Humanists for Social Justice and Environmental Action supports Human Rights, Social and Economic Justice, Environmental Activism and Planetary Ethics in North America & Globally, with particular reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Human Rights UN treaties and conventions listed above.


Petition re Freedom of Expression, Human Rights, and Democracy in Canada

This Petition (link) has been signed by the Ontario Humanist Society Board, and the Humanist Association of Toronto, as well as individual members.

Since 2006 the Government of Canada has systematically undermined democratic institutions and practices, and has eroded the protection of free speech, and other fundamental human rights.  It has deliberately set out to silence the voices of organizations or individuals who raise concerns about government policies or disagree with government positions. It has weakened Canada’s international standing as a leader in human rights.  The impact and consequences for the health of democracy, freedom of expression, and the state of human rights protection in Canada are unparalleled. 

Organizations that disagree with the Government’s positions and/or engage in advocacy have had their mandates criticised and their funding threatened, reduced or discontinued.  In many cases these organizations have a long history of service to the public, such as KAIROS, MATCH International, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Alternatives, the Canadian Arab Federation, the Climate Action Network, the National Association of Women and the Law and the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women.  The Court Challenges Program, which funded many human-rights cases, has had its mandate drastically reduced. The Women’s Program at Status of Women Canada now effectively excludes many women’s groups that conduct research and work to advance women’s equality and participation in society.

Individuals have been personally sanctioned in response to their efforts to defend democratic and human rights principles.  Linda Keen, President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and three managers from the highly respected organization Rights and Democracy have all been summarily dismissed.  Peter Tinsley, Chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, was not renewed in his position. Diplomat Richard Colvin was intimidated and derided for his parliamentary testimony about the torture of Afghan detainees handed over by the Canadian military. Partisan appointments to the board of directors of Rights and Democracy resulted in the resignation of internationally renowned board members and have thrown the organization into crisis.

Further, an unprecedented level of secrecy now shrouds a long list of government activities and decisions, making it increasingly difficult for the public to hold the government accountable across a range of fundamentally important issues.  Robert Marleau, the Federal Information Commissioner, has reported that access to information regarding government action has been restricted.  Diplomats, leaders of governmental agencies, public officials, senior military officers, and scientists at Environment Canada are being pressured to obey a law of silence and censored from communicating to the Canadian public.

The Government has eroded freedom of the press by exercising central control of the information available to journalists.  It abused the right to prorogue Parliament in order to avoid serious allegations that the Canadian military has been complicit in the torture of Afghan detainees.

The Government has taken positions domestically and within such key international bodies as the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council that undermine essential human rights, environmental and other global principles.  The government’s actions have set back or weakened crucial international human rights initiatives such as global protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples, a worldwide moratorium on executions, more effective protection of human rights in the Middle East, protection against torture, the rights of gays and lesbians, the rights of women,  and the rights of children.  Among many distressing examples, since the Supreme Court of Canada found that Canada is responsible for continuing violations of Omar Khadr’s human rights, the government’s response has been grossly inadequate and a source of shame on the world stage.

In this context, Canadian democratic institutions, civil society organizations, and human rights defenders have been weakened, marginalized and silenced. Their capacity to monitor and safeguard the respect for democracy, free speech, and other rights is in jeopardy. The quality and health of democratic life in Canada is under serious threat.
United, we call upon the Government of Canada to:

1. Respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Therefore,
  • Cease to deliberately target those who speak out against government policies with the use of smear campaigns, dismissal from employment, funding cuts, blatant and subtle threats, regulations designed to obfuscate and prevent public debate, and other acts of bad faith.
  • Commit to parliamentary hearings in the Fall of 2010 that address widespread concerns about the loss of democratic space in Canada.
2. Act in accordance with Canada’s democratic traditions and values. Therefore,
  • Actively promote and support political diversity and public debate, instead of avoiding it.
  • Recognize and respect the vital role, expertise, and necessary independence of civil society organizations.
3. Be transparent. Therefore,
  • Demonstrate full respect for and accountability to the Parliament of Canada and the Canadian People.
  • Allow complete access for Canadians to information regarding public policy decisions.
  • Base funding decisions for government and civil society organizations on fair standards and democratic principles, instead of partisan agendas.
See signers at the website.



This is a report from Dr. Ehrenfeld, the IHEU rep to the UN. He is a specialist on Population, and a former colleague of Mary, representing the AHA.

The UN will meet in September 2010 for a full review on where we are now, what has been learned and how to use these lessons for the next 5 years.

Progress on Goal 1, extreme poverty reduction, has been  uneven. In 2008 there were still 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty, less than 1.8 billion in 1990. However, China accounted for much of the decline. In 2009, an estimated 55 million more people will be living in extreme poverty  than anticipated before the economic crisis.

Brazil is an instructive exception. Social progress in Brazil  was remarkable. The number of poor fell significantly. At the same,  Brazil's notoriously unequal income distribution has been reduced. The progress stems from jobs and higher income economic growth. Better social services accounts for a big share in the fall in inequality. Social policy matters.

The encouraging trend in hunger reduction since the early 1990's was reversed in 2008 due to higher food prices.

