Message from the Chair
The past year has been a time of growth for the Committee on Human Rights (CHR). Our six new members from the NAS, NAE, and NAM, who joined in 2015, have already become integral members of the Committee.
All of the committee members are working to ensure that the CHR is as dynamic and effective as possible. We recently created a system of CHR subcommittees to address topics ranging from international missions to outreach within the Academies and have instituted regular conference calls to consider issues of importance that arise between our biannual meetings. We have also created a new web-based Action Alert system to make it simpler and more straightforward for members of the Academies to support colleagues suffering human rights abuses.
During the past year seven of our professional colleagues were released or acquitted and the conditions of confinement have improved for many more. At the same time, many colleagues continue to suffer severe human rights abuses, from gross violations of the right to a fair trial to imprisonment and torture. We continue to work in support of 61 scientists, engineers, and health professionals throughout the world. In the coming year, we aim to enhance the impact of our work for colleagues suffering human rights abuses through use of international human rights complaint mechanisms and have begun to set priorities for CHR action going forward.
· Intensifying our advocacy with foreign governments regarding cases of great concern, through an expanded system of Embassy visits in Washington and, possibly, foreign missions;
· Convening symposia on the role of science, engineering, and medicine in responding to today’s most significant human rights challenges; and
· Developing new tools for raising awareness of human rights issues and abuses, including videos, interactive media, and live event webcasting.
In 2016, we look forward to celebrating CHR’s 40-year anniversary and the achievements of Carol Corillon as CHR Director, who retired in 2015 and who continues to serve as the Executive Director of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies (H.R. Network). I have replaced NAM member Felton Earls, who was a long-standing member of the CHR, on the Executive Committee of the H.R. Network. The Network’s October 5-8, 2016 biennial meeting, which will take place in Panama, will be my first direct engagement with the participating academies, and I very much look forward to this.
In connection with our anniversary, we will be hosting a breakout session during the 2016 NAS Annual Meeting on human rights challenges to scientists and their work. This session will explore the tension between governmental security measures and academic freedom, which is giving rise to special challenges for scientific research and international collaborations. CHR Correspondents will also receive updates throughout the year with information on new CHR activities and initiatives.
As ever, we are grateful for the generous funding and broader support provided by the Presidents of the NAS, NAE, and NAM, as well as the financial gifts that we receive from individual members of the Academies. We are taking advantage of the anniversary year to raise awareness of our role as the human rights voice of the Academies and to highlight the need for increased financial resources so as to allow us to both deepen and scale up our human rights efforts.
We are also appreciative of the assistance that so many Academy members (including more than 1,500 CHR Correspondents) provide to colleagues whose rights have been violated as a result of practicing their professions or speaking openly about human rights abuses and other sensitive issues in their countries. Many members come to us when they learn of scientists, engineers, or health professionals under threat, others provide important case and country information, and still others respond to our Action Alerts by writing letters of appeal in support of colleagues and adding their names to letters sent by the CHR. Throughout the CHR’s history, many members of the Academies have also visited imprisoned colleagues and their families during travel abroad. We ask that members continue to come to us when they learn of scientists, engineers, or health professionals under threat and also consider contacting us prior to travel so that we can alert them to any human rights concerns that we may have. Finally, we welcome feedback about our ongoing human rights efforts.
Dr. Martin Chalfie