likely be effective. She solicited suggestions of possible constructive interventions from Network members who have a good understanding of the culture and country as well as the issues involved in Shaikh’s case, and said that, interim, she would continue to try to contact the doctor’s family.
As another example, Corillon mentioned the close relationship that the Network has established with Barbara Ibrahim, the wife of imprisoned Egyptian sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
Van Dijk pointed out that while letters of appeal are addressed to governments, copies are sent to the national academies in those same countries. “The academies are aware that there is international support of scientists for this colleague. Some academies are in a position to make statements or appeals; others feel that they are not in a position to take action but they hope that we will.”
Corillon said that the CHR and many members of the Network have good connections with powerful government officials in their own countries and that members write letters to them as well—particularly those responsible for economic assistance—to bring cases to their attention and to request that the cases be raised when they visit the countries in which the prisoners are being held. “We try to meet with the ambassadors involved (both from our country and the country in which the prisoner is held) and to establish some sort of rapport. There are many different approaches to cases and they depend on the country, on the culture, on the case, and where we have good contacts. Each case is different.”
Included in the agenda books were guidelines for writing letters that Amnesty International originally published and the American Association for the Advancement of Science then republished in a modified form. Corillon drew the members’ attention to these guidelines. “What they say about being respectful in the letters of appeal, expressing appreciation if something— anything—positive happens, is important,” she said. “It is also important to identify in your appeals the particular rights of a prisoner that have been violated and to name the relevant articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that apply. To remain impartial and to use accurate, objective information is essential.”
All Network members can request a book of guidelines from the Network secretariat. This book, prepared by the secretariat, contains a number of documents, including advice on how to create a human rights committee within a national academy, copies of international and regional human rights laws and documents, instructions on how to prepare and file petitions with various UN committees, letter writing guidelines, and advice on serving as an observer at a trial.
“Sometimes we delay action on a case that may be very urgent, but it is because we do not want to compromise our credibility by acting before we have the necessary facts,” Corillon explained. “It is an enormous responsibility to alert academies around the world about a case, so our information cannot be wrong.”
Corillon and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (French Academy of Sciences) projected photographs of some of the prisoners adopted by the Network during the previous two years and briefly presented the facts of their cases. (Supplemental information on the cases was included in the workshop agenda books, as was a list of cases that had been successfully resolved since the 1999 meeting. See Appendix C for a summary of the cases presented and their status at the time of publication of this proceedings.)
Following the presentation of cases, Amad Khatib (Palestinian Academy for Science and Technology) expressed disappointment that although there was information in the agenda book on the case of Akhram Kharoubi, a Palestinian medical doctor, it had not been included in the cases just presented and discussed. Kharoubi was Dean of the College of Medical Professions at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem when he was arrested at a checkpoint in November 1998 by the Israeli Army.
Corillon explained that Kharoubi’s case had been referred to the Network by the President of the Palestinian Academy for Science and Technology, Dr. Fathi Arafat, at the Network’s Stockholm meeting in 1999. She said that the case was being researched by the Network secretariat but that it had been very difficult to establish the facts of the case, including whether Kharoubi could be considered a prisoner of conscience (Amnesty International had not adopted his case). Private inquiries had been sent by the CHR to the Israeli authorities, she said, and the responses received were included in the agenda book.
Corillon said that the CHR has tried, through the Palestinian academy, to contact Kharoubi’s lawyer or his family, but as yet no one has been able to help. She said it would be helpful if the Palestinian academy’s representative were to facilitate contact for the CHR with Kharoubi’s lawyer and his family.
Khatib said that his academy had honestly tried to make such contacts in Kharoubi’s case, but that “in accordance with Israeli law, the Israeli authorities can prolong his presence in the prison for a long time. He was arrested in 1998, and he is still in jail and they continue to postpone the court sessions.”
Corillon said she would continue to investigate the case and asked that the Palestinian Academy provide additional reliable contacts through which to establish that Kharoubi is a prisoner of conscience, which would allow the Network to adopt his case. “We were able to get some very good references on him from one of his former university professors and from the rabbi at George Washington University, where he worked for 10 years as a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist. We have sent those letters of reference to the Israeli authorities, along with repeated inquiries about his status and appeals that he be given prompt medical treatment.”
Khatib said his academy did not have any more information, and it had thought that the Network “would be able to do better...because I know that the prime minister’s office is no longer responding to your letters of inquiry.” Corillon said that she had received letters from scientists in Israel who had
personally contacted government authorities to request information on the status of Kharoubi’s case and that government responses were, in fact, received.
Testimony of Tunisian Engineer Nizar Chaâri, a Former Prisoner of Conscience
Cohen-Tannoudji introduced Nizar Chaâri, whose case had been referred to the Network by the French Academy of Sciences in February 1999, when he was imprisoned in Tunisia. Chaâri received his doctoral degree in engineering from the University of Toulouse in 1997 and was an expert in olive oil production in Tunisia. He was arrested in May 1998 at the airport in Tunis as he was about to fly to France to pursue a postdoctoral degree at the University of Toulouse. Chaâri was accused of belonging to an illegal organization and of having associated with criminal elements while he was living abroad in France.