There are some successes.Major improvements were made in Goal 2, education. In the developing world as a whole, primary education enrollment was up. In some countries crossing the 90% threshold.Also, more girls are in school. Death of children under 5 years declined steadily world wide- around 9 million in 2007 down from 13 million in 1990.

There has been some progress in Goal 5, reducing maternal mortality. The maternal death toll world wide dropped from 526,000 in 1980 to around 343,000 in 2008. While encouraging the number of unnecessary deaths is much too large. Deliveries attended by skilled health workers in developing countries have increased since 1990, but is still inadequate.

The Save The Children annual State of the Worlds Mothers recently ranked the best places to be a mother. Norway was the best, Afghanistan at the bottom of the 160 countries listed. The US did not fare well; it was 28th below Greece, Portugal and many western European countries. The chief reason cited by the report was that despite advanced medical technology, more young mothers die, either in childbirth or in the years after because American working mothers get less maternity leave and lower benefits. Social policy matters.

There has been insufficient progress in Goal 3, promoting Gender equality and empowerment of women. Redressing gender inequality is one of the most difficult tasks almost everywhere, with serious implications for many of the other goals.. A root cause of gender disatvantage and oppression lies in societal attitudes, cultural norms as well as power structures.

Women and girls make up 60% of the worlds poorest people and two-thirds of the worlds illiterates. Yet, with education and empowerment they can lead healthy lives, lift themselves and their families out of poverty and disease have fewer children and healthier children who are more likely to attend school themselves.

There is overwhelming  evidence that women's empowerment through schooling and employment opportunities has the most far reaching effects on the lives of all - men, women and children. It reduces child mortality and is more influential than economic growth in moderating fertility rates. Amartya Sen, Nobel prize winner in Economics points out that some districts of India have high fertility rates, others with more gender equality already have fertility rates lower than the United States and Britain.

Gender equality has received serious resistance from many institutions and countries. Thirty years ago the UN adopted a convention on the elimination  of all form of discrimination against women (CEDAW) and has been ratified by 186 member states.The US has not ratified and some states resist implementation.

CEDAW has had some positive effects. Some 22 member states have asserted their right not to implement some provisions. For example some have balked if it conflicts with their  "family code".  The United  Arab Emirate stated that it will not implement provisions contrary to Sharia law. Many countries and most Moslem countries have significant reservations to CEDAW that nullify their commitment to gender equality.

Ultimately, full partnership of men and women is vital to the achievement of the Millennium goals.

In summary:

1. Economic growth, when it creates jobs, is important but  can be insufficient for progress.
2. Gender equality and empowerment has been shown to be essential for progress.
3. Social policy matters.

Contributed by Dr. Sylvain Ehrenfeld, International Humanist and Ethical Union and the National Ethical Service of the American Ethical Union representative to the UN and Temma Ehrenfeld, freelance writer based in New York City


WRITE: The Genocide Behind Your Smart Phone

The Genocide Behind Your Smart Phone
FORM: To contact the 21 Major electronics manufacturers

It takes a lot to snap people out of apathy about Africa’s problems. But in the wake of Live Aid and Save Darfur, a new cause stands on the cusp of going mainstream. It’s the push to make major electronics companies (manufacturers of cell phones, laptops, portable music players, and cameras) disclose whether they use 'conflict minerals'—the rare metals that finance civil wars and militia atrocities, most notably in Congo.

The issue of ethical sourcing has long galvanized human-rights groups. In Liberia, Angola, and Sierra Leone, the notorious trade in 'blood diamonds' helped fund rebel insurgencies. In Guinea, bauxite sustains a repressive military junta. And fair-labor groups have spent decades documenting the foreign sweatshops that sometimes supply American clothing stores. Yet Congo raises especially disturbing issues for famous tech brand names that fancy themselves responsible corporate citizens.

A key mover behind the Congo campaign is the anti-genocide Enough Project: witness its clever spoof of the famous Apple commercial. Major names like Hillary Clinton and Nicole Richie have gotten on board. And the timing is perfect: new rules requiring American-listed companies to improve their supply-chain transparency are folded into the financial-reform bill that passed Congress this week.

Congo is a classic victim of the resource curse. Its bountiful deposits—in everything from copper to diamonds—are brazenly plundered by corrupt governments and regional warlords while the population goes without basic services. Today, most violence—including mass rape, slavery, mutilation, and possibly even forced cannibalism—is concentrated in the war-ravaged eastern Kivu provinces, where the Congolese Army and ethnic militias bludgeon each other over the right to trade in mineral ore. One study estimates 5.4 million people have been killed since 1998; 45,000 fatalities still occur each month. Infant mortality and death from HIV/AIDS are also rampant—Congo ranks 16th and sixth-highest in the world, respectively, on these measures.

Still, minerals like tantalum, tin, and tungsten are essential for our wired lifestyle. Tantalum — of which Congo produces about 20 percent of world’s supply—makes capacitors that store electric charge, allowing our devices to function without batteries. Tin is used to fortify circuit boards. Tungsten helps our iPhones vibrate.

