Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights
9 October 2018
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today held a day of general discussion on a draft general comment on article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, and other provisions of article 15 on the relationship between science and economic, social and cultural rights.
In her opening remarks, Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Committee Chairperson, noted that so far in its dialogues with States parties, the Committee had not consistently dwelt on article 15, and said that the time was right to consider what the content of a general comment on this article could be.
Mikel Mancisidor, Committee Co-Rapporteur, said that today’s discussion would focus on science and economic, social and cultural rights, and that the future general comment – hopefully to be adopted at the Committee’s sixty-sixth session in autumn 2019 - would provide adequate guidance and interpretation of States obligations arising from article 15.
The panel on the normative contents, moderated by Mikel Mancisidor, Committee Co-Rapporteur, addressed the understanding of the main concepts in the relevant provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and explored the normative contents of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications. The panellists were Konstantinos Tararas of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Jessica Wyndham of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Lissa Bettzieche of the German Institute for Human Rights, and Brian Gran of the Case Western Reserve University. Taking the floor in the discussion were Global Young Academy, RightsTech Women, Earth Justice, United Nations University of Peace, a member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as the Netherlands and Spain.
Introducing the panel on the relationship of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications with other rights, Rodrigo Uprimny, Committee Co-Rapporteur and discussion moderator, stressed the strong relationship of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications to other human rights, not only because science was recognized as a right in itself, but also as a right that could advance – or hamper – the realization of other rights. The panellists were Mylène Bidault of the Observatoire de la diversité et des droits culturels, Helle Porsdam of the University of Copenhagen, and Prachi Bhave of the RightsTech Women. Speaking in the discussion were Treatment Action Group, United Nations University of Peace, Science for Democracy Association, members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Italy.
Participants in the panel on possible limitations explored the competing rights and possible limitations that might be placed on the enjoyment of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications. Panellists were Yvonne Donder of the University of Amsterdam, Andrea Boggio of Bryant University and the Associazione Luca Coscioni, and Viviana Muñoz of the South Centre, while members of the University of Zurich and Loyola Law School, and several Committee Experts participated in the discussion, moderated by Mikel Mancisidor, Committee Co-Rapporteur.
The last panel of the day, moderated by Rodrigo Uprimny, Committee Co-Rapporteur, explored the obligations and the scope of the duties of States, and other relevant actors, in the realization of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications. Lea Shaver of the Indiana University, Gonzalo Remiro of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities of Spain, and Ilcheong Yi of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development were the panellists, while the Working Group on Human Rights and Digital Technology at the American University of Paris and several Committee Experts took part in the discussion.
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found at the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Friday, 12 October, to publicly close its sixty-fourth session.
MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, opened the meeting and welcomed the large number of participants. Article 15 was an article that the Committee had not dwelt upon consistently, and in its dialogue with States parties had not gone as far as it should on matters related to science and scientific progress. Therefore, the time was right to consider what the content of a general comment on article 15 could be in order to ensure that it adequately reflected the article.
MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur, noting that the discussion today would focus on science and economic, social and cultural rights, agreed that the Committee usually had very little time to raise this issue in its dialogue with States parties, and often had not provided adequate guidance on and interpretation of States obligations arising from article 15. For this reason, the Committee had started drafting a general comment three years ago, and was now ready to consult with stakeholders and engage in a frank, honest, and open debate. The Committee hoped to learn from the participants and their experiences, to spread the knowledge on this article among States, academia, civil society and other stakeholders, and to have a sufficiently matured draft to substantially discuss it at its spring 2019 session, and adopt it during its sixty-sixth session in autumn 2019.
Panel 1: Normative Contents
MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur, said that the panel discussion would address the understanding of the main concepts in the relevant provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and would explore the normative contents of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications.
