Formulation of Humanist Policy Internationally, with Considerations

by | January 13, 2024

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Humanists International in Denmark

Humanists International hosted its 2023 combined World Congress and General Assembly in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the Scandic Copenhagen in early August. It was the first World Congress in almost a decade. A large gathering of hundreds of leaders within the humanist movement. At one point in the General Assembly, a proposal was made for a paper to make a specific statement on the war in Ukraine. A significant reference in the debate – highly respectful, by the way – between delegates from different countries’ Freethought organizations was the previous resolution accepted as a policy of Humanists International with Russia’s early full-scale invasion of Ukraine: February 24, 2022. The main point of contention was whether or not a new policy on the Russo-Ukrainian war was necessary because one existed from June 2022. The new one did not pass. The point of this article is both the acceptance or lack of the resolution and the debate and the previous policy emphasizing an update. A summary of the policy and its related contents will be provided.

Humanists International on the Russo-Ukrainian War

In a binational wartime scenario, it is an intriguing and subtle idea regarding wartime circumstances and rapid changes – say half a year to two years. The 2022 resolution, now policy, is entitled “Position Statement on Russian invasion of Ukraine.” The policy states:

Humanists International unequivocally condemns the unprovoked and illegal invasion by Russia of Ukraine, which has caused an escalating humanitarian crisis, gross and systematic human rights abuses on a massive scale, and has led to apparent war crimes in some areas.

Russian actions constitute a clear violation of the UN Charter and international law, including human rights law.

Such violations are clearly facilitated and sustained by the oppressive human rights climate in the Russian Federation itself; the severe restrictions on free expression, the widespread propagation of disinformation, the repression of civil society, and the intimidation, censoring and criminalisation of journalists all contribute to the Russian government being able to wage a war of aggression without accountability at home.

Humanists International welcomes the suspension of Russia’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council.

Humanists International urges the Russian Federation to cease all hostilities and to immediately and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine (in line with the United Nation [sic] Resolution A/ES-11/L).

Humanists International calls on all its Members to urge their own governments to oppose the actions of the Russian Federation, which in their motivations and their consequences, stand directly opposed to all humanist aspirations.

The policy – or “position statement” – of Humanists International opens with an unequivocal stance against the invasion, defining the invasion as both “unprovoked” and “illegal” as well as a violation of the UN Charter and international law “including human rights law.” The argument in the policy proposes a line from the conditions or the “oppressive human rights climate” within the Russian Federation to the “clearly facilitated and sustained” violations above from the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine.

A proverbial laundry list is given to substantiate this argument about the Russian Federation. “Position Statement on Russian invasion of Ukraine” states, “…the severe restrictions on free expression, the widespread propagation of disinformation, the repression of civil society, and the intimidation, censoring and criminalisation of journalists all contribute to the Russian government being able to wage a war of aggression without accountability at home.”

Humanists International “welcomed” the suspension of the Russian Federation’s UN Human Rights Council membership. The language became more active rather than merely affirmative, stipulating to “cease all hostilities and to immediately and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine (in line with the United Nation Resolution A/ES-11/L).” We will return to this UN resolution and clarify it. Humanists International called for their governments to oppose the Russian Federation, which restricted its unlawful actions. The reasoning behind these more active statements was the ‘opposition to all humanist aspirations based on the motivations and consequences’ of the strategic military aggressive actions of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

The policy statement has strengths in its breadth on a well-defined subject matter, a particular conflict. It takes a definitive position. While the weaknesses may show with time, as the war progresses, newer war updates and human rights contexts may need explicit statements to refine such a position statement. This is most clearly represented in the UN resolution mentioned in the policy. That is the emphasis for me, as this was the most important takeaway from the debate between highly qualified and intelligent humanist leaders gathered in one place.

I have several questions. We can find some answers during formal investigation and clarification of the UN resolution and the policy of Humanists International. Firstly, do we reference particular conflicts at a regular clip? Because the concept has been broached with at least one conflict. Secondly, do we make the content perennial rather than seasonal, e.g., all wars, every war of a specific kind, a single war with a precise start date, and so on? Thirdly, when referencing relevant international rights bodies and associated documents, should these be open for minor edits to include newly adopted resolutions as conflicts continue instead of a proliferation of new resolutions after new resolutions to be considered as new policies as almost happened in 2023 in Copenhagen?