But this dependency has a cost in human rights. The U.N. Group of Experts reported last year that the annual trade in gold, tin, and coltan (or tantalum ore) delivers hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of the FDLR militia, whose myriad factions include Congolese Army renegades and Hutu fighters associated with the 1994 Rwandan genocide. With irregular arms delivery tracked from North Korea and Sudan, there is little doubt that bounty funds butchery.


SIGN: Tell Costco to Stop Wholesale Ocean Destruction

Tell Costco to Stop Wholesale Ocean Destruction! |
Everything in Costco is big - including its environmental footprint. A recent survey found that Costco sells 15 of the 22 fish listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. For this and many other reasons, Costco received the lowest marks of all national supermarket chains on Greenpeace's 2010 ranking of stores based on their sustainable seafood policies.
Greenpeace urges Costco to implement a effective and publicly available sustainable seafood policy that creates transparency in its seafood labeling and prohibits the sale of red list species — starting now with Chilean sea bass and orange roughy. Other red list species from fisheries that are dangerously depleted must also be removed.
Sustainable seafood policies will reduce pressure on declining fish stocks and help heal our ailing oceans. Costco must use its massive buying power to leverage positive change in our oceans.


Iran woman escapes stoning death for adultery

BBC News - Iran woman escapes stoning death for adultery
An update from the BBC:
Iran woman escapes stoning death for adultery
The authorities in Iran have announced that a woman convicted of adultery will not be stoned to death. But it is not clear whether they have lifted the death sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who has been in prison in Tabriz since 2006.
The 43-year-old had already been punished with flogging for an "illicit relationship" outside marriage when another court tried her for adultery. There has been an international campaign to prevent her being stoned.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said stoning was a "medieval punishment" and that its continued use showed Iran's disregard for human rights.


End execution by stoning in Iran

End execution by stoning in Iran | Amnesty International
A 42-year-old mother of two faces the punishment of death by stoning in Iran after authorities convicted her of adultery. And according to Mina Ahadi, who heads the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty, only international pressure can help save her.

As Ahadi told CNN: "Legally it's all over. It's a done deal. Sakineh can be stoned at any minute."
The woman, Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, who is from Tabriz, was convicted of "adultery while being married" in 2006 and has already received a punishment of 99 lashes. Should the execution go forward, Ashtiani will be buried up to her chest (for men it is to the waist) and then pelted with stones that are large enough to inflict severe damage but no so large as to kill the person instantly, says Amnesty International, citing Article 104 of Iran's Penal Code.

Amnesty International, citing Ashtiani's case among others, called for Iran to halt all executions last week
Go to this site to send a letter to the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani, urging him to end the use of stoning as a method of execution in Iran.

Take Action

End execution by stoning in Iran

Your Excellency,

I am writing to express my deep concern that individuals continue be sentenced to death by stoning in Iran.

At least eight women and three men are at risk of being stoned to death in Iran. In addition, at least six executions by stoning have been carried out in spite of the moratorium issued by the Head of the Judiciary in 2002. Execution by stoning aggravates the brutality of the death penalty and is a method specifically designed to increase the victim's suffering as the stones are deliberately chosen to be large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately.

I am aware that a draft law amending the Penal Code is currently before the Majles for approval. I understand that this bill proposes an amendment to the law on stoning, so that if it is regarded as being in the national interest that an individual’s sentence of stoning should not be implemented, the sentence can be suspended at the request of the Public Prosecutor with the agreement of the Head of the Judiciary.

I welcome these steps towards reform, but nonetheless I urge your government, as a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,to ensure that any legislation eventually passed is in line with Iran’s obligations under international law, so that no one in Iran risks the death penalty for having consensual sexual relations in private.

An immediate moratorium on executions by stoning should be enforced until these changes can become law. All individuals currently under sentence of death by stoning in Iran should have their sentences commuted immediately.

Yours sincerely,


Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign

Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign - homepage
Take action to build UN that works for women

The United Nations is about to create a new strong UN agency that will be working on women's rights all over the world. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the status quo on women's rights and gender equality worldwide, and it is important to get this reform right.

The Global Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign urges the UN and the Member States to create an agency that can operate with an impact, and make this agency operational without delay.

At this very moment, our Governments are negotiating about the creation of a new strong United Nations agency for women's rights. We must act now to ensure that this new agency will be created without delay and that it can really make a difference to women’s lives all around the world.

Send the following letter to the Foreign Minister and the UN representative of your country, using this form. (There is no North American campaign at present, but you can write to Obama or Harper using the form)

Your Excellency,
Re: Creation of the new UN agency for women’s rights

I am writing to you to express my sense of urgency about the negotiations on the creation of the new United Nations (UN) gender equality entity that are taking place at the United Nations at this very moment. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the status quo on women’s rights and gender equality worldwide. I join the GEAR Campaign, a worldwide network of over 300 civil society organizations, in calling you and your colleagues to ensure that the reform of the current UN gender equality architecture will have a truly transformative outcome. It is critical “to get this reform right” by creating an agency that has a positive impact on the lives of women and girls everywhere in the world, especially the poorest and the most marginalized ones.