Human Rights, Tolerance, and Peace
Welcome and Overview Professor Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (Nobel Laureate), Professor of Physics, College de France; Network Executive Committee Member
I am particularly happy to chair this session, because it reminds me of a similar session two years ago in Switzerland, when we had the same speakers, Professors Sari Nusseibeh and Menahem Yaari. Two years ago, the subject of the session was the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization (IPSO), which was just starting. I hope we will hear some news about this association today and after the Network meeting on Saturday and Sunday.
First I would like say that one of our main goals as scientists and scholars is to promote the free exchange of ideas. Before Professors Nusseibeh and Yaari speak, in reaction to the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions declared by the British Association of University Teachers, Professor Nusseibeh, President of Al-Quds University, and Professor Menachem Magidor, President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, today will sign a joint statement calling for academic cooperation in affirmation of the continuing academic cooperation between their two universities. I will read the statement and then ask each of them to say a few words.
Cognizant of the moral leadership universities should provide, especially in already turbulent political contexts, we, the President of Al-Quds University and the President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have agreed to insist on continuing to work together in the pursuit of knowledge, for the benefit of our peoples and the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East.
Our position is based upon the belief that it is through cooperation based on mutual respect, rather than through boycotts or discrimination, that our common goals can be achieved. Bridging political gulfs—rather than widening them further apart—between nations and individuals thus becomes an educational duty as well as a functional necessity, requiring exchange and dialogue rather than confrontation and antagonism. Our disaffection with, and condemnation of acts of academic boycotts and discrimination against scholars and institutions, is predicated on the principles of academic freedom, human rights, and equality between nations and among individuals.
We therefore call upon academics here and worldwide to act in support of our mission, as one which might allow for ending our shared tragedy rather than prolonging it.
[The statement was then signed by Sari Nusseibeh and Menachem Magidor, they shook hands, and were applauded. The signing was subsequently covered in an article titled “End to Boycott of Israeli Universities is Urged,” that was published in The New York Times on May 20, 2005.]
Menachem Magidor – This is a very emotional moment for me, because this is really the formalization of something that we at the Hebrew University, and I’m sure in most of the parts of the academic community of Israel, have believed in. We believed, in spite of the fact that we are living in a period and a region of violence and confrontation, that academic cooperation and the interchange of ideas should go on. In spite of all the political obstacles, security obstacles, and whatever you call them, still we should find ways in which to exchange ideas. We will not necessarily agree on everything, but still the free exchange of ideas should go on.
If you want to build, in a deep way, a future of a peaceful, prosperous Middle East in which Israelis and Palestinians and other Arab countries could live together in peace, the only way to build such an intellectual and spiritual infrastructure is by the free exchange of ideas, cooperation in research, and trying to understand the world in which we live. We are trying to make this knowledge useful, to improve the lives of the people living in our region. We are very proud of the fact that, in spite of all the troubles and obstacles, we have managed to keep a level of cooperation and open channels. We are grateful to Professor Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al-Quds University, and his colleagues, for being our partners in this very important venture. Thank you very much for working with us for these goals. Hopefully, that will be another step in the right direction of creating a peaceful, prosperous Middle East.
Sari Nusseibeh – First of all, thank you for providing this opportunity to Professor Magidor and myself to sign this statement in your presence. This came about in a sense somewhat suddenly. Professor Magidor was coming to England, and we have been working on something like this for some time. We therefore decided this would be an opportune moment and indeed an opportune context in which to sign the statement.
The statement is signed between the two universities, and it is important to point out we have, in fact, been trying in the past few years, and in better times and worse times, to create bridges of cooperation, with the aim of bringing people closer together, exchanging ideas, and also in a sense building up trust, at least in the scholarly community, between Israelis and Palestinians.
It has been a very hard effort. It is not easy to build peace and bridges in a context of war and conflict. Indeed, if you look at the overall picture, and you take into account that it has been many years, many decades in which Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis, Jews and Arabs, have been fighting. If you look at that, it is amazing, that we have been able, in the past few years—10-15 years perhaps—to build bridges of understanding in the hope that the past will change, that the condition we live in, of war and conflict, will change, and that we will be able to make peace.