A/ES-11/L and A/ES-11/1

These are relevant questions. However, we must cover the A/ES-11/L resolution referenced in “Position Statement on Russian invasion of Ukraine.” The “A” stands for documents issued by the General Assembly. The “ES” indicates an Emergency Special Session convened to address urgent matters. “ES-11” refers to the 11th Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly. “L” indicates the document is a draft resolution or a decision to be considered by the General Assembly. Thus, Humanists International, perhaps working with the limited information at the time or oversight of the original proposers of the resolution “Position Statement on Russian invasion of Ukraine,” posted a draft resolution and not a resolution of the United Nations in its statements, its – Humanists International’s – resolution becoming an eventual policy.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution ES-11/1 would have been better. Especially given that the 2022 General Assembly of Humanists International was held June 3 to 5 in 2022, several months after the draft resolution, A/ES-11/L, became an actual resolution, A/ES-11/1, on March 2, 2022. A recommendation would be an amendment to this Humanists International policy – “Position Statement on Russian invasion of Ukraine” – to reference full resolutions and not draft resolutions in its policies. Moving from a draft resolution to a resolution means the draft resolution went through a main committee of the UN. A single-letter change in the policy of Humanists International may be warranted to improve the efficacy of the ethical and relevant resolution supportive of international humanist values.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution ES-11/1 was adopted through the 11th emergency special session. The purpose was to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory and simultaneously declare the need to withdraw Russian forces from Ukraine and reverse the Russian Federation’s decision to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk as self-declared republics. That is powerful and arose in two general assemblies of Humanists International, underlining its importance in the resolution, “Position Statement on Russian Invasion of Ukraine” (2022). Intriguingly, and I was not present at the General Assembly of Humanists International in 2022 to make a qualitative commentary, the lattermost purpose of Resolution ES-11/1 was unincorporated, i.e., reversal of the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as self-declared republics. This could be a time limit in the General Assembly. It could be minutiae orthogonal to the central intent to pass a resolution as a new policy. Regardless, that is something for the record. When analyzed, A/ES-11/L and A/ES-11/1 appear identical, differing only in force of implication.

The Global Consensus on Russian Aggression and Resolution ES-11/2

The General Assembly and World Congress in August of 2023 was about 17 months after the instigation of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Of those who voted against it, only 5 Member States did so: Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, Russia, and Syria. The UN record was clear on the global consensus on the aggression against Ukraine by Russia: 141 voted for the resolution, five against, 35 abstained, and 12 absented themselves. In other words, the vast majority of the Member States of the United Nations condemned the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. By passing this resolution based on Resolution ES-11/1, the Members and Associate Members of Humanists International fell in line with the overwhelming international consensus in condemning the Russian Federation’s, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, invasion of Ukraine with the demand for complete withdrawal. As there was a reconvening on March 24, 2022, to reiterate the support of Resolution ES-11/1 in Resolution ES-11/2, Humanists International’s policy would fit with Resolution ES-11/2, too.

Bearing in mind, the entire 11th special session followed the February 24, 2022, attacks by the Russian Federation and then a draft resolution was put forward and vetoed by the Security Council. This emergency session became necessary. When a permanent member vetoes actions in the Security Council, and it – the Security Council – is deemed to have failed in its role, then a special session is called; that is what happened when the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. A draft resolution calling for the withdrawal of troops was vetoed. Thus, a special emergency session was called. So, a special emergency session is an unscheduled meeting in the UN General Assembly to focus on an urgent and particular situation for maintaining international peace and security when the UN Security Council fails in its ability to act based on a veto by a permanent member. This mechanism was formulated in the United for Peace resolution as a fallback for international security and peace. The adoption of Resolution ES-11/2 was a recognition of the continuance of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.

The Documentary References of A/ES-11/1

As a slight aside, A/ES-11/L.1 included the following countries:

Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Montenegro, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America and Uruguay. 

