The Special Rapporteur wishes to thank States, civil society organisations, academic institutions, international organisations and other partners for the continued engagement with his mandate. He launches the process of gathering inputs from States and other stakeholders to present his first thematic report to the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in September 2021. The Special Rapporteur kindly requests states, civil society actors, academics, business enterprises and all other interested parties to share views and relevant information, which could feed his work, as explained below.
Information is critical to governmental, citizen and business action to confront toxic hazards and risks. It is very rare in our daily life to be able to perceive the presence and possible toxicity of chemical substances by our own senses. Yet these substances surround and penetrate us permanently and their number is constantly increasing. Therefore, the right to information about hazardous substances is vital. This was well demonstrated by the Special Rapporteur Mr. Baskut Tuncak in his 2015 report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/30/40).
In order for information about hazardous substances to be useful, it must be reliable and understandable by those who receive it. As this information is technical in nature, science plays a key role in its production. Thus, respect for the integrity of scientific processes is a condition for respecting this vital right to information in the field of hazardous substances, as well as waste. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recalled this in its General comment No. 25 of April 2020 on "Science and economic, social and cultural rights" (E/C.12/GC/25).
The science-policy interface has too often been assaulted by disinformation campaigns that intentionally spread false information, or deliberately seed uncertainty where there is consensus. The science-policy interface has also been undermined when scientists have been harassed for speaking out about their findings or been denied fundamental freedoms to carry out their work. The science-policy interface is also compromised where there are conflicts of interest.
The Special Rapporteur plans to focus his report on the interface between information, science, and hazardous substances and wastes. It will interrogate the elements of a rights-based approach to this interface, with a view to strengthening the tools for the production and communication of scientific knowledge, based on the respect for the integrity of scientific processes. The report will include, as appropriate, examples of assaults on science and scientists, and lay out government duties and business responsibilities in respect of the right to benefit from scientific progress and its applications. Ultimately, the discussion is expected to identify ways to bolster the science-policy interface.
The human right to benefit from scientific progress and its applications
Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) enshrined the right to scientific progress as a human right. States' Parties should recognize to everyone the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications and take steps to achieve the full realization of this right, including those actions necessary for the conservation, the development and the diffusion of science and culture. This includes the protection of any ethical and material interests resulting from a person's scientific, literary or artistic works, and the promotion of international technical cooperation and the development of science and culture as benefits for everyone.
The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) recently published the
General comment No. 25 (2020) on science and economic, social and cultural rights, a new interpretation and guidance on the relationship between science and the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights. In interpreting Article 15 of the
ICESCR, the Committee defines the scope of States' obligation to promote and gather scientific research and the advances it makes possible, with regard to everyday life and in crises such as pandemics. The Committee also recognizes that "science is one of the areas of the Covenant to which States parties give least attention in their reports and dialogues." As pointed out in the General Comment, States' obligations with respect to the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications encompass the conservation, development, and diffusion of science, the freedom to engage in scientific research and the promotion and cooperation in the scientific field. The General Comment also stipulates that a clear benefit of scientific progress is that scientific knowledge is used in decision-making and policies, which should, as far as possible, be based on the best available scientific evidence. States are therefore expected to endeavour to align their policies with the best scientific evidence available.
The right to science encloses all scientific disciplines. It encompasses enabling access for all without discrimination to the benefits of science and its impacts for the full enjoyment of all human rights, including the right to life, the right to health, the right to body integrity and the right to education.
The science-policy interface deeply affects the human rights implications of toxics and the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. The lack of definition as to the nature of uncertainty in the field of exposure to toxic substances, the frequently occurring gaps between scientific evidence and decision making, attempts of distorting scientific data by public and private actors are all contributing factors to the divide between policy makers and scientists. Science-policy interface platforms in the recent years are increasingly employed as means for overcoming the gaps between the realms of scientific research and of elaborating and implementing policies. In simpler terms, they are designed to facilitate provision of scientific evidence to policymakers.
The Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS) have embedded science-policy Interface mechanisms, such as the
POPs Review Committee under the Stockholm Convention, and an Expert Working Group under the Basel Convention. A recent document prepared by UNEP for the UN Environmental Assembly describes several intergovernmental and non-governmental science-policy interface platforms. The involvement and the role of the private sector in the work of some platforms, as well as the economic interests of the states who nominate experts to participate in these bodies, have led many of these platforms to establish conflict of interest procedures, with notable variations in the ways in which conflicts of interest are addressed. Discussions have also involved the current model of the Global Chemicals Outlook (GCO), adopted at the UN Environmental Assembly, and its deficiencies regarding the strengthening the science-policy Interface.
