Colleagues and ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege to be here and participate officially for the first time today. The first thing I have to do is thank the speakers and the participants, because without them, nothing would have happened; then, the people of the Royal Society and the British Academy—I say people, present and past—because it is very easy to be overawed by the buildings, but the buildings are quite unimportant. It is the people and the history that have led to the existence of the edifice, which is essentially temporary. There are various people here, and some of them aren’t here right now, but thank you all—Torsten and Carol and others. They obviously can’t thank themselves, but I think they need a lot of appreciation from all of us.
Torsten Wiesel reminded us of our mission statement and the importance of keeping our activities focused—more of that just now, and, in fact, more of it tomorrow.
Baroness O’Neill suggested that in order to give human rights a strong and a more sustained legal and intellectual framework, it is important to point out that there is a duty and a responsibility on lots of people to look after the interests of others. Then the fact that the others have rights can be derived from that kind of background. Of course, these others whose rights have been championed have, in turn, duties and obligations and responsibilities.
Pieter van Dijk talked about the fact that the law cannot prevent terrorism. He touched on security measures and the need for norms in the application and consideration of security methods, and that maybe some of these things have been ignored recently. He made the point, among others, that civilized society can help in promoting human rights, which, in turn, may help to fight terrorism or keep terrorism under control or emasculate terrorists—although he didn’t use the word emasculate.
Peter Agre described the Butler case, which is an extraordinary situation. It is the kind of thing that happens in Sri Lanka usually, and you wouldn’t have expected it to take place in the United States. All the reasons and confusion are really quite sad. The might is right debate is very interesting, whether countries under pressure, including developed countries, can feel that the ends justify the means or that security or economic self-interest can override rules and regulations and norms. That whole debate arises out of the whole of the morning’s work.
Sir Nigel is unfortunately not here. He pointed out a variety of things about what he perceived to be the activities of the United States government and how a variety of manipulations can take place to allow things that are thought to be in the national interest. That concept is very dangerous and, interestingly, it almost matches this concept of creeping authoritarianism, in which you can fiddle the system to achieve what you think is an end without recognizing that the means may be becoming unacceptable. The words “professional conscience” emerged during that talk and discussion—I’ll come back to that later.