Statements by the Panellists
KONSTANTINOS TARARAS, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, reminded that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was a scientific agency of the United Nations system which promoted scientific cooperation and peace, and the entrenchment of peace in the context of the intellectual development of humankind. There was a new dynamic in the area of science and technology, he said, perhaps best described by the term “techno-science”; it required new approaches and addressing new fears of the public related to the misuse of techno-scientific advances. Other issues of concern were gaps in development, exclusion, and tensions between public and private interests and considerations. In the area of bioethics, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization insisted on sharing scientific knowledge and scientific data, Mr. Tararas said, stressing the key role of scientific communities in bridging those gaps. The central area of the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was about bringing down barriers for women in science, the promotion of a science culture, and the promotion of scientific education to improve access to and enjoyment of scientific benefits, open access and the related implications, and access to the Internet and the content on the Internet. In conclusion, Mr. Tararas stressed that the enjoyment of the right to enjoy scientific benefits was central to the achievement of the goals and objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
JESSICA WYNDHAM, American Association for the Advancement of Science, addressing the question of benefits of scientific progress and its applications, said that the right to enjoy the material and non-material benefits of scientific progress was key to progress and flourishing. The right articulated in the Covenant was the “right of everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications”, thus the Covenant distinguished between the benefits of scientific progress and the applications of science. Science was applied in the development of products, provision of services, and the development of technologies, but it also included intangible applications of scientific knowledge, for example as an empirical basis of creating laws, developing policies, and for planning, evaluating and monitoring programmes. At the individual level, scientific knowledge empowered informed personal decision-making, for example on what to eat and drink, whether to wear a helmet, or whether to support a particular policy and practice. The right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress was therefore not only the right to the applications of science but to scientific progress itself. The right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications must include the obligation of States to apply scientific knowledge in evidence-based decision-making.
LISSA BETTZIECHE, German Institute for Human Rights, addressed the issue of conceptual guidance to “delimit” science, and recalled the recent consultations that the German Institute for Human Rights had organized in cooperation with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on article 15 of the Covenant. Ms. Bettzieche remarked that one of the issues that had arisen from those consultations was the realization that some experts in natural science often did not see the relevance of their role in developing a general comment on science and human rights, and stressed that this was one of the areas to be addressed by the general comment. The participants in the consultations had also underlined the importance of participation in and access to scientific communities, the participation in policy-making, financing or access to benefits, and the digital divide. They addressed academic freedom and stressed that the general comment should explore the issue of extramural research and extramural freedom for research, and address the issues of discrimination and exclusion in science. Furthermore, it had been highlighted that the prevailing, Anglophone interpretation of the term “science” understood science as natural sciences, which was not the case in most countries in Europe. The term “science” in French, Italian, Russian, or German, was understood as all scientific disciplines, such as humanities, law, economics, and others. Science must have an ethical and human rights based frame.
BRIAN GRAN, Case Western Reserve University, spoke about non-discrimination and indicators, and stressed that indicators were important to tackle discrimination, monitor the situation, and take action to eliminate discrimination. Mr. Gran mentioned that he was working on developing indicators to tackle discrimination against persons with disabilities, and said that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had developed a definition of human rights indicators. Some indicators of access to science were the percentage of individuals who had access to the Internet, the number of open access scientific journals, or data on online censorship. In terms of fostering cooperation, one of the indicators that was being developed was international collaboration using data such as the number of countries whose scientists engaged in scientific work in other countries. Indicators were also being developed on the protection from scientific harm, participation in scientific policies, green technologies and inequality, health, information and communication technology, education, and others. Indicators, Mr. Gran stressed, were critical to reducing and challenging discrimination, holding authorities accountable, and providing situation analysis.
Global Young Academy noted that none of the proposed characterizations of science in the draft general comment were accurate and urged the Committee to take into account the expertise from the history and philosophy of science. The Committee should to take into account real concerns and actual breaches of the right to science to guide their interpretation, which should, inter alia, be based on scientists’ experiences.
RightsTech Women stressed the critical importance of including in the general comment the human rights of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and should clearly define that the “benefits of scientific progress and its applications” included everything coming from what was known so far in science, both material and non-material. The general comment should also aim to increase international cooperation in science to decrease inequalities among peoples and nations, and ensure that the development of science and human rights education went hand in hand and kept pace with each other.
Earth Justice said that there was a shift in the role that science played in the society: while there was a very optimistic and progress-oriented definition of science in the Covenant and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was today seen as a sign of warning and a call for urgent political action. One example was the recently-released report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. Other issues that deserved attention included corporate capture, as today, private interests had more and more weight in scientific decisions; indigenous knowledge, which must find its way in the debate together with scientific knowledge; and the dependence on technical systems.
United Nations University of Peace spoke about the relationship between science and peace and said that developing article 15 by adopting a general comment would create a basis for a more peaceful world in which science was called upon to play an ever growing role.
