Atheist Ireland Awarded UN Special Consultative Status

Following an extremely active period in which Atheist Ireland has lobbied on many national and international issues at the United Nations, the advocacy group has now been awarded Special Consultative Status. This is a status that is typically only available to international bodies. I have no doubt that one factor in the decision to award Special Consultative Status to Atheist Ireland as a national body within Ireland, was the work that they have done on a range of international issues. For example, delegations from Atheist Ireland have attended the United Nations to lobby on human rights issues during the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan. Atheist Ireland has also made more than 20 formal submissions to the UN, and taken part in sessions when the UN has questioned Ireland under the Universal Periodic Review, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Effective Activism

It is important to note the efficacy of competent advocacy in this kind of international forum. For example on 23rd September 2016, Michael Nugent was given the floor at a full session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Michael is the Chair of Atheist Ireland and he was accompanied by Jane Donnelly, the Human Rights Officer at Atheist Ireland. At the time, Atheist Ireland was an affiliate member group of Atheist Alliance International (AAI) and the United Nations was conducting their Universal Periodic Review of Ireland. The UNHRC was examining the human rights record of that country, in the same manner as it does for all other countries. Cabinet ministers and senior civil servants for the nation that is under review, are interrogated about the human rights shortcomings of the country that they govern. None of those under the spotlight of such very public scrutiny, enjoy being shamed by their international peers.

One part of Michael’s speech to the full UN Human Rights Council, included the following comments:

“Ireland should urgently hold a referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation seeks global laws against defamation of religion. As part of this, Pakistan at the United Nations has cited specific language from the Irish blasphemy law. Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion has advised us that, ‘the major damage done by this law is international’. Those countries that have an intimidating anti-blasphemy practice, like to quote European countries to unmask Western hypocrisy.”

Quote from Michael Nugent speech to the UNHRC

Within twelve months, the Irish government announced a date for a referendum to remove blasphemy from the Constitution Of Ireland. The video below depicts Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent addressing the full United Nations Human Council.

Michael Nugent from Atheist Ireland at the UN Human Rights Council

The Irish people voted to delete this constitutional provision, and no other delegation of senior Irish government ministers and officials would again need to be publicly admonished on this issue in front of the entire UN Human Rights Council. This is just one example of effective activism at the UN. There were also many religious groups that attended this 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, spending more than two weeks lobbying influential figures from many countries. That is, the high profile presentation to the full Human Rights Council is just the final set-piece event, which follows a huge number of intensive advocacy sessions. However, there would have been no atheist voice at that event whatsoever, if it wasn’t for Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly.

Ineffective Incompetence

The only other atheist group in the world that retains Special Consultative Status at the UN, is Atheist Alliance International (AAI). Unfortunately, that group no longer uses their status, since it has been taken over by a dishonest group of utter incompetents who haven’t the first idea how to use it. I know this from personal experience, as I am a former member of Atheist Ireland. I can recall more than one occasion when the corrupt people who unlawfully took over AAI, asked Atheist Ireland to explain how this kind of international lobbying can be carried out.

The total incompetence of those currently in control of AAI, can also be seen in the materials aimed at the UN that they have published themselves. For example, they initiated a profoundly comical Right To Be Secular campaign. This was a campaign that imagined they would write their own declaration, then have their language adopted by the entire United Nations.

Comical AAI Campaign at United Nations
Comical AAI Campaign at the United Nations

Instead of publishing this gibberish, those currently controlling AAI might just as well have placed a banner reading “We Don’t Know What We’re Doing” on their website. At the very least, they might have first checked what a UN declaration actually is. The UN Glossary would have explained for them that:

“Declarations that are intended to have binding effects could be classified as follows:

a) A declaration can be a treaty in the proper sense. A significant example is the Joint Declaration between the United Kingdom and China on the Question of Hong Kong of 1984.

b) An interpretative declaration is an instrument that is annexed to a treaty with the goal of interpreting or explaining the provisions of the latter.

c) A declaration can also be an informal agreement with respect to a matter of minor importance.

c) A series of unilateral declarations can constitute binding agreements. A typical example are declarations under the Optional Clause of the Statute of the International Court of Justice that create legal bonds between the declarants, although not directly addressed to each other.”