A/ES-11/L.1/Add.1 – a supplement to A/ES-11/L.1 – added Barbados and Cambodia. Now, A/ES-11/1, the formal resolution, includes references to S/2014/136 and A/ES-11/L.1A/ES-11/L.1/Add.1Article 2 of the Charter of the United NationsSecurity Council resolution 2623 (2022), document S/Agenda/8979General Assembly resolution 377 A (V)resolution 2625 (XXV)resolution 3314 (XXIX), the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Budapest Memorandum), the Declaration on Friendly Relations, the Minsk agreements (Protocoland II), and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocol I thereto of 1977. These will be covered in order.

Contextualization of A/ES-11/1 References

S/2014/136 is a “Letter dated 28 February 2014 from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council.” It states:

Due to the deterioration of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea, Ukraine, which threatens the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and upon the relevant instruction of my Government, I have the honour to request an urgent meeting of the Security Council in accordance with Articles 34 and 35 of the Charter of the United Nations.

I also have the honour to request that, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Charter and rule 37 of the provisional rules of procedure of the Security Council, a representative of the Government of Ukraine be allowed to participate in the meeting and to make a statement.

(Signed) Yuriy Sergeyev Ambassador Permanent Representative

The “Honour” for Sergeyev is a formal declaration for a severe context of human rights abuse. These abuses only exacerbated into the present moment.

A/ES-11/L.1 was the draft document. The draft resolution referenced in the policy is “Position Statement on Russian invasion of Ukraine” by Humanists International in 2022.

A/ES-11/L.1/Add.1 was a supplement or an addition to the draft resolution by adding two other countries, as referenced before, Barbados and Cambodia.

Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations speaks to the idea of the sovereignty of all Member States, fulfillment of obligations, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-use of force, assistance to the United Nations, and non-intervention in domestic affairs. In total, it states:

Article 2

The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.

  • The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.
  • All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.
  • All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
  • All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
  • All Members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.
  • The Organization shall ensure that states which are not Members of the United Nations act in accordance with these Principles so far as may be necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.

Security Council resolution 2623 (2022) was the call for the eleventh emergency special session of the United Nations to convene on the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Albania and the United States introduced the resolution. It was adopted on February 27, 2022.

Document S/Agenda/8979 was the document for examination within the eleventh emergency special session of the United Nations. This document referenced S/2014/136, namely the letter from Sergeyev.

General Assembly resolution 377 A (V), also known as “Uniting for Peace,” speaks to the failures of the Security Council on a contingent basis. If unanimity does not exist between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council while with a failure to enact international peace and security, then the UN General Assembly will consider and make recommendations to UN members for collective measures for the maintenance of international peace and security. This becomes relevant in the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Resolution 2625 (XXV), or the “The Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States,” states a comprehensive stipulation on the principle of self-determination.

Resolution 3314 (XXIX) was adopted in 1974. It provides a comprehensive definition of aggression. This includes specific acts like invasion, attack, and military occupation. It assigns the primary responsibility to the UN Security Council to determine acts of aggression and take necessary measures.

The Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or the Helsinki Accords, was signed in 1975. The basis was an easing of Cold War tensions. The Helsinki Accords gave an international cooperation framework on economic and scientific cooperation, human rights, and security. The Accords helped legitimize the post-World War II borders of European nations with more respect for human rights and Eastern Bloc freedoms.

The Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Budapest Memorandum) was significant in Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Ukraine relinquished its nuclear weapons. It was the third largest in the world at the time. Ukraine, acceding to the NPT, became a non-nuclear weapon state. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America provided assurances of security and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty, including borders and refraining from using threats or force. The post-Soviet States, due to this, did some denuclearization.

The Declaration on Friendly Relations is the newer and more used UN General Assembly Resolution 2625 (XXV) name. Any reference to The Declaration on Friendly Relations refers to Resolution 2625 (XXV).

The Minsk agreements references the Minsk Protocol from September 2014 and the Minsk II Agreement from February 2015. Minsk Protocol was signed by the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic), LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic), Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The goal was to de-escalate: get a ceasefire, withdraw troops, and establish a Ukrainian-Russian border security zone. The Minsk II Agreement followed this protocol with the participation of France and Germany with an outline for a ceasefire, local elections of Donetsk and Luhansk, constitutional reforms, and the withdrawal of heavy weapons. On February 22, 2022, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin declared the Minsk agreements as non-existent, followed by the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocol I thereto of 1977 are four treaties for international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in war. The foci are civilians, war prisoners, and sick and wounded soldiers. Additional Protocol I of 1977 expands to civilian safeguarding and regulation of conduct hostilities to minimize destruction and suffering.