Netherlands highlighted the importance of the concept of open science and said that publicly-funded research must benefit the society and must be accessible to all. Open science offered massive benefits to citizens, private actors and the public, all over the world, and should be recognized in the general comment.
Spain said that the content of article 15 should be read in conjunction with article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. General comments by human rights treaty bodies constituted very useful tools for States, making it easier to understand the scope of their obligations. The draft general comment should include key points to guide States in how to ensure gender equality in accessing and enjoying science and scientific progress.
A member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child said that there was a permanent tension between technological development and the rights of the child, for example in matters of the sale of children. The Committee’s next general comment would be on digital technologies and the rights of the child and welcomed the cooperation with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the matter.
Concluding Remarks by the Panellists
KONSTANTINOS TARARAS, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, highlighted the importance of training for scientific research and said that States had an obligation, inter alia, to create the conditions for all citizens to have foundational knowledge in this area, and ensure equitable and open access to scientific data. Of particular importance for the realization of this right was international cooperation, including by non-State actors, which should be one of the areas to be explored by the general comment.
JESSICA WYNDHAM, American Association for the Advancement of Science, stressed that fundamental to the realization of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, was access to scientific information, as well as the basic education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics from the primary levels in order to understand scientific information. This was particularly important for women and girls.
LISSA BETTZIECHE, German Institute for Human Rights, stressed the importance of assisting non-governmental organizations in holding States accountable in realizing their obligations under the Covenant. Even if the general comment would not provide a precise definition of “science”, it should provide a clear definition of scientific benefits.
BRIAN GRAN, Case Western Reserve University, concurred on the importance of scientific literacy and recognized that developing indicators on international cooperation was challenging, as was developing indicators on non-State actors.
Panel 2: Relationship with Other Rights
RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur, stressed the strong relationship to other human rights of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, not only because science was recognized as a right in itself, but also as a right that could advance – or hamper – the realization of other rights. This relationship was the focus of the panel discussion, which would also aim to identify aspects of those rights that would need to be covered by the future general comment.
Statements by the Panellists
MYLÈNE BIDAULT, Observatoire de la diversité et des droits culturels, stressed that the right to science could be considered as a cultural right. For example, it had been considered as such by the resolutions of the Human Rights Council. Also, science was a part of culture, and the right to participate in cultural life should entail the right to participate in scientific progress. Those were two rights that could not be separated from one another. There was therefore a need to define what “cultural field” was, and one such definition – which was rather broad - could be found in a non-governmental organizations declaration of 2017. Such a definition called for a specific description of what “science” and “scientific” were. Whether science was considered a cultural right, Ms. Bidault continued, would change the practical application of the right in relation to science, including in ensuring the realization of the right to all individuals to access and participate in those activities that preserved their identity. At the individual level, people had the right to creativity, and have their own view on what a “life in dignity” meant. The specific nature of “scientific” must be defined, stressed Ms. Bidault, because culture included what was “scientific”.
HELLE PORSDAM, University of Copenhagen, on the right to education and academic and scientific freedom, stressed that cultural rights were gateway rights to all other rights; they were transformative and empowering rights that enabled people to aspire to a better future for themselves, their families, and the society in which they lived. They were also critical to combatting the ideologies behind fundamentalism and extremism that led to all kinds of human rights abuses; enlightened and well-informed citizens represented the best defence against hatred and bigotry. Ms. Porsdam stressed that there was no right to culture without a minimum education, and that, in the words of Malala, the world could no longer accept that basic education was enough. As for the tension between the right to education and science on the one hand and the right to religion on the other, it was essential to strike a balance between individual rights and the interest of a society in an enlightened citizenry. Article 15 was about much more than just the material benefits; as marches for science had clearly showed it, it was about reaffirming science as a crucial part of a strong democracy and to highlight the value of evidence-based inquiry and policy-making.