In the last three or four years, things have gotten a bit worse, as you know, so there has been even more pressure on everybody to try and find a way out of this. Some people have decided, it seems, that perhaps the only way out is to exert additional pressure, at the level of the civil society, and in particular the academic community.
In our opinion, and this is actually expressed in the statement, it is precisely the civil community where bridges should be maintained and relations should be intensified. It is precisely in the academic sector and the scholarly sector of the two communities that leadership should be provided in order to make sure that we are able, as societies, to return to the path of peace.
Therefore, as you heard from the statement, whether in the role of educators, as a moral duty, or in the role of people whose responsibility it is, as the avant-garde in their own societies—however you look at it—our role should be to try and convey the message to the rest of society that cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is the way forward, and that it is necessary and that it is commendable. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is nothing to look upon as a negative future. On the contrary, it is a positive future, since it is a future that will allow us to work toward the creation of the peace that we all, in fact, crave. Therefore we have come up with this statement.
One of the very sensitive and important areas of cooperation the universities have been engaged in is to set up a virtual library on Jerusalem—you know how sensitive Jerusalem is. Nonetheless, people from the Hebrew University and our university, for three years, have been talking, negotiating, fighting, agreeing—they have actually managed to put together this wonderful project on the most sensitive issue we have, which is Jerusalem, and it was done jointly. I believe it is an example, a model of how, even in the most sensitive areas, with good intentions on both sides and scholarship, if properly used, we can push ahead to create a better world for the people of the region.
That is why we have signed this statement, and we have come to sign it in front of you because we believe that this, as a context, is the right place to have it signed. Thank you.
Views of Science and Tolerance Today in the Middle East Professor Sari Nusseibeh, President, Al-Quds University, Jerusalem; Rita E. Hauser Fellow, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, U.S.A. Professor Menahem Yaari, President, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities; Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University, Israel
Menahem Yaari – Friends, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, this is an exciting moment for me to see the presidents of two universities, a Palestinian university and an Israeli university, come together to sign a declaration of cooperation—that expresses a sentiment that will be the foundation for continued cooperation. It is no secret that the timing of the signing has coincided with the rebirth of an initiative to boycott Israeli scientists and scholars on the grounds of what Israel is doing in continuing the occupation of Palestinian territory. It is only natural that I should speak here, since I do have a slot of 15 minutes of your time, about boycotts.
I could say a few things specifically about why boycotting the Israeli science community is the wrong idea, particularly in view of the fact that the people toward whom this boycott is directed, the leaders of Israel, would like nothing better than to see the science and intellectual community being hit over the head, so this actually plays into the hands of these people.
I could also mention the initiative to which Professor Cohen-Tannoudji referred, IPSO (the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization). I am very happy and privileged to be part of it, and I point out that one of the first casualties of a boycott would be this particular initiative, for which we hold great hope.
In doing so, in pointing out the ramifications for my backyard, I would probably be acting in a manner that here in England could probably be described as unseemly: one should not talk about oneself and one’s troubles in public. But the general question of a boycott still warrants some discussion. It is a legitimate question to ask whether an academic or scientific boycott could be or is a legitimate tool in the quest for human rights. Since we are here in the meeting of the Human Rights Network, I say it is a legitimate question for the Human Rights Network to consider.
Let me say a few words with your permission on this more general question and leave the parochial context for some other time.
Let me remind you that when I go to buy tennis shoes and discover that these tennis shoes have been produced by little children in a sweatshop, I’m fully entitled to boycott these tennis shoes, to refrain from buying them as a way of expressing my own private displeasure at the manner in which these tennis shoes were produced. A boycott in that sense certainly is fully legitimate.
