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Committee on Human Rights
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 334-3043
Fax: (202) 334-2225

The Committee on Human Rights serves as the Secretariat for the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies (H.R. Network).

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Homepage symposium image 

On December 7-8, 2017, the Committee on Human Rights will host a public symposium on the role of scientists, engineers, and health professionals in assisting refugees and other individuals who have been forcibly displaced. Scholars, innovators and humanitarian organizations, among others, will examine strategies being used to promote rights and dignity in situations of displacement and identify specific ongoing challenges that scientists, engineers, and health professionals can help to address.

For more information and to register for the event, please click here.  A live webcast of the Symposium will be available here.


In the spotlight   

Iranian Baha’i Psychologist Fariba Kamalabadi Released after Lengthy Prison Term
November 8, 2017

Fariba KamalabadiOn October 31, 2017, Iranian Baha’i psychologist and community leader Fariba Kamalabadi was released from prison after serving 9½ years of her 10-year prison sentence.  She was one of the members of the Friends in Iran (Yaran-i-Iran), an ad hoc national group of seven who coordinated the Baha’i Iranian community’s religious and administrative affairs.  (Mahvash Sabet, a psychologist and the only other female member of the group, was released in mid-September.) 

The seven Baha’i leaders were arrested in 2008, held in solitary confinement for several months, and eventually faced trial on charges of alleged “espionage for Israel” (apparently because the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Baha’i faith, is located in what is now Israel), “insulting religious sanctities,” and “propaganda against the system.”  Following proceedings that failed to meet international fair trial standards—including the lack of any credible evidence to support the charges—they were sentenced in August 2010 to 20 years in prison.  (In late 2015, in accordance with a new stipulation in Iran’s Penal Code, which allows for sentences to be served concurrently, their sentences were reduced to 10 years.)  The Baha’is, Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, have long been subjected to severe government persecution.  Their religion is not recognized, and they are deprived of many internationally recognized human rights.


The CHR and academies that participate in the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies undertook a number of efforts in support of Ms. Kamalabadi during her imprisonment.  The CHR is pleased that she is now at home with her family.


New Tactics of Abuse: Digital surveillance and human rights

On May 1, 2017, during the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Annual Meeting, the Committee on Human Rights (CHR) held a breakfast briefing, led by CHR Chair Martin Chalfie, to highlight issues surrounding digital security and human rights.
Guest speaker John Scott-Railton of The Citizen Lab (Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto) spoke to NAS members about the use of digital surveillance and technologies to target human rights activists and other members of civil society worldwide. Utilizing peer-reviewed and mixed-methods research, The Citizen Lab tracks perpetrators – often governments – who take advantage of weak laws and new available technologies to abuse the Internet for the purpose of threatening peaceful dissidents.  As an example of how The Citizen Lab engages with the victims of these operations, Mr. Scott-Railton described the high-profile case of Emirati engineer and activist Ahmed Mansoor, who, with the assistance of The Citizen Lab, was able to thwart a cyber-attack and prompt a widely used mobile manufacturer to fix previously unknown, but dangerous, security flaws in its products.

New Tactics of Abuse: Digital surveillance and human rights from The National Academies on Vimeo.


Collaborating on Human Rights Investigations: Fire Research and Forensic Science

At the spring 2017 meeting of the Committee on Human Rights, Professor José Torero—the John L. Bryan Chair in Fire Protection Engineering and Director of the Center for Disaster Resilience at the University of Maryland—spoke to members about his efforts to help protect human rights through the investigation of several high-profile fires.   

One notable example is his investigation of a 2010 fire in Chile’s San Miguel prison that led to the death of dozens of inmates. During a fight between rival gangs in the prison, a mattress was intentionally set ablaze by inmates. In the three hours that it took for local fire fighters to bring the fire under control, 81 inmates trapped behind closed gates were killed. The incident prompted the public defender’s office to request an investigation to help determine whether the prison guards, who had failed to open the padlocks of the burning cells, were liable for their deaths. Dr. Torero was called to simulate the conditions of the fire, in order to understand its behavior, and to create an estimation of the time-line of events. His team concluded that the intense blaze grew quickly out of control, and that the guards could not have intervened in time to save those who perished. Dr. Torero’s findings shifted blame away from the prison guards and toward the need for improvement in prison conditions, as overcrowding within the prison led to the high number of causalities. Consequently, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera called for an end to overcrowding in the prison system and for much needed reforms.
Dr. Torero also shared his experience investigating a massive fire set at an alleged crime scene in Guerrero State, Mexico. At the invitation of an expert group convened by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), he conducted experiments that challenged the government's narrative surrounding the fate of 43 students from a rural teachers’ college who, after being fired upon by local police, were taken into custody and later went missing.  Dr. Torero’s findings brought greater public attention to the forensic science of fire investigation. [For more information about Dr. Torero’s efforts in this case, read the related articles in Science Magazine here and here. To view the results of the investigative report on the matter performed by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (IGIE), appointed by the IACHR, please click here.]
Dr. Torero emphasized the need for human rights organizations and institutions to better understand the science behind human rights investigations and the added value scientists can provide through their technical analyses.
CHR at a Glance

The Committee on Human Rights (CHR) has produced a new infographic that provides a snapshot of our current and resolved cases concerning scientists, health professionals, and engineers around the world subjected to severe human rights abuses - whether as a result of their professional work or for having peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression. The infographic also demonstrates the active support we enjoy from members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and highlights our engagement with UNESCO's human rights complaint body. 

* Data is taken from July 2016           

CHR Infographic side 1 CHR Infographic side 2 
You must scroll through the infographic to see both. 


Read More In the Spotlight




  Resolved Cases See all...  
 Mashvash Sabet Iranian Baha’i Psychologist Released after Lengthy Imprisonment
 Dr. Mudawi cropt

Imprisoned Sudanese engineer Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam released following presidential pardon


 Sudan Graduate student in engineering granted presidential pardon in Sudan
 Ali al-Ekri Bahraini Pediatrician Ali Esa Mansoor Al-‘Ekri Released from Prison
 al-Samahiji Bahraini Ophthalmologist Released after Serving One-Year Sentence
 Homa Hoodfar Iranian-Canadian Anthropologist Released from Prison
 Kokabee Small Iranian Physicist Omid Kokabee Granted Parole

 Kamran Mortezaie 2

Bahá'í Electrical Engineer Released from Prison in Iran
 Faran 3 Baha’i Psychologist Released after Serving Four-Year Sentence
 Khaing Tiny Medical Doctor Released from Prison in Myanmar
 Tunisia 2 Appeals Court Dismisses Tunisian Mathematician’s Case and Orders His Release
 vitishko small image Russian Geologist Yevgeny Vitishko Conditionally Released from Prison
 Kamran Rahimian Iranian Baha’i Psychologist Released from Prison

 Mahmoud Badavam

Two Iranian Baha’i Colleagues Released from Prison

No Photo Available

Bahraini Health Professional Released after Serving Three-Year Sentence 

Xue Feng Chinese-Born U.S. Geologist Xue Feng Released 10 Months Early

Tun Aung photo: Radio Free Asia

Myanmarese Medical Doctor Tun Aung Conditionally Released