PRACHI BHAVE, RightsTech Women, spoke about women in science and, while paying tribute to Frances Kelsey, Francoise Barré-Sinoussi and Maryam Mirzakhani, stressed that women represented only 28.8 per cent of researchers in the world, with strong regional differences; they represented one in 14 science graduates, and one in 20 engineering graduates. This was going to have direct implications for jobs in the future, while the under-representation of women would have economic consequences and inadequate influence on the direction of progress. In academia, women held only 15 per cent of tenure-track positions in mathematics, 18 per cent in computer science, and 14 per cent in engineering; on average, universities paid men 15 per cent more than women, with some institutions having a gender gap as high as 37 per cent. Although two women had been awarded Nobel prizes the previous week, Donna Strickland for physics and Frances Arnold for chemistry, much work remained still to be done to increase the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Treatment Action Group, stressed the importance of access to the fruits of scientific progress and noted that the general comment should clearly define the obligations of States to support scientific innovation and to ensure that all individuals – especially marginalized groups and individuals - enjoyed the benefits of science and scientific progress. Because the needs of the poor or marginalized were often left unaddressed by market-driven approaches to innovation in the absence of State action, the purposive development of science was necessary to ensure non-discrimination in access under the right.
United Nations University of Peace stressed that without peace, it was not possible to realize any other right, including the right to education and science. In critical situations, this right was neglected, while it flourished in democratic and stable societies.
Science for Democracy Association underlined the importance of addressing exclusion from science and said that there was indeed a lack of integrated data on the participation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Another issue was how to accelerate the progress before the point of no return was reached, because scientific spaces were where the future was imagined, defined and built, and where, therefore equal representation and inclusion were critical.
Italy said that the event titled Science for Inclusion, would be held in Room XI from 1 to 3 p.m. today, 9 October.
An Expert of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised the issue of technology transfer to developing countries, and said that this represented an important barrier to their accessing scientific knowledge and progress. Could law really enable access to science and technology for States without resources?
A Committee Expert remarked that access rights, which had been raised often in the discussion, were not only a matter of State responsibility and not completely in the hands of the States.
Concluding Remarks by the Panellists
MYLÈNE BIDAULT, Observatoire de la diversité et des droits culturels, agreed on the need to address the issue of access and, recognizing the constraints that women had in terms of time, said that the Committee should also explore the right to contribute and practice.
HELLE PORSDAM, University of Copenhagen, stressed the critical importance of intellectual property issues to cultural rights, and said that often it was not clear what was within the mandate of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and what was within the mandate of the World Intellectual Property Organization. Another problem was that the two organizations did not necessarily talk to each other.
PRACHI BHAVE, RightsTech Women, remarked that equal, free and open access were very important and added that, although many talked about them, it was not clear how this could be implemented in practice. Ms. Bhave stressed the importance of supporting girls’ interest in and access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which were the jobs and professions of tomorrow.
Panel 3: Possible Limitations
MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Co-Rapporteur, said that the panel would focus on competing rights and possible limitations that might be placed on the enjoyment of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications.
Statements by the Panellists
YVONNE DONDERS, University of Amsterdam, remarked that although the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications was no longer being neglected, it was still unclear what the content of this right was. Because science could be put to the benefit – and detriment – of individuals and societies, the discussion of limitations was very relevant. Some of the limitations included topics, subjects and design of research, or the diffusion of scientific knowledge. The right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress could be limited, under article 2 and 4 of the Covenant, said Ms. Donders, noting that the particular economic, social or political situation of States could effectively place a limit on the realization of this right, as States would not be able to guarantee the enjoyment of the right. However, core content and core obligations must not be affected, therefore the draft general comment should carefully define those core obligations, which might include the guarantee of non-discrimination, prohibition of human rights violations by the scientific progress, the creation of a participatory environment, or the elimination of barriers to international cooperation. Other limitations, discussed in the context of the obligation of States to protect people from harm, could include limitations due to security and public order risks, for example in relation to biological and nuclear weapons, and therefore such types of limitations would need to be discussed in the general comment.
ANDREA BOGGIO, Bryant University and Associazione Luca Coscioni, noted that science could cause harm in two ways: misapplication – when it fell in the wrong hands, and unintended consequences. The important problem might be the harmful consequences that flew directly from scientific progress and its application, Mr. Boggio said, noting in particular the limits of biotechnology, and the right to privacy, identity and moral rights through the use of the Internet. In this context, of particular importance were strong internal and external governance guards, often developed by scientists themselves, to constantly monitor that the valuable knowledge was being produced while minimizing the risks of scientific developments. Safeguards had become part of everyday life of scientists, as had learning from the past mistakes and abuses – forced sterilization, the indiscriminate use of DDT, research without consent, etc. Scientists were the driving force and the foremost defenders of science that did not harm humans of the planet, stressed Mr. Boggio. One such example was the alarm that scientists themselves had raised about the new line of experimentation in the early days of DNA recombination and manipulation, and the scientists-convened conference in Asilomar in 1975 which had examined the nature and magnitude of the risks. Since then, countless experiments with recombinant DNA had been carried out without a reported incident. Article 15 already outlined the scope of the right to progress that was beneficial, therefore the draft general comment should address the obligation of States to design environments that enabled the development and diffusion of science.
VIVIANA MUÑOZ, South Centre, addressed the interrelation of trade, intellectual property, and moral and material rights in the context of limitations, noting the innate tension between the regime of trade, the regime of intellectual property, and the right of science. One issue was that intellectual property rights, through exclusion inherent in patents and copyright, constituted a legal barrier to access; at the same time, patent protection could be an incentive for scientific inquiry. The key was to manage the tension between providing protection to moral and intellectual interest and providing incentives for scientific works, and access. The impact of copyrights and patents on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights had been explored in the reports of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms. Muñoz said, adding that there was no international agreement on a human right to copyright or to a human right on patent protection. From the human rights perspective, the best approach was to consider how the copyright legislation served the interests of authors as well as public interests. One of the important areas to further progress, from a human rights perspective, was on the limitations and exceptions to copyright, as well as to avoid exclusive rights in the proposed World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations and balance with adequate limitations and exceptions. In the area of patent protection, it could be in the protection of indigenous and local communities with respect to their traditional knowledge, in respect to genetic resources, and also in the area of transfer of technology.
University of Zurich recalled that in November 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had adopted the revised recommendations on scientific research, which offered a comprehensive set of principles on the role of science in society and could be a useful resource that could shed light on questions raised in the drafting of the general comment. It also offered a comprehensive and broad definition of “science” which was not limited to natural sciences, and called for a prevention of negative impacts that some scientific and technological development might have on health and the environment.
Loyola Law School recalled the discussions during the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and stressed that science should be left free to develop in any direction it wished, and that States should regulate the application of scientific and technological progress. The current world was no more problematic or dangerous than it had been in 1948.
Committee Experts referred to the “chain” from the scientist to the users, and asked how the value should be shared between each one. In the context of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, and the duty of the State to allocate most available resources to the realization of the rights under the Covenant, was imposing barriers and limits to accessing the results of publicly-funded research compatible with the Covenant? The right to science was a human right, they stressed, and added that a dilemma related to the use of a number of fields in scientific progress, for example nuclear energy, was a dual-use dilemma. Experts also raised the issue of the use of scientific and technological knowledge for the production of new kinds of weapons, and wondered about the impact of the ever-reducing State funding for universities and scientific research on the principle of equal enjoyment of benefits of scientific progress.
Concluding Remarks by the Panellists
YVONNE DONDERS, University of Amsterdam, on the “chain” of publications, from scientists to publishers to users, said that what was important was to determine who was the right holder and what part of the right was being referred to. The underlying question was whether science should be free of charge, which it probably should not, just like food, water, education and others were not. Fees could be a barrier to access, but only if full access was an obligation by the States. States did impose limits on the production of scientific knowledge by determining the topics for which they provided funding, as did private actors by providing funding for areas of research that would generate profit.
ANDREA BOGGIO, Bryant University and Associazione Luca Coscioni, noted that States already imposed limits on scientific research, for example the legislation on the research and experimentation on the human embryo, which was prohibited 14 days after the conception. There were safeguards and limitations that had already been defined in relation to other rights, for example the right to education, that could be used in the general comment on article 15.
VIVIANA MUÑOZ, South Centre, remarked that the core issue of copyright was whether the authors were able to make a living from their intellectual creation, and added that this issue was worth exploring in the digital environment. Social policy had an important role to play in patent granting.
Panel 4: Obligations
RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Co-Rapporteur, opened the last panel of the day on the scope of the duties of States, and other relevant actors.
Statements by the Panellists
GONZALO REMIRO, Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities of Spain, said that science and technology were fundamental to the progress of humanity and to the creation of wealth that all could benefit from. In this vein, the general comment could include the minimum commitments to invest in science, and discuss the right to scientific education, in order to strengthen democracy. States must have an appropriate mechanism to ensure an effective participation of people in decision-making, as well as structures to enable scientific input into public decision-making. The general comment should cover the question of non-discrimination on the basis of gender, race or sexual orientation and gender identity, and the freedom to participate in research, in order to close the gender gap in the participation in scientific research. Another important issue was the knowledge created through scientific practice, with particular emphasis put on well-distinguishing between science and pseudo-science. There must be linguistic diversity in scientific research, Mr. Remiro said, noting Spain’s considerable experience in this regard which it was ready to share with others. Finally, scientific diffusion networks were essential, and Spain had numerous public and academic units that distributed scientific knowledge among the public.
JOSE RAMON SANCHEZ, Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities of Spain, noted that Spain would soon set up a committee on ethics in research, and it already had a body in charge of ethical issues in bio-medicine. The participation in science should not be compulsory, and efforts should be made to adapt the content to all persons, all interests and all capacities. Another area of interest was citizens’ science, which Spain believed was complementary to formal education.
LEA SHAVER, Indiana University, stressed via a video link, the importance of ensuring that States’ laws and policies did not create obstacles and barriers to accessing science and scientific progress, and mentioned violations of the duty to respect scientific consensus, noting in particular climate change denial, or the recent denial of the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs by South Africa. The right to science was based on the understanding of science as a public good in which everyone had a right to participate on an equal basis; such an understanding arose from the fact that a significant portion of scientific knowledge had been generated through publicly-funded research. The draft general comment should explore the duty of States to protect the public against the misuse of technology that could restrict or violate human rights, an example of which was the use of water meter controllers, or the use of surveillance technology, which raised the need to emphasize traditional safeguards including consent and precautionary principles. The general comment should state a duty of States to make adequate investments in scientific research, and also ensure that research was not overemphasized and that the duty to provide scientific education and access to information was defined too. Further, the general comment should pay attention to the setting of scientific priorities, which were currently primarily set by private companies, and this might be achieved by tying the general comment to the Millennium Development Goals.
ILCHEONG YI, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, highlighted that the drafting of the Covenant had taken place in a specific political climate, in which the focus was not on limitations but on the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. This was the background against which international cooperation for scientific progress should be understood as well; today, it was clear that participation was not enough, there must be an equal sharing of benefits. International cooperation should pay attention to creating conditions for the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, which was also dependent on a range of factors, from social, to market, to fiscal, to availability of finance, and many others. Science and technology were not an end in themselves, but should be tools for development, for transformation, and processes to address the fundamental and structural causes of human rights violations.
Working Group on Human Rights and Digital Technology at the American University of Paris stressed that the definition of “science” must include technology and technological development, which were the processes, products and tools that people used daily in their lives. Technology was not just an application of scientific knowledge, but the means by which people were increasingly able to exercise their other rights. In ensuring access to the benefits of science and technology, States parties must not discriminate against disadvantaged and marginalized groups, including refugee and migrant communities
Committee Experts noted that the public needed to have an input on a range of issues related to the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, including in the setting of scientific priorities. The application of the principle of non-discrimination and intersectionality of discrimination in the enjoyment of scientific progress must be further explored, in particular in relation to persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and women.
Concluding Remarks by the Panellists
GONZALO REMIRO, Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities of Spain, reiterated Spain’s commitment to ensure full transparency in its science and technology policies. Spain was gathering experience of participative research, for example through citizen research and consensus-building conferences, Mr. Remiro said, noting the importance of inclusive education in ensuring the access of persons with disabilities to science and technology.
JOSE RAMON SANCHEZ, Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities of Spain, said that there was a public agency which allocated funding for scientific research, and that ethic committees would be involved in the decision-making as well.
LEA SHAVER, Indiana University, via a video link, concurred that corruption in science must be addressed and said that, with regards to access to scientific progress for persons with disabilities, there were activists and representative organizations of persons with disabilities that could contribute to the issue. Persons with disabilities were very much aware of issues of access and were very vocal on the point, and the limitations imposed by intellectual property laws.
ILCHEONG YI, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, agreed on the need to ensure access to scientific benefits and progress for persons with disabilities.
RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Co-Rapporteur, in his concluding remarks, thanked all the participants and invited them to keep sending their submissions to the Committee. In terms of next steps, the discussion on the draft general comment would continue at the Committee’s next session, with a view to its adoption in autumn 2019.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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