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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Committee on Human Rights
of the NAS, NAE, and NAM

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International Human Rights Network

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of scientists, engineers, 
and health professionals



Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Relationship Between the CHR and the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine?

The CHR is composed entirely of members of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The National Academies, honorific societies composed of distinguished scientists, engineers, physicians, and researchers from the United States and many other countries, were created to provide expert, independent advice on pressing challenges facing the U.S. and the world. Members of the Academies can elect to become “CHR Correspondents,” who receive updates concerning the CHR’s activities and ways to participate in such activities.

What are the CHR’s Main Activities?

The CHR:

  • advocates in support of scientists, engineers, and health professionals suffering serious human rights abuses worldwide
  • provides assistance to professional colleagues, e.g. by linking them to organizations that provide pro bono legal support and fellowship opportunities
  • raises awareness concerning areas at the intersection of human rights and science, engineering, and medicine

What Types of Human Rights Cases Does the CHR Undertake?

We undertake cases involving serious violations of international human rights contained in international agreements that are binding on the governments concerned and/or in customary international law.

Individuals receiving support from the CHR include, notably, those who have been arbitrarily detained—sometimes for many years, denied justice through grossly unfair trials, stripped of citizenship without due process, subjected to torture, and made to disappear. The CHR’s focus is on individuals subjected to serious human rights abuses either as a result of their professional activities or for having exercised the right to freedom of expression. The committee only undertakes cases where, to the best of its knowledge, colleagues have not used or advocated violence.

The CHR’s specific objectives vary from case to case and include, for instance,

  • Acquittal
  • Early Release
  • Prison Sentence Reduction
  • Access to Medical Care
  • Improvements in Conditions of Confinement
  • Restoration of Citizenship
  • Removal of Travel Restrictions
  • Accountability for Human Rights Abuses

The Committee follows cases until their conclusion and works to ensure that colleagues suffering human rights abuses, and their families, know that they are not forgotten.

Why is the CHR’s Human Rights Advocacy Focused on Scientists, Engineers, and Health Professionals?

The CHR is specially positioned to gather information about, and advocate for, fellow scientists, engineers, and health professionals under threat through use of its professional/academic connections and, in many cases, expertise. The expertise of CHR members, and that of CHR correspondents, becomes important, for example, where colleagues have been targeted as a result of their professional activities, as where political scientists have been imprisoned as a result of their academic work and where doctors have been targeted by governments for providing needed care to individuals without regard for ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation. Through its advocacy, the CHR emphasizes that scientific progress depends upon the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.

How Does the CHR Learn of Human Rights Cases?

The CHR learns of cases from a range of individuals and organizations, including members of the National Academies; members of the wider international scientific community; and other science and human rights bodies. CHR members and staff are regularly in close contact with the families and/or lawyers of colleagues under threat.

What Advocacy Strategies/Tools Does the CHR Use?

The CHR’s human rights advocacy is largely non-public. Efforts include:

  • Outreach to U.S., foreign, and international officials
  • Mobilization of National Academy members through a case alert system
  • Use of international and regional human rights complaint mechanisms, with the pro bono assistance of law students
  • Country visits and publication of its findings (click here for information about country visits)

Although only one of many organizations working in the area of human rights, the CHR plays a special advocacy role in support of scientists/engineers/health professionals suffering human rights abuse through its status as a body composed of globally respected scientists, engineers, and health professionals drawn from organizations recognized for a commitment to independence and objectivity.

How Does the CHR Engage with Other Human Rights Bodies?

The CHR is in regular contact with other organizations working to promote respect for, and protection of, universally recognized human rights. CHR staff members liaise with such organizations to check facts, obtain regional/country background information, and ensure that colleagues under threat receive needed assistance. Where the committee learns of cases involving human rights abuse that fall outside its mandate, it refers such cases to partner organizations. The CHR also regularly hosts events for academy members that highlight the work of other bodies working at the intersection of science/engineering/health and human rights.

Where Has the CHR Undertaken Cases?

Since the CHR was created in 1976, it has taken action in human rights cases through the world, as shown in the map below:

 2017 Current and Resolved Cases  

For more information about the CHR's casework, click here.

What Assistance, Apart from Advocacy, Does the CHR Provide to Colleagues Suffering Human Rights Abuses?

Where possible, the Committee connects colleagues and their families to:

  • Organizations that assist with academic placements and fellowships
  • Pro bono legal providers
  • Professional colleagues, for the purpose of developing and maintaining links to the international scientific community
  • Other international, regional, and domestic officials

What is the CHR’s Role in Human Rights Education and Awareness Raising?

The Committee highlights cutting-edge issues involving the intersection between science, technology, health, and human rights through regular briefings and symposia on a range of issues such as attacks against health care workers and the impact of torture. The Committee also serves as a catalyst for the creation of bodies within the Academies that address specific human rights issues, including an interest group within the National Academy of Medicine concerning medical ethics and human rights.

What is the CHR’s Role in the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies (H.R. Network)?

The Committee serves as the Secretariat for the H.R. Network, which brings together national academies and scholarly societies around the world for the purpose of addressing shared science and human rights concerns. The Network advocates in support of scientific colleagues suffering human rights abuses; promotes the free exchange of ideas and opinions among scientists and scholars; and supports the independence and autonomy of national academies and scholarly societies worldwide.

Working as part of the H.R. Network’s Secretariat, the CHR’s staff shares information on cases of human rights concern; serves as a clearinghouse for cases from other national academies; assists the Network’s Executive Committee in preparing public statements on issues of human rights concern; and helps to organize the H.R. Network’s biennial meetings, together with host countries.

How Can Members of the National Academies Support the CHR’s Work?

Members of the NAS, NAE, and NAM can sign up to become CHR Correspondents. Staff members keep Correspondents informed of the Committee’s activities and opportunities to participate. Through a recently streamlined online case alert system, Correspondents can send letters of appeal to colleagues under threat and add their names to joint letters/petitions initiated by the committee.

Correspondents can also support the CHR’s work by providing information concerning scientists, engineers, and health professionals under threat and country/regional background information. Additionally, throughout the CHR’s history, Correspondents have visited imprisoned colleagues and their families. The CHR invites Correspondents and other members of the National Academies to consider contacting it prior to travel so that it can provide information concerning possible human rights cases in the countries concerned. For more information, please email

Although only members of the National Academies are eligible to become CHR Correspondents, the CHR periodically hosts events that are open to the general public. Information concerning such events is available on the home page.

Is the CHR affiliated with the U.S. Government?

No. The Committee is an apolitical body composed of members of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which are private, independent institutions. The Committee neither seeks nor accepts U.S. government funding.