are in some sense absolute concepts. When we use rights, we must use duty, too. It is impossible to understand correlation concepts if we use only one of them.”
One participant said that while he agreed that the term human duties is probably appropriate in today’s world for people’s obligations to one another, the present generation also has responsibilities to protect the rights of future generations.
Wiesel noted, “It is good that intelligent people disagree and discuss matters. That may enlighten us all. There are different interpretations of responsibility. I think the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was created before this period of selfishness, has a different purpose. My view is that the term human rights today has a certain connotation in history that would involve responsibility as well.”
Van Dijk said that he would include in a mission statement—if something had to be included—the term “solidarity” rather than “responsibility,” because “responsibility is, for me, as a lawyer, the other side of the coin. If there is a right, there is also a responsibility toward the owner of the right, and there is a responsibility on the part of those who claim their rights. Otherwise, it is impossible to exercise a right and it would be impossible to indicate that each right has its limitations. All international treaties on human rights indicate the rights and they indicate the limitations, the restrictions. If you see the restrictions, they imply the responsibility toward public interest and the responsibility toward the rights of others. In that respect, I think you could say that responsibility or duty is implied in the rights. But if you talk about responsibility—as far as the implementation of human rights is concerned— that is a completely different notion. Then I would say solidarity would be better than responsibility.”
René Thomas (Belgian Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters, and the Arts) noted that Afghanistan had not even been mentioned during the symposium and that he could not imagine leaving the meeting without a motion being made with regard to the terrible situation there, particularly that of women.
Wiesel said that while there were many issues that could be discussed, the primary focus of the meeting would be on imprisoned colleagues. He added that there are many countries with deep-seated problems, such as Afghanistan, but that other organizations deal with such broader issues. “We are an organization of scientists and scholars that focuses on trying to help our colleagues. That has been our primary mission, although it may evolve into something broader, as Pieter van Dijk has mentioned.”
Wiesel drew attention to a description in the agenda book that represented an effort by him and Carol Corillon to convey the purpose of the Network through a statement, but added that it might not be “stately enough.” “The way I look upon it,” Wiesel said, “is that rather than a grand statement, it is the Network’s individual cases that often make the point themselves about freedom of speech, academic freedom, [and the like]. That is perhaps as effective a way as any to illustrate the purpose of the Network.”
This discussion was interrupted to move on to the next topic, but it was continued by Arnold Wolfendale (Academia Europaea) the following day when the meeting was reconvened. Wolfendale presented a draft of a statement that he and several other participants had prepared. After considerable discussion and a number of changes, the following statement was agreed upon and formally adopted.
The Network aims to put into practice the professional duty of scientists and scholars to assist those colleagues whose human rights have been—or are threatened to be—infringed and to promote and protect the independence of academies and scholarly societies worldwide.
How Effective is the Network?
The issue was raised as to whether evidence or criteria exist by which to judge the effectiveness of the Network’s interventions in a specific case. One participant asked: How do we evaluate whether a large number of faxes from individuals and academies to the president or the prime minister of a country in a given period of time are effective?
Noting that this question had often been raised, Wiesel acknowledged that providing direct evidence of one’s effectiveness is often difficult. “In science,” he said, “you do an experiment, you do this and that, and you expect to obtain a certain result. In the human rights field, it is much more complicated because...there are many factors involved and perhaps many other organizations working on the same case. But I never worry about evidence by which to evaluate our effectiveness, except that you do not want to behave foolishly. I think the procedures and interventions that have been developed by various organizations do not differ so much. I suppose that fact in itself would mean that there is some positive effect.”
Another participant added that everyone who has been personally involved in trying to help victims of human rights abuses knows that writing appeals makes a difference, although it does not necessarily mean the person is released from jail. “It might mean that the prisoner is allowed to receive his mail, or perhaps to read newspapers or receive books. In many cases it means that the government concerned will at least try to take enough care of the prisoners health so that he or she is not crippled for life. It is very important to let the authorities know that people abroad, important people, are watching.”