The right to information and scientific evidence, freedom of expression, as well as credibility, independence and transparency, are key elements of success in order to promote the Science-Policy Interface and to fully guarantee to everyone the right to science. The private sector also has a key role to play in promoting this right and existing science-policy platforms in chemicals and waste, as well as in protecting against inappropriate corporate influence and conflicts of interest. Digital tools are becoming increasingly important for maximizing the impact of science-policy interface platforms. In order to enable this right, States and businesses need to cooperate to tackle misinformation, enable equal access to adequate and impartial information and scientific evidence, and promote innovations and education at all levels.
Therefore, it has become a pressing need that the role of scientific progress in modern societies, its benefits, drawbacks and the threats posed to it are also discussed in a larger human rights context. This issue is of particular importance when it comes to the connection between human rights and toxic exposures.
In our days scientists who illustrate the impacts of hazardous substances on human health often have to face attacks in the form of threats to their livelihood, through funding cuts, or to their reputation. In some cases the attacks appear to be in retaliation to increased efforts to clarify the threat posed by certain chemicals to human health and the environment. The ability to protect the human rights to life and to health and to realize the right to science and its applications hinges upon the ability to translate evidence into protective laws and policies. Despite evidence of risks and impacts, there have been instances where the procedures of some States have enabled private interests to use scientific uncertainties as a basis for delaying action to reduce risks. This has led to extreme delays, some lasting decades, in translating evidence of hazards and risks into measures necessary to protect workers, children and others most at risk. This is an unfortunate exploitation of scientific uncertainty to the detriment of persons in vulnerable situations, including children. To address this, several States have adopted and applied the principle of precaution to help ensure that action is taken despite those uncertainties.
Request for Inputs
In light of these considerations, pursuant to HRC resolution 45/17, the
UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights decided to focus his upcoming thematic report to the September 2021 session of the human rights Council on the human right to science in the context of examining the dynamics of the interface between scientific progress, availability of scientific information, science-policy interface as regards the risks associated with the life cycle of hazardous substances and wastes, including the risks to the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress.
The Special Rapporteur would like to invite all interested stakeholders organizations, including civil society organizations, scientists, human rights defenders, academics, to submit information, which they consider relevant in the preparation of his report. While all submissions are welcome, and the questions below are by no means exhaustive, the Special Rapporteur would be grateful for all information that address topics such as:
- Enabling the access to the right to information and scientific evidence, and environmental and human rights assessment as preconditions for the full enjoyment of the right to science
- Tackling misinformation and disinformation campaigns and documenting attempts to manipulate or distort science in regulatory processes
- Documenting attacks, threats, intimidation or harassment against scientists
- Giving effect to the precautionary principle regarding risks of the scientific process
- Articulating the points of dialogue between the right to science and principles of environmental law and policy
- Promoting transparency, accessibility, diffusion of science and scientific evidence, innovations, and scientific education
- Promoting opportunities for citizens to contribute to scientific research
- Modalities for access to information on scientific findings
- Examples of good and bad practices by governmental entities and business enterprises for promoting or hindering scientific progress or the wide availability of results of scientific work
- Design of mechanisms and safeguards to prevent and address conflicts of interests in the production of science, the functioning of science-policy interface platforms, and the operation of regulatory systems for the protection of human health and the environment
- Mechanisms for international cooperation on scientific exchange
- Means to enhance technology transfer and institutional strengthening in developing countries, including with regard to access to funding to ensure scientific process
- Please send the information by
March 31, 2021 to
firstname.lastname@example.org. The information may be sent in English, French or Spanish and must not exceed the 2500 words.
- For relevant reports, please provide a link to the document if available online, or attach if not available online.
- Please indicate "SR Toxics/toxics and the right to science" in the email header.
All input will be treated confidentially by the Special Rapporteur for the sole purpose of preparing the report.
If you would like your written submission or any other information NOT to be published on the website of the Special Rapporteur, please explicitly indicate this in your submission.
Useful contacts and links for organizations and representatives who wish to be in contact with the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights follow.
 UNEP Assessment paper
 UNEP Assessment paper