However, knowledge is not tennis shoes. The question is, Can the same principle be applied to knowledge, to scientific work, and to the work that scholars do, whether alone or together? For the sake of argument, let’s imagine a scientist in one of the boycotted universities, let’s say one of the two that are being boycotted in Israel. Let’s imagine for a moment that this
scientist makes a significant scientific discovery. It may be unlikely, but it is possible. Suppose that happens—that a scientist from that university makes a significant scientific discovery. Can or should this discovery, this piece of new knowledge, be boycotted? In other words, what should the man here in the United Kingdom, who is in the Association of University Teachers (AUT), the organization that declared the boycott, what should that person do, assuming he or she is in the same field as the person in Israel? Should they boycott the truth? Should they say, this man over there in Israel made a significant discovery, but we are going to ignore it? We are going to close the doors to it. We are going to see to it that no one knows about this discovery, for example, by not allowing it to be published? Furthermore, suppose this person in the United Kingdom is in the same field in which the discovery was made. Should this person in the United Kingdom say, Ah ha, this discovery was made but I’m boycotting this institution, therefore I should continue my work as though this discovery had never been made? All this sounds absurd, and it seems impossible once a piece of knowledge is there to behave as though it isn’t, or to close off that knowledge and deny it to others.
There is one case in which an argument could be made. If the scientific discovery is made in the course of terrible, inhuman experiments, which was the case in the 1930s on occasion, then I think the scientific community could say, well this finding was made, but we don’t want to hear about it, and we will act as though this new knowledge doesn’t exist. But on the whole, knowledge discovered by one scholar cannot be barred from other scholars. The attempt to bar knowledge in this particular way, by singling out the scholars who, when they work with this material, should be barred, is not a possibility.
There is also another problem even more difficult than the previous one. When a boycott is announced or put into place, the scientists and scholars who are targeted are not being boycotted for something they have done, but for something that others have done. In other words, in the boycott, the scientists and scholars are being used to pressure other people, in this case some particular government, into changing their wrongful actions. That is using one person to pressure another person to change their action. There is only one word for that; the scientists in this case are being held hostage for the actions of others. And hostage-taking, I think we all agree, is generally held to be repugnant. Hostage-taking is not something that we can condone, and a boycott of scientists is very much in the manner of hostage-taking.
I tried to look into the history of this and could find no instance in history in which the science community, as such, has been boycotted. I asked some historian friends of mine—I am no expert—and they could not find an example, either.
There are, however, many examples of individual boycotts among scientists—personal boycotts of one scientist, not being on speaking terms, never to be seen speaking with Professor X until kingdom come—that has been quite common. In fact, you probably know the story about Henry Kissinger, who, when asked why in the academic world acrimony is so high, famously answered, it’s because the stakes are so low. It happens a great deal.
The most famous and perhaps the most serious case of that was the case of Einstein and Max Planck. Max Planck, you will remember, essentially invented quantum mechanics, was the mentor of Einstein, and was responsible for bringing him to Berlin. They were very close to
each other, and when Max Planck did not resign the presidency of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft in 1933 (he did resign, by the way, in 1937), Einstein broke all ties with him and they never spoke again, until Planck’s death in 1947. At his death, Einstein prepared a eulogy for him. I’d like to read a passage from it, ending the period of 14-15 years of absolutely no contact between the two. Einstein says:
Yet it is good—indeed, it is indispensable—that representatives of all who strive for truth and knowledge should be gathered here today from the four corners of the globe. They are to bear witness that even in these times of ours, when political passion and brute force hang like swords over the anguished and fearful heads of men, the standard of our ideal search for truth is being held aloft undimmed. This ideal, a bond forever uniting scientists of all times and in all places, was embodied with rare completeness in Max Planck.
This is what Einstein said about his friend after his death.
Magidor – [In response to a question about the virtual library.] I’m not dealing with the project directly. I’ve got other things to do, although it is not too far from academic disciplines. I’m a computer scientist. Jerusalem is definitely the most difficult and thorny issue in the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Jerusalem carries the weight of history, the different narratives, and the different stories. The idea was to try to create some agreed-upon database of documents, information, both graphic and verbal, about Jerusalem that would be acceptable to both sides, the scholarly communities of both Al-Quds University and the Hebrew University. If you look at possible solutions for Jerusalem, it will be very relevant. In Jerusalem, you can’t find a solution without considering the demographic and political, or the history, the emotions or stories behind it, if you want to deal with the problem. The idea was to take every possible document that mentioned Jerusalem, put it in a virtual library in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, with appropriate digital indexing and cross-linking to relevant information.
