. "Human Rights, Tolerance, and Peace." International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies: Proceedings - Symposium and Seventh Biennial Meeting, London, May 18-20, 2005. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.
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International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies
I was personally delighted to see Professor Upendra Baxi here today, as eloquent as he was when I first met him many years ago. Again, he pointed out that words can be manipulated. Semantics are used to justify anything. One has to be very careful to see that people don’t fiddle with words and thoughts so much that they actually get away from the original law or original idea. I thought that we should actually bring the Greenwich meridian here, because now the Navy is not so important in this country. There are no guns there now. Cutty Sark is somewhere there, but that’s about it. If we can manipulate semantics to fiddle laws and get away from norms, why can’t we bring the Greenwich meridian here? We can rename this part of London Greenwich II or something.
In science, we feel that there are absolutes and there are things that are inviolable. When we do scientific experiments, we aim to have controls—even in my field of medicine, even in surgery, we aim to have controls. We have to be very careful to see that the controls are, in fact, like original norms or basics. There is a huge tendency in drug research sometimes to fiddle the controls so that the conclusions that are desired are presented.
Now, in this whole field, I couldn’t help wondering, as I listened to much of the morning’s discussion, and the Butler case and Professor Baxi’s presentation, whether we are worried that in this field of human rights and law, things are happening that we would not find at all acceptable in the field of science, where we recognize that there are some absolutes that cannot be touched.
With regard to the matter of medical involvement being very deep and devious in the torture environment, if you use the word devious and how people are trying to skate round it, again we go back to people using semantics to get away from a variety of things. In that discussion the words ethics of clinical role arose and, again, it suggests to me that there are, in much of what we said today, implications that there is a moral or ethical principle or dimension which may not be wholly definable by law or precept and that maybe the things that prevent people from fiddling the laws and using semantics may have origins in some of these ethical and moral dimensions which cannot necessarily be written down the whole time.
The joint statement was fantastic. The points made about the boycotts being counterproductive and the interchange of knowledge being vital were very important. I think it is remarkable that these joint projects, one of which was about Jerusalem, were highlighted. There are so many conflict areas in the world today in which this concept of scientists and professionals getting together and exchanging knowledge and doing what they can could be effective, without needing to concentrate on what is apparently impossible or difficult. That philosophy of doing what one can is absolutely crucial in going forward, and I think it is fantastic that there is an example of this.
With Lord Dahrendorf, I have to be careful what I say because he, of course, is here in the front of the row, unlike some of the others. I think the matter of the inviolability of the individual was stressed both in his talk and in the subsequent discussion. In the matter of names, in the Tsunami in Sri Lanka and Indonesia and so on, one of the very unpleasant tasks that doctors had to do was to go around and cut the fingers off those who died so they would have DNA from the unidentified bodies to eventually give them a name and tell their families what