The Conclusion of Humanists International General Assembly and World Congress 2023

A/ES-11/1‘s focus is the humanitarian and refugee crisis created by the Russian Federation’s aggression under President Vladimir Putin, with an emphasis on the importance of Ukraine as a grain and agricultural exporter internationally. This sits “Position Statement on Russian invasion of Ukraine” referencing A/ES-11/L within United Nations norms, humanitarian efforts, humanist values. The global influence and focus of Humanists International in its policy and the democratic debate and discussion period show the practical application of global humanism in a context of international conflagration and the need for diplomatic solidarity and humanitarian solutions. Even though the war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine continues, these documents provide an international response and framework for dealing with the Russo-Ukrainian war. United Nations diplomacy mirrors much of the humanist ethos exemplified in Humanists International. The respectful debate and discourse on the new resolution on the Russo-Ukrainian war in the General Assembly 2023 of Humanists International provided a window into humanist values across cultures.

This leads to some of the questions internally posed: Do we reference particular conflicts at a regular clip? Do we try to make the content perennial rather than seasonal, e.g., all wars, every war of a specific kind, a single war with a precise start date, and so on? When referencing relevant international rights bodies and associated documents, should these be open for minor edits to include newly adopted resolutions as conflicts continue instead of a proliferation of new resolutions after new resolutions to be considered as new policies, as it almost happened in Copenhagen in 2023? I have yet to learn the first, but I plan to evaluate all Humanists International policies now. Second, this policy and the eventualities of decline or rejection of the new policy add to the “Position Statement on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” We seem to strike a balance, based on the limited available evidence, and being present at the debate in Copenhagen, of a single war and then leaving the emphasis perennial on this war since the war is incomplete or until all sides have resolved combat in the war and the withdrawal all troops, etc. Third, I argue for a change in bylaws, if not already present, for a change in resolutions already accepted as policies based on updates to single wars. I would also argue for, at least, a double resolution year with one presented against all forms of war based on humanist values. War may be a human universal. However, we can stipulate a striving for a world without wars and specific ones dedicated to the condemnation of it. Our humanist values demand it; our actions showed the possibilities to me.

Further Internal Resources (Chronological, yyyy/mm/dd):


Remus Cernea on Independent War Correspondence in Ukraine (2023/08/25)


Ms. Oleksandra Romantsova on Ukraine and Putin (2023/09/01)

Oleksandra Romantsova on Prigozhin and Amnesty International (2023/12/03)

Dr. Roman Nekoliak on International Human Rights and Ukraine (2023/12/23)


Humanists International, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United Nations (2024/01/08)


*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.


Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.


Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican AtheistsAmerican Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.


About Canadian Atheist

Canadian Atheist is an independent blog with multiple contributors providing articles of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers.

Canadian Atheist is not an organization — there is no membership and nothing to join — and we offer no professional services or products. It is a privately-owned publishing platform shared with our contributors, with a focus on topics relevant to Canadian atheists.

Canadian Atheist is not affiliated with any other organization or group. While our contributors may be individually be members of other organizations or groups, and may even speak in an official capacity for them, CA itself is independent.

For more information about Canadian Atheist, or to contact us for any other reason, see our contact page.


About Canadian Atheist Contributors

Canadian Atheist contributors are volunteers who provide content for CA. They receive no payment for their contributions from CA, though they may be sponsored by other means.

Our contributors are people who have both a passion for issues of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers, and a demonstrated ability to communicate content and ideas of interest on those topics to our readers. Some are members of Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, or freethought organizations, either at the national, provincial, regional, or local level. They come from all walks of life, and offer a diversity of perspectives and presentation styles.

CA merely provides our contributors with a platform with almost complete editorial freedom. Their opinions are their own, expressed as they see fit; they do not speak for Canadian Atheist, and Canadian Atheist does not speak for them.

For more information about Canadian Atheist’s contributors, or to get in contact with any of them, or if you are interested in becoming a contributor, see our contact page.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.