Cohen-Tannoudji explained that “Dr. Chaâri was not permitted to have a lawyer during his hearing. His trial took place on May 11, 1999, and he was sentenced to three years in prison, followed by five years of administrative control. One month later, he was released from prison, most likely due in large part to international appeals, but he remained under strict administrative control. His passport was confiscated, and his mail and phone lines were monitored. He was required to register with the police every day and sometimes several times a day. He suffered constant harassment.
“A year later, in July 2000, he was released under a presidential amnesty, his passport was returned, and he was permitted to travel to France to start his postdoc. A few months ago, the foreign secretary of the Académie des Sciences, Yves Quéré, sent a letter to the director of the office of refugees in France requesting refugee status for Dr. Chaâri. We were very happy last February to receive a letter granting him this status,” Cohen-Tannoudji said.
Chaâri described his ordeal. He spoke in French, and Cohen-Tannoudji translated his remarks into English. The English translation can be found in Appendix D.
Human Rights and the Scientific Vocation: Cases, Contexts, and Lessons for the Network
Karl-Erik Knutsson (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquity) started the discussion based on a paper he had written for the meeting [see Appendix E]. He explained that having served as chair of the Swedish academies’ human rights committee for the past two years, during which some 30 cases of imprisoned or repressed colleagues had been considered, it had occurred to him that, despite the limited amount of material available, he might, “in the empiric tradition of science” analyze these cases. Even if the conclusions were weak or impossible to make, the exercise could help the Network identify important questions.
Using what he described as “the normative framework of human rights,” Knutsson identified three types of causes of violations:
Efforts to inform about and promote human rights themselves. Violations in this category range from mere possession of human rights documents to communication of human rights information/beliefs, protection of the human rights of others, and inquiry into human rights violations.
Expression of political conviction, with “political” meaning any attempt to promote (a) a set of values or (b) the right to implement and protect a set of specific values.
The claim of scientific academic integrity, which is the right to freedom of expression and association for academic scientists.
The latter claim covers two major aspects of scientific work. One is the need for academic freedom, which includes the freedom to choose areas and topics for research, the freedom to select methods of work, and the freedom to publish. The second aspect is, of course, the intrinsic and critical nature of the scientific vocation. Knutsson noted that, “in the material, there are only 4 cases among the 30 cases that are clearly, dominantly, related to this, but I assume that it is a basic factor in most of the others as well, although the material does not allow us to identify it as the major one.”
Knutsson then analyzed contexts of violations—one being cultural.
There are, for example, indications that working in a certain scientific field or academic profession is linked to greater violations than other risk-prone professions. Of the 27 cases among the 30 where affiliation could be ascertained, 10 were medical professionals, physicians, researchers, teachers, and public health managers.
Nine were working in the broad field of science and technology (that is, the other major cluster). Here, four were physicists, two mathematicians, two engineers, and one a biologist.
The third group, surprisingly to me, an anthropologist, is a rather small one, and that is the group of social scientists, of which four were economists and
two sociologists. I had expected that sociologists, who very happily volunteer views on how society ought to be, should be the major group, but my suspicion here is that when economists, being to some extent the priesthood of development and so on, take a different view, this might indeed be more threatening to the powers that be.
Knutsson reminded the members that the other side of the question of which scientific vocations might be more vulnerable to repression is the question of whether certain scientists are more sensitive to the need to intervene when there are human rights abuses. He suggested that the Network reflect on both of these questions.
Knutsson noted that the issue of the contexts or environments—whether political or cultural—in which abuses occur is very difficult to address. It is nevertheless helpful to consider whether violations of ratified conventions occur because they are foreign (or viewed as foreign) to a particular cultural reality. He went on to quote two statements that he said can be very helpful and important in this consideration.
The first statement was made by Philip Alston, former chairman of the United Nations human rights committee, who observed: “Just as culture is not a factor which should be excluded from the human rights equation, so too must it not be accorded the status of a meta-norm which trumps rights.” The second quotation was from Pieter van Dijk, who, Knutsson said, “had so carefully, in his last statement to the Network’s biennial meeting in Stockholm, distinguished between universality and uniformity, and I think he has made an extremely important and helpful point for our advocacy of human rights.” Van Dijk had said that “Universality does not imply that formulated norms are completely unequivocal on all counts. Secondly, universally valid norms do not require uniformity in all respects in their application. Universalism is not incompatible with cultural pluralism.”
In other words, Knutsson said, “we can be flexible—provided we have reliable knowledge of cultural variation so that we are not fooled by pretensions that cultural values should override universal human rights values.”
Survival Values Versus Self-realization Values
Knutsson pointed out that another complex issue is the level of resources available. “Low economic resources tend to lead to less interest in human rights, equality, and democracy, and—vice versa—high economic resources lead to another cluster of values. The first one we could call the ‘cluster of survival values.’ The second one, where economic resources are more available, is more dominated by what I would call ‘self-realization values.’ Here we find much stronger interest in equality and human rights and democracy.”