It sounds like a very technical project, but it is not. It is really an intellectual and almost a political project. Just think about the issue of translation. How do you translate the different terms? What type of translation do you use in different documents? What should be indexed and what shouldn’t be indexed? This is a major process of trying to agree on the terms. While there may be and are definitely disagreements about what could be a possible solution, at least there is a huge library of documents in which both sides agree on what they say and what is an appropriate translation in the different languages. That is basically what the project is. There are technical aspects, of course, in creating a huge database with cross-linking. There is the intellectual effort of trying to get a common ground. It is an exercise in trying to reach a common conceptual framework. It is a fascinating exercise.
It is far from being finished—let me be quite honest about it. There are problems all the time. But the fact that the two teams can try to deal with them in a relatively civilized way is something that should be a model, that should be adopted at other places.
Question – Aside from this project, is this the beginning of similar initiatives with other universities in Palestine and Israel? Is it an isolated event, or do you have plans for further development of this idea?
Magidor – It is very far from being isolated. There are many, many projects going on. I’m not sure that I know the whole picture. Maybe Menahem Yaari, as President of the Israel Academy, may know more. But at least at the Hebrew University, I could immediately get you a list of about 40-50 projects with Palestinian universities that are going on. Many times it is done for obvious political reasons under the umbrella of a third party—the European Union or the U.S. Agency for International Development. Definitely things are going on.
Question – I didn’t ask specifically about projects. What is interesting is the exchange between two universities. Does that mean the exchange of students and other kinds of exchanges are taking place? I wonder if there are other universities in these communities that are thinking about it.
Magidor – I don’t think there is anything close to that. The closest thing was probably a project by the two schools of education at the Hebrew University and Bethlehem University. It was stopped but hopefully we can renew it. I don’t think there is anything with other universities in Israel, although there will be, I’m sure.
The education project was trying to examine the stereotypes of both sides. You take each side of the conflict, stereotype the other side in a textbook in the school system and a stereotype of the other side. Most stereotypes of the Jews or the Israelis are characterized in the Palestinian school system and textbooks. The stereotypes are on both sides. They should be cleared. There is a lot of work to be done there, but identifying it and getting it to the surface is the first step. This was a very interesting project and hopefully it will be renewed.
Yuan T. Lee, Academia Sinica – I just wanted to make one comment. There is a scientific project in the Middle East, which is a scientific project called SESAME, a synchrotron light source that involves all the countries in the Middle East, including Palestine, Jordan, and Israel. And this is high level moving rather well. I’m chairman of the National Synchrotron-light Source in Taiwan, and last year we offered a fellowship to SESAME for two scientists to come to Taiwan to work with us. That fellowship was increased to five people for the coming year. I’m really happy to see people in the Middle East working together on a synchrotron light source. This is really a high-level collaboration.
Question – I have a small inquiry to make. It is a very nice thing that you have a joint project on Jerusalem. I wonder whether you needed a kind of approval from your government to start this joint project, or is it quite independent of the government’s blessing?
Nusseibeh – It is independent, of course. One doesn’t start investigating things by getting approval.
Arnold Wolfendale – Being a European today rather than British has released my tongue. Could I ask about scholarly attitudes to boycotts? Are they efficient on the whole? I’m a mere
physicist and I don’t know about these things, but I presume there has been scholarly work on the efficacy of boycotts. Is there a conclusion? In my limited experience, they tend to have the opposite effect in the long run to what was intended.
Wiesel – It seems to me that ignorance is probably more of a hindrance to the spread of knowledge than specific boycotts. You can think of many examples in which scientists have been ahead of their times and have not been boycotted, but ignored.
Yaari – There have been sanctions, but they were not directed specifically at scientists. Sanctions have included boycotts, and those have been effective in South Africa. We don’t know of specific boycotts of scientists and scholars. So we can’t really answer the question because we don’t have data. But that is the general wisdom, which may not be the final word.
Question – I wanted to ask if this wonderful example of academic cooperation might be met by examples of cooperation with professional bodies such as organizations of doctors, organizations of lawyers, and the like. This morning we heard discussion of the absence of initiatives by certain professional bodies, and I wonder whether there are examples.