Corillon said that although it is difficult to judge success, in the experience of the CHR (Committee on Human Rights of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine) there have been specific instances when the committee has been told directly that its
interventions were effective. “I think letters that come from a group such as this, in which there are Supreme Court judges and very prominent scientists— we have seven or eight Nobel laureates sitting around this table—have a significant impact. Governments do pay attention to them.”
Wiesel concluded by saying that “sometimes in life you have to do what you think is right in order to correct a situation, and you do it because it is the right thing to do and you have the means available to try to help resolve it. Sometimes you fail, sometimes you succeed.”
A Private Network Web Site
Wiesel announced a private Web site created and maintained by the CHR for its members and accessible to national academies that create their own human rights committees and are active in the Network. Cases and issues are described at the site, which also features Action Alerts and occasional statements by the Network’s Executive Committee as well as regularly updated case information. Of course, the CHR depends on Network members to provide much of the information that is posted because they often have better access to the facts of a case or issue than does the secretariat. Wiesel asked participants to provide such case information (background and updates) to the secretariat to post on the Web.
Corillon explained that the new private Web site replaces the newsletter, Correspondence, that was published twice yearly by the CHR. The site includes detailed case summaries, current and past Action Alerts, regular case updates, and an archive, as well as links to international human rights documents and to the Web sites of human rights organizations. Reinforcing the earlier comment made by Pieter van Dijk, Corillon said that “an essential element of the work is not to write just one letter of appeal for a colleague and then drop the case. It is crucial to continue to regularly express concern and make appeals until a case is successfully resolved. Through this Web site, when members have a few minutes to write a follow-up, they can quickly check the site for the latest information on the status of [a particular] case.”
Corillon added that, because the Web site contains a substantial amount of sensitive and sometimes confidential information, access to it is limited to active members of the Network, who are issued a password. She reminded members that the CHR’s public Web site, which describes “public cases,” is accessible to everyone at http://nationalacademies.org/international/ (see CHR). The site provides basic information on the CHR and the Network, their sources of funding, resolved cases, letters of gratitude from released colleagues, access to the CHR’s published reports, and public statements and appeals.
The Network’s Cases
In introducing the session on the Network’s individual cases, Corillon reiterated that the “primary focus at this stage of the Network’s development, as we are feeling our way forward and work to engage national academies around the world in our efforts, has been on cases of colleagues. We have started with a narrow focus, that of specific cases, but who knows where we could go? With the distinguished and knowledgeable people around this table, and the support of their academies, we could go a very long way. We have tried to build slowly and carefully, so as to have a solid base from which to develop a truly effective Network.”
In response to a question about how cases brought to the Network are selected for action, Corillon explained that the CHR has more than 300 cases, but if the Network were to try to work on that many cases, it would risk overwhelming the member academies. She said that in selecting cases for referral to the Network, she tries to choose the most urgent cases and those that have been the most thoroughly researched. Cases referred to the secretariat by academies in the Network are carefully investigated. If a case is found to fit the Network’s criteria for adoption, it is referred by the Executive Committee to the Network members for action.
“Some such cases involve the abduction or arrest of a colleague, and we do not know where he or she is being detained. There may be a serious danger of torture. Other cases are chosen because the colleague is about to be brought to trial, or is ill and needs medical treatment. I try to pick the most urgent cases but to also maintain a reasonable geographic balance because there are cases all over the world, and we do not want to single out only a few countries or a particular region on which to focus.”
She said that missions are also very important and that results are often tangible—for example, when prisoners are released. She mentioned the CHR’s successful missions to Chile and Somalia in the 1980s. “There are lots of cases on which groups all over the world are working. We intervene privately and often have no idea what effort or efforts really influenced the resolution of a case, but we do what we can and other groups do the same. Together we all hope that our efforts will improve the situation. We also try to make sure that we do not do harm.”
As an example, Corillon mentioned the ongoing case in Pakistan of a medical doctor and professor of health, Younis Shaikh, who is charged with blasphemy [see case summary in Appendix C]. She explained that no action had yet been taken by the Network as a whole on this case out of fear that a large number of interventions could make the prisoner’s situation worse. She said that often one must wait until contact with the prisoner’s family or lawyer is established and they can be asked what efforts will be helpful and what strategies will most