Click for next page ( 87


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 86
Appendix C Organization of a Human Rights Committee Over the years, as the activities of the Committee on Human Rights have become better known, and particularly following the symposium, the committee has received requests for help, advice, and cooperation from other scientific societies, human rights groups, individual activists, and academies of science abroad. The committee has been pleased to receive these requests. Al- though it does not establish formal links with other groups, it has been anxious to cooperate with them and to help them create com- mittees of their own. Many of the questions from organizations interested in human rights, or in the case of a particular colleague, have been about how to organize a human rights committee, be it international, national or institutional, and what kinds of action could and should be taken on a specific issue or in behalf of a particular individual. To help answer such questions for readers of this report, some of the issues and actions to be considered in the development of a human rights committee are presented here. I. THE MANDATE OR TERMS Ol? RE1?ERENCE A mandate cannot be decided upon until many of the issues listed here and others are considered. A mandate must be narrow enough to be manageable and broad enough to allow for some flexibility in the scope of the committee's work. It should be a formal, written statement that can then be used to introduce the work of the committee and to resolve discussion 86

OCR for page 86
c, ( over whether specific issues or actions fall within the purview of the committee. (Most human rights groups use the United Nations Uni- versal Declaration of Human Rights as the basis for their activities.) The mandate should probably be reviewed and, if necessary, revised at least every three years. Considerations in developing a focus for a committee's work include whether work will be done on individual cases and/or selected human rights issues or both. Section ~ presents information on these two options. Section lI looks at comrn~ttee functions. Section IIT identifies specific actions that can be taken. Section {V discusses briefly how the work can be funded. Individual Cases Indiviclual cases involve a focus on human rights protection the identification of victims and efforts to end the repression to which these individuals are subjected. There are many types of repression against individuals. A small committee cannot undertake all of the cases that come to its attention no matter how reprehensible. Human rights groups often choose to focus on cases of colleagues. The committee has always taken the position that once it un- dertakes a case, it will persevere until the case is resolved. Cases undertaken cannot be selected in an arbitrary manner. Decisions must be made from the outset as to which cases and what types of repression will be the focus of a particular group. The importance of maintaining a good geographic and political balance and impartiality cannot be stressed enough. Types of Cases What population group or groups will be considered-men, women, children? Will the scope be worldwide or limited to a specific geographic region or regions? Will the committee select its cases by profession, religion, ethnic group, or other category? Types of Repression Individuals are often subjected to repression for religious, polit- ical, or racial reasons. The more serious types of repression include the following.

OCR for page 86
oo Detention Torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment often occurs when individuals are being held in deten- tion, usually unacknowledged detention. Trnmediate intervention, within 24 to 48 hours, is essential. Some individuals are held in indefinite detention, without trial, for years. Appeals must continue to be made for the prisoner to be brought to trial or released uncon- ditionally. Imprisonment Appeals for those who have been sentenced to prison terms are usually made in behalf of prisoners of conscience. (Amnesty International described prisoners of conscience as "men and women detained anywhere for their beliefs, color, sex, ethnic origin, lan- guage, or religion." They cannot have used or advocated violence.) In addition to immediate and unconditional release, appeals also of- ten raise issues about the prisoner's conditions of confinement and state of health and whether access to lawyers, physicians, and family members is allowed. Disappearance Amnesty International considers that a person has ~disappeared" when there are grounds to believe that that person has been taken into custody by the authorities or with their connivance; the authorities deny that the person is in their custody or the custody of their agent; and there are reasonable grounds to disbelieve the denial. {rnmediate intervention by a committee can help save the life of the person who has disappeared. Often, however, such cases come to the attention of a committee when the person is presumed dead, but whose body has never been found. In such cases, appeals are based on requests that an investigation into the disappearance be undertaken and that those believed responsible be brought to justice. Internal Exile Individuals banished to internal exile are generally restricted to the town or village to which they are sent and are required to report regularly to the local police. Visits from family members and friends are often restricted. Action can take the form of appeals for release from exile, family visits, and permission to receive letters, books, food, and clothing parcels. Forced Exile Some inclividuals are forcibly exiled from their coun- tries; others leave of their own volition, but are not permitted to return. Action generally involves efforts to gain permission for the exiled individuals to return to their country and their careers. Torture Torture is defined and discussed in considerable detail on pages 21-28. Efforts in behalf of individuals who have been subjected