Yaari – In Israel, there is an organization called Doctors for Human Rights. These are Israeli doctors who do nothing but work the Palestinian countryside looking after patients in various Palestinian communities. There they cooperate intensively with the doctors locally attending the population. That is a marvelous example of what you have been asking about. There have been instances of cooperation in the area of pest control, since pests don’t recognize borders. Those are normally done in cooperation, and the cooperation is quite intimate and successful. Those are the two examples that come to my mind, but there must be others.
Nusseibeh – Can I just pick up on this and go to the extreme? There is known cooperation between the underworlds, the Israeli and Palestinian mafias. Beginning with that, and you can go across the spectrum, there is in fact a lot of cooperation. You have to realize that the Palestinian areas are almost part of the state of Israel and have been since 1967. So, for various reasons, good or bad, there have been very strong relationships.
I mentioned the mafia, but there has also been strong cooperation between the professional security organizations on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides. In the last four years, something went wrong, and this kind of cooperation began to suffer. We have mentioned doctors and lawyers, and cooperation exists with nurses and others. There is a lot of cooperation.
Throughout those years, it is important to note that, on the Palestinian side, the wisdom has been that academic cooperation should be singled out, that everything else was fine but academic cooperation was not fine. The academic cooperation should wait until peace comes. Once it comes, then it can be worked upon. This has been the situation in general, and the question now posed is what should academics be doing, what should scientists be doing, what should institutions be doing? Should we sit on the side? Should we support this process toward breaking up the bridges that have been built? Or should we show some kind of support for developing those bridges? There is a lot of cooperation, and some of it, as I say, is not all commendable. Take the cooperation in gambling between Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians
developed the only casino in the Middle East, the Arab world probably, in Jericho, as soon as they got a hold of Jericho, in cooperation with Israeli businessmen. It is devastating that whereas you have cooperation in all of that, including the mafia, scientists are not allowed to talk to each other? It is crazy.
Question – It has been almost forgotten, but Israel, from its very inception, was under boycott by Arab countries. This was a general boycott, not specifically scientific but also included the universities. A boycott actually had two aspects, one direct, and the other a so-called secondary. If an American or a British corporation did business with Israel, it also came under the boycott and sanctions were actually levied against it. This boycott did cause some damage to Israel, but I think it also damaged those who made the boycott. The damage was mutual. Both suffered and I think it is now on the decline simply after the peace agreement with Egypt, but I don’t think it has been completely lifted, at least not as far as I know officially. It is a very great thing that we now have at least the beginning of cooperation between the Hebrew University and Al-Quds.
Nusseibeh – There was a lot of cooperation, even at the level of the major associations that you speak of. But in the past four years, things have been breaking up again. I’m not aware of anything major, but cooperation exists. For example, a major association in Israel would invite professionals in that field from Palestine to a conference or vice versa, or the two major associations would cooperate in having a conference in some field of common interest. This kind of thing happens, but we don’t have peace, so it doesn’t happen in a normal way. This is what one has to work for, to try and push in this direction. It will take time. One thing that can help is to get these people from the [U.K.] teachers’ association together, rather than help them to push themselves apart from each other. One can go wrong in the boycott, and one can also go wrong in the other direction—being provoked to such an extent as to create anger or provocation on the other side.
We have to somehow look at this from the point of view of the Israelis and the Palestinians. They are and will be and should continue to be allies in their common interests. They should be brought together. They should be made to see this, so that friends of Palestinians or of Israelis who wish to help should encourage this common evolution, the evolution of commonality between Israelis and Palestinians. It just adds to the number of enemies that exist by coming on to one side against the other. The friends of either should be the friends of both.
Human Rights and Our Future Lord Dahrendorf, House of Lords, London, U.K.
I am greatly honored by the invitation to speak to a group that is committed to my own deepest beliefs—the belief in a free world that is a world of basic rights and liberties for all.
