Science & Human Rights

As part of its mandate to promote the free and responsible practice of science, CFRS works at the intersections between science and human rights.

It considers individual and generic cases of scientists whose freedoms and rights are restricted as a result of carrying out their work and provides assistance in such cases where its intervention can provide relief and support activities of other relevant actors. CFRS has also worked with the United Nations on the issue of the right to enjoy the benefits from scientific progress and its applications.

CFRS’s engagement in this area is based on ISC’s Statutes and underpinned by international human rights instruments relevant to science and scientists.

Protecting scientists’ rights

Wherever scientists’ freedom or basic rights are threatened as a result of their work, CFRS may take action to help rectify the situation, particularly if its intervention could provide effective relief.

Providing assistance for scientists

CFRS can take action to assist individual scientists or groups of scientists, notably in cases where its assistance can bring additional relief. According to its mission (PDF), the Committee can go public in specific cases, such as it did regarding the incarceration of Dr Ahmadreza Djalali in 2019 and regarding academic freedom in Hungary in 2019.

The Committee currently monitors the situation of the following individual scientists or groups of scientists:

  • ‘Ali ‘Esa Mansoor al-‘Ekri, Bahrain
  • Büşra Ersanlı, Turkey
  • Omid Kokabee, Iran
  • Bahá’í community leaders, Iran

For information of the Committee’s action in theses cases, see the CFRS meeting reports.

Solidarity with the scientific community in Turkey

In January 2016, CFRS joined a wide range of higher education networks and associations from around the world in expressing grave concern over reports of widespread pressures on members of Turkey’s scientific community. In their letter, the organisations responded to reports that Turkish federal prosecutors have placed under investigation more than 1,100 scholars, in apparent retaliation for their co-signing a public petition urging Turkish authorities to renew dialogue with factions in the country’s southeast. The letter notes that some of the scholars have already been investigated for and/or charged with criminal offenses including spreading “terrorist propaganda,” “inciting people to hatred, violence and breaking the law,” and “insulting Turkish institutions and the Turkish Republic.” Dozens of scholars have reportedly already been detained and interrogated, and suspended or forced to resign from their positions at Turkish higher education institutions. CFRS, together with the other signatory organisations, calls on Turkish authorities to intervene before any further harm is done to the scholars, their institutions, and to the reputation of Turkey’s higher education and research sector. The signatories hope that the letter will encourage Turkish officials to end any pending legal, administrative or professional actions undertaken against the scholars concerned and to renew publicly their commitment to internationally recognized principles of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

See also the statements from:

Partner organizations

An important source of information is the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies. Hosted by the Committee on Human Rights of the US National Academies, the Network provides CFRS with detailed dossiers. In addition, CFRS works with the following organisations at the global level as appropriate:

Benefits from scientific progress

The right “to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications” is stipulated in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which entered into force in 1976.

The mandate of the “Independent Expert in the Field of Cultural Rights,” established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2009, made explicit reference to this right. However, its scope, core contents and state obligations warranted further development. For this purpose, the “Independent Expert” held a closed meeting of experts from different sectors at the UN in Geneva in December 2011 to consult with them on conceptual and practical issues at the interface between science and human rights. The CFRS Secretariat also took part and provided the Committee’s perspective and relevant documents.

In considering the draft report of the “Independent Expert” at its March 2012 meeting, CFRS noted that the document covered not only negative rights, but also reflected the more contested positive rights, for example related to medicine or climate change. It was pointed out that the report should bring out more adequately the tension between the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and human rights. These comments were provided in writing to the “Independent Expert”. The final report, released in June 2012, by what now is the “Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights,” maintained CFRS’s briefs and its comments on the TRIPS agreement were taken into account.