OCR for page 86
on to torture can include strong denunciations of the government in- volved and appeals that the torture victim be examined and treated by an independent physician. Support can also be extended to ex- amination, treatment, and rehabilitation of the torture survivor. Medical Neglect in Prison Medical neglect often occurs through incompetence, as an effort to punish the prisoner, or because of shortages of skilled medical practitioners. Committee actions can in- clude appeals that medical assistance be provided, that independent medical professionals be permitted to examine the prisoner, and that prison conditions be improved. Abuses of Academic Freedom Abuses of academic freedom can in- clude such issues as revocation of academic degrees, lack of academic autonomy, restrictions on academic curriculum for ideological and political reasons, selection of university administrators on the basis of political allegiance rather than academic and professional quaTifi- cations, and hiring, firing, and awarding of academic scholarships on political grounds. This is a difficult area in which to become involved because often it is not possible to ascertain, with a reasonable degree of certainty, which cases involve actual abuses. Selected Human Rights Issues Human rights issues are many and varied and overlapping. Many are subject to dispute about whether they are human rights issues or economic, social, development, or health issues, for example. When the focus of a committee's work is Issue oriented rather than case oriented, the objective tends to be more toward human rights pro- motion, rather than human rights protection. Presented here are examples of some of the issues that, in the minds of many scholars, have human rights components: . torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or pun- ishment of prisoners, subjects, psychiatric abuse for political purposes death penalty, prison conditions, unethical medical or scientific experimentation on human ,, restrictions on freedom of movement, restrictions on civil and political rights, restrictions on social, economic, and cultural rights,

OCR for page 86
ye right to a fair and expedient trial, ~ mutilation as punishment. Some of these issues are discussed in more detail in the report section of this book. II. THE FUNCTIONS Committee Structure The most important traits of those involved with committee work are a strong commitment to human rights, impartiality and evenhandedness, a willingness to speak out wherever and whenever abuses occur, ability to work within an institutional framework, and an understanding that the victim's well-being must always be the foremost consideration. Committee Members Size A committee of between 7 and 14 members seems reasonable. Composition Members with medical, legal, civil, political, and in- ternational backgrounds (Asia, Latin America, Africa, Eastern Eu- rope, and USSR), as well as women and minorities, should be in- cluded. Individuals who carry personal prestige can help open doors and give more weight to a committee's actions than individuals who are unknown. Members serve on a voluntary basis. Communication At {east two meetings should be held per year. Other options include newsletters, newsclips, teleconferences, and annual reports, among others. Committee Staff Staff should have good knowledge of geography and political science. They can be salaried, volunteer, student in- terns, or a combination. Continuity is what is important. Volunteer Network Members of the organization can be invited to support the committee's work by writing inquiries and appeals in behalf of colleagues who are victims of repression. (The Committee on Human Rights has established such a network of "correspondents" by inviting newly elected members of the academy, NAE, and IOM each year to actively support the committee's work. They are asked to return a postcard and are then sent information several times a year about cases that require urgent attention and are asked to write appeals.)

OCR for page 86
~1 Information Gathering Information is available from a wide variety of sources: publica- tions (newspapers, journals, human rights bulletins), human rights organizations, on-site research visits, high-level delegations to coun- tries and their embassies, personal contacts in repressive countries, and government organizations at home and abroad. III. ACTIONS Actions taken are generally linked to international human rights law, regional instruments, and the offending government's laws and constitution. Various actions may be taken. Private requests can be made for information on cases or issues (letter, telephone, telegram, in person) from representatives of governments involved, lawyers, professional associations, and human rights groups, among others. ~ Private appeals are appropriate to the government involved. (For a checklist of possible courses of action and examples of mode} communications, see Guide to International Human Rights Practice, Hurst Hannum, editor, International Human rights Law Group, Uni- versity of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1984, pp. 288-294.) ~ Letters of support may be written to victims and their fa~ni- lies. Private requests may be made to others to support the com- mittee's efforts on particular cases or issues. Contacts include pro- fessional colleagues, members of Congress, government officials, and individuals with influence on or knowledge of the governments in focus, among others. ~ Private or public missions of inquiry may be initiated. (For specific guidelines on conducting such missions of inquiry, see ~Fact- Finding by International Nongovernmental Human Rights Organiza- tions," by David Weissbro~t and James McCarthy, Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall 1981.) ~ Complaints and communications to intergovernmental orga- nizations may be made.

OCR for page 86
~ Reports, press releases, conferences, proceedings, and state- ments can be sent to the press. Interviews with the press, congres- sional testimony, and speaking engagements are effective ways of ~ Increasing awareness. IV. FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS Ideally, the committee would receive its operating funds from its sponsoring organization. However, if this is not possible, to protect the independence of the committee, its funds should come from contributions from organization members, private foundations, or donations from impartial individuals.