Quote from UN Glossary

We can only imagine how the officials at the UN reacted, when informed that AAI had come up with some of their own language that they had put in a red box, so that 193 Member States could together adopt this as a new United Nations Declaration. Amazingly though, that they thought the best way to approach the UN was to start by drafting their own declaration, was not the dumbest thing about this campaign. Even more embarrassing was the very obvious fact that there already had been a right to be secular for many decades. Having decided to launch a campaign for a right that already existed, they then explained on their website that the best way to achieve an “important change in international human rights law” is with a “pithy paragraph and a logo”:

“AAI has decided it is time to campaign for atheists to be granted the same rights as religious people. Toward the end of 2018, AAI invited secular groups to form a coalition to work on this important change in international human rights law. As the team worked through the issues, it considered the best way to recruit support from governments, NGOs and international bodies. The conclusion was not to write lengthy, legalistic papers but to focus instead on a pithy paragraph and a logo to act as branding for the campaign.”

Quote from the AAI website

When the incompetent charlatans at AAI realised that the campaign they had been promoting for many months was an utterly pathetic nonsense, they lied to cover it up. The clip below includes Bill Flavell lying about a video submission that AAI had promised to contribute towards a UN debate. He falsely stated that he didn’t know whether their video was delivered to the UN or not.

Bill Flavell Lying about an AAI submission to the UN

When he made these remarks, Bill Flavell knew that AAI had not submitted their video contribution to the UN debate (although in many ways, it would have been even worse if an Officer of AAI didn’t know whether the alliance was participating in a United Nations debate or otherwise). Whereas Bill Flavell and his co-conspirators unlawfully appropriated control of AAI from experienced activists, they had no idea how to carry out the kind of effective lobbying and advocacy that their predecessors did. These lies offered by Bill Flavell, were intended to cover up their incompetence.

The debate that the AAI submission was to contribute towards, was a Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council on “human rights situations that require the Council’s attention”. This was a fantastic opportunity to focus on any one of the many specific secular issues where the UNHRC could make a real difference, then advocate for a particular set of actions that the Council should take. However, whereas all of the video submissions made to the debate are available on the UN website, there is no submission whatsoever from AAI. The debate did however hear from many religious groups, such as the Baptist World Alliance and the Roman Catholic Edmund Rice International group.

It is quite pathetic that the culmination of the AAI Right To Be Secular campaign at the UN, was their decision that there should be no atheist voice at all in this UN debate. However, if the only alternative was to submit the actual video that AAI had created for the event, then perhaps absenting all atheist contributions was the least bad of those two options. It would not have been productive if they had submitted their video depicted below, which makes clear that those who unlawfully took control of Atheist Alliance International aren’t even aware of the human rights that atheists already have.

Howard Burman in an AAI Video Never Submitted to the UN

It is toe-curling to watch an impassioned and plaintive plea, to be granted an established right that has already been codified for many decades. Should we next look forward to some poignant and affecting arguments from AAI, which ask the UNHRC to grant atheists the right to life and liberty? What other longstanding rights will AAI create petitions that they “call on the UN to recognise”? In fact, publicly promoting the idea that these rights do not exist and are yet to be won, is irresponsible and harmful.

These are the people who unlawfully expelled Atheist Ireland, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, and many other experienced activists from AAI. Whereas AAI was formerly a democratic alliance of effective advocates, control of the organisation has been usurped by a handful of dishonest people who have no notion what they are doing. Organised international atheism continues to be damaged every day that this situation persists.


I would like to offer my personal congratulations to Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent and everyone else on the team at Atheist Ireland who worked towards achieving Special Consultative Status at the United Nations. I have no doubt that they will continue to effectively advocate for atheism and secularism on national and international issues.

I would also like to reiterate that the corrupt and incompetent charlatans who unlawfully took control of AAI, are an embarrassment to organised atheism. They must immediately return AAI to the democratic control of the valid members.

2 responses to “Atheist Ireland Awarded UN Special Consultative Status”

  1. John, you claim that AAI never submitted that video to the United Nations.
    But in their quadrennial report to the United Nations, AAI state that they *did* make a video submission to the UN, although their report did ot provide a reference for that submission in the format requested by the UN, which would have allowed AAI’s claim to be easily verified.

    And, in their recent “Disclosure Document”, AAI claim that they did not lie in their quadrennial report to the UN, even though when asked for more details about this video submission by an AAI member, AAI refused to reply to that member.

    You don’t think that the current “board” of AAI could be lying to the UN, to their members, and to the general public … do you?

    • Well, those responsible for all of this wrongdoing have also been responsible for the investigation into their own wrongdoing, and having admitted to lying about it for years they now ask us to take their word for their current version of events. Let’s put it this way … I think they’re about as good at governance and transparency, as they are at lobbying and advocacy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *