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AAAS Carries Forward Its Drive to Protect the Right to Science

AAAS' Jessica Wyndham
Jessica Wyndham, AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program director, has played a pivotal role in shepherding the right to science through the U.N. process. | Adam D. Cohen/AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is working closely with scientific and human rights organizations to implement the human right to science that the U.N. recently defined through a process that articulates the right’s scope and serves as a tool to monitor its implementation.

Jessica Wyndham, director of the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program, added to AAAS’ contributions during a webinar presentation at “The Right to Science and Why it Matters” on April 30 hosted by Science for Democracy, a group that promotes the right to science through dialogue with the scientific community and decision-makers at the national, regional and international levels.

The webinar examined the March 6 adoption by the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of General Comment No. 25, an authoritative interpretation of the right to science as laid out in Article 15 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and first recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The General Comment provides the committee with an authoritative basis for monitoring implementation of the relevant treaty, provides governments with guidance for how to implement their responsibilities, and provides a tool for civil society to measure, monitor and advocate for implementation of the right,” said Wyndham.

While the webinar examined and reviewed how the scope of the right has been defined, speakers also discussed how a changing world requires more clarification to better promote and fulfill the right’s full meaning and intention.

Mikel Mancisidor, a member of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and one of those primarily responsible for drafting the General Comment on Science, pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic to demonstrate to webinar attendees how the right to science is being effectively put to work.

“We can see the significance of freedoms, transparency and cooperation when it comes to any scientific challenge,” said Mancisidor, adding that the pandemic also shows the value and importance of international scientific cooperation in addressing global threats.

Other participants pointed to the responsibilities of supporting nations to clearly report how their actions are consistent with the full scope of the right to science, including access to scientific knowledge, the scientific method, applications of science and scientific progress, the freedom of research and the right to enjoy its benefits.

April Tash, a program specialist at UNESCO, singled out AAAS’ support of the right to science during the webinar, praising its advocacy for scientific freedom, scientific responsibility, and its role in including UNESCO in an effort that defined protections for scientific researchers across the globe. “This is really to congratulate both the work that’s been done on the General Comment and to congratulate AAAS,” Tash said.

AAAS has long supported the right to science. The AAAS Board of Directors endorsed the right on April 16, 2010 in a statement “Recognizing that this right lies at the heart of the AAAS mission and the social responsibilities of scientists, AAAS will pursue opportunities to collaborate with the global scientific community so that the voice, interests and concerns of scientists can be brought to this process.”

Over the last 13 years, Wyndham has worked together with the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition to ensure the contributions of the scientific community were reflected in the definition of the right and lead AAAS efforts to engage scientific organizations and civil societies in supporting the interpretation and implementation of the right. These steps are intended to make sure that each of the 170 nations party to the treaty carry out their obligations.

In addition, Wyndham has presented research findings related to the right to science before the U.N. Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights in Geneva, the body responsible for developing the “General Comment” process. She also has addressed changes needed to fully articulate the definition of science and presented AAAS research findings on the topic at the U.N. in New York.

During the webinar Wyndham called on participants to “continue to build partnerships, to forge unlikely connections, and find common cause in our commitment to bringing life to the right to science.”

“The battle has only just begun. To achieve implementation of the right to science will require strategic thinking, strategic partnerships, and immense energies,” she said.

[Associated image: UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto]



Anne Q. Hoy

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