Purpose, Function, and Future of the Network Discussion Leader: Torsten Wiesel

Torsten Wiesel, The National Academy of Science, U.S.A. Since this morning is set aside to discuss the future of the Network, we want to be sure that we hear all your voices and that we listen to you. It is very important, as representatives of academies, that you speak up for what kinds of issues you think the Network should deal with. We had some of that discussion on the first day in the afternoon, after the regional meetings. It is clear that there are some differences of opinion, and we want to hear from the members. Some of you haven’t said anything yet, and some have said a lot—you should feel free.

I suggest that we begin with the mission statement. To us on the Executive Committee, we feel responsible for the formulation and direction of the mission statement. Lord Dahrendorf yesterday emphasized the importance of addressing the concern of single prisoners of conscience. From the outset this has been our sense of what the Network’s purpose and function should be.

In the discussion yesterday, and on Wednesday in particular, some members expressed the view that the Network should have a broader mission than that which was narrowly defined initially. I want you to speak up now. What is your sense of the Network’s mission?

Arne Haaland, Norwegian Academy — I think a Network of this kind must have as its goal to apply uniform standards to all countries. It is easy to accept as a goal, it is difficult to achieve in practice, but that should be the goal. All cases are different. I think we will have to learn to live with a situation where we disagree in individual cases. This is not surprising, because some people who are persecuted are not paragons of virtue or wisdom. This does not remove their human rights. When governments act, some of the motives are entirely unacceptable, and some motives you can understand and accept. Each person here, weighing the pros and cons, may not agree.

It is necessary that the Network and the Executive Committee have a large, comfortable majority whenever they decide to intervene. But I’m not sure that one should require absolute unanimity.

Wiesel – You should keep in mind that this is a network of independent academies. For example, the Norwegian Academy can do anything it likes, and you should use the Network to communicate your action and inform the members of the Network of cases that you are concerned about and actions you propose. But the Network as such is more a means of communication. The reason for this sort of meeting is for all of us to meet and have personal discussions, not just by email and so on. There is often a misconception that the Network is like an Academy itself. It is not. Just keep that in mind. The effectiveness of the Network depends on what you do in your own academies to carry out the work. Communicate with your members, ask them to write letters, use the information that Carol provides through the Network as Action Alerts from the Network secretariat.



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