Overview and Introductions

Dr. Torsten Wiesel (Nobel Laureate), Secretary General, Human Frontier Science Program; President Emeritus, The Rockefeller University, U.S.A.; Network Executive Committee Member

Thank you very much, Julia, for your introduction and for the welcome by the Royal Society and by the British Academy. We feel enhanced by being in this historically very important building, where science has been fostered over hundreds of years. We want to bring into the discussion philosophical and legal aspects that underpin, in many ways, the defense of human rights.

In the program, there is a mission statement that we formulated at our meeting in Paris. It reads, The Network aims to put into practice the professional duty of scientists and scholars to assist colleagues whose human rights have been, or are, threatened and to promote and protect the independence of academies and scholarly societies worldwide.

This is something that has been in the front of my mind for a long time. I grew up during World War II, and subsequent events have kept me, and I’m sure many people of my generation, alert to these aspects of freedom of speech and the imprisonment of individuals because they express their point of view. We want to keep this flame alive, to keep the discussion open, and to encourage our colleagues not to forget that it is a part of our duties as scientists, doctors, engineers, and scholars to protect these valuable assets that we have.

The meeting yesterday to start this off included a very impressive list of academies who are here from all over the world, not only Europe and Asia, but also Africa and Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa. We wanted this to be a truly international movement, because each country and each region has its own problems and needs. Yesterday, in the regional discussions, academy representatives in each region met to discuss the issues they were particularly concerned about. Then we all met together to discuss what we had in common. In informal, friendly, collegial fashion, we try to build a sense of community among individuals and academies to work on these issues.

I will chair this morning’s session, and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji will chair the afternoon session. This morning, we are addressing some of the legal and philosophical aspects of human rights, as well as the policies of some countries regarding torture.

We start out with the more philosophical, legal aspects, just to remind ourselves of both the history and importance of having strong legal and philosophical foundations for what we are trying to do.

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