opposition.

The rights of the non-religious, and the rights of religious minorities and non-conformists, are a touchstone for the freedoms of thought and expression at large. Discrimination and persecution against the non-religious in particular is very often bound up with political suppression, with fears about progressive values, or with oppression in the name of religion. Humanists and secularists are often among the first to ask questions, and to raise the alarm when human rights are being trampled, when religion is misused or abused, or — even with the best intentions — if religion has become part of the problem. Silence the non-religious, and you silence some of the leading voices of responsible concern in society.

In our work, in Pakistan and Uganda respectively, striving to advance the lives, livelihoods and liberties in particular of women and girls, our success will be proportionate to how much freedom of thought and expression we are able to create. Yes, create! It is not simply about having these freedoms, or being granted them, for having being granted they can always be revoked, or degraded over time. We must actively work, all of us, to continually create these freedoms by living them and championing them.”

— Gulalai Ismail and Agnes Ojera

Aggie Ojera runs Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods in Uganda (HELU). International Humanist of the Year Award winner Gulalai Ismail runs Aware Girls in Pakistan.

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