The Committee on Human Rights was created in 1976 in response to concern by members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) about widespread abuses of human rights, particularly those of scientists. In 1994, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) joined the NAS as full sponsors of the committee.
The committee is composed of up to 15 members drawn from the membership of the three institutions. It has the active support of more than 1,700 members of the NAS, NAE, and IOM, who assist it as "correspondents" in its human rights work by writing appeals in behalf of and letters of encouragement to unjustly imprisoned scientists, engineers, and health professionals. The committee is financially supported by the NAS, NAE, and IOM, several private foundations, and contributions from private donors.
The work of the committee is grounded in principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), primarily Article 19. In the United States, the committee also addresses selected science related civil rights cases and issues, work underpinned by the U.S. Constitution. The committee does not support or oppose any government or political system; it does hold governments responsible for conforming to international standards for the protection of human rights and accountable when they do not.
The committee uses the influence and prestige of the institutions it represents in behalf of scientists, engineers, and health professionals anywhere in the world who are unjustly detained or imprisoned for exercising their basic human rights as promulgated by the UDHR. Each case is carefully investigated, using a variety of sources, before being taken up by the committee. Such individuals cannot have been known to use or advocate violence. The committee also intervenes in behalf of non-violent colleagues who are the recipients of death threats, and it works to promote just prosecution in cases of individuals who have been killed for political reasons.
Activities of the committee include private inquiries, appeals to governments, moral support to prisoners and their families, and consciousness-raising efforts such as workshops and symposia. Periodically, it undertakes a mission of inquiry to a country. It issues public statements regarding a case or reports on the human rights situation in a country only when significant private efforts have proved unsuccessful and after the NAS Council and the presidents of the NAE and IOM have approved such action by the committee. The committee also is a catalyst for science-related human rights issues of concern to the members of the academy complex.
The committee serves as the secretariat for the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies. The Network, created in 1993, works to address grave issues of science and human rights, particularly the unjust detention or imprisonment of scientists, scholars, engineers, and health professionals throughout the world. It also promotes and protects the independence of academies and scholarly societies worldwide. The Network seeks to promote the free exchange of ideas and opinions among scientists and scholars in all countries and, thereby, to stimulate the development of collaborative educational, research and human-rights endeavors within academies and the institutions with which they are affiliated. Currently, science academies and scholarly societies in more than 80 countries are affiliated with the Network; each is represented by internationally prominent members who are also human rights advocates.
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