I’m not going to dwell at any length on the question of the concepts of human rights. You’ve probably heard quite enough about that in the course of this day, and above all, you have heard my good friend, Baroness O’Neill, who will have done as well as anybody on this matter. I would like at least to state that I’m one of those who use a narrow concept of human rights, and I say this in order to make my subsequent remarks more comprehensible. In my view, even the United Nations’ Charter of Human Rights, as well as many other recent statements, include in the concept important matters, even crucial matters, but matters that I personally do not describe as human rights.
For me, human rights have to do with the inviolability of the person, habeas corpus, the inviolability of the person in the sense of the basic dignity of every human being. They have to do with the right of expression, and the right of expression includes not only such matters as freedom of speech, but also and crucially the freedom to pursue and conduct scientific research. And the concept of human rights includes the right of participation. It implies an element of inclusion. It implies that every human being should be able to take part in what happens in her or his society. That is my concept of human rights as I’m going to employ it in my subsequent remarks.
It is undoubtedly one of the tasks and one of the great interests of the scientific community to pursue the defense of human rights and, indeed, the implementation of these basic rights. But it is undeniable that the scientific community has not always done terribly well in this process. I am, just now, writing a little book on the question of who, among the public intellectuals, and they include quite a few of the members of the scientific community, prove to be immune to the great temptations of totalitarianism in the 20th century. The number of those who truly proved immune is not very large. It is quite amazing, as one looks at the history of Europe, and not just of Europe, between the First World War and 1989, the end of the cold war. It is quite amazing how many intellectuals, how many scientists and scholars have preferred the comfort of life to the strains of fighting the temptations around them. It is amazing how many have made their peace with the regimes that were, after all, regimes of [totalitarianism], but they have made their peace and hoped that in this way they would be left in peace.
It was a short-sighted attitude by many. It was short-sighted because, without any doubt, the regimes that were thus tolerated, and in an indirect way supported by those who do not insist on basic liberties and rights, were in fact strengthened. It is also beyond doubt that these regimes removed the foundations of free research, free thought, and other creative activity on the part of scholars, scientists, and public intellectuals in general.
The history of scientific communities with regard to the defense of human rights is a triumph, and it is therefore particularly gratifying that perhaps from 1945 onward, but certainly in recent decades and recent years, a growing number of those who are assembled in the academies of science and who have a chance to speak up for innovation and scholarship have, in fact, defended human rights. I am pleased about the trend, and I’m particularly pleased to see here representatives of a network of academies that is committed to the defense of human rights.
In the invitation, I’ve been asked to speak about the future, and I shall try to do so without making too many predictions that I will later regret. I am going to make three points relating to current threats to human rights, and I suspect that they will be with us for some time to come. These three points may well give rise to a discussion. I look forward to the discussion above all, and I regard my introductory comments as a stimulus to a discussion.
The first point is the least surprising. Despotism, tyranny, totalitarian or otherwise, are with us and are likely to be with us for some time to come. There are plenty of countries in which unwelcome views are suppressed. There are plenty of countries in which the exploration of new frontiers of knowledge is, if not prevented, at least hindered in a whole variety of ways. There are plenty of countries in which freedom of expression is severely curtailed.
As one looks at scientists and the scientific community, it is quite striking how many have, at some point in their lives, been forced to leave their country simply because they weren’t able to pursue their objectives or to express their views in freedom. As I look at some of the names associated with this Network, I see quite a few who have had this experience themselves. I, too, changed countries at one point in my life, but I did not have to, much as I have appreciated and still appreciate the air of liberty that has been characteristic of this country for a long time and is still characteristic of it.
Immigration is one of the responses to tyranny and despotism, and immigration, of course, has a whole lot of consequences, both for the community left behind and for the communities to which people go. There is very little doubt that it will take my country of birth, Germany, many, many generations, if it ever happens, to recover the distinction of scientific and intellectual life that was characteristic of it before the Nazis came to power.
I like the statement on the letterhead of this organization, at the bottom of the page, which says primarily the Network assists colleagues who are unjustly detained or imprisoned for the nonviolent exercise of their basic human rights.
I would like to make what is perhaps a minor but to me an important point here. The assistance of individuals who are unjustly detained or imprisoned for the nonviolent exercise of their basic human rights is a crucial task of those of us who are committed to human rights. And I insist on the word “individuals.” Like many others, I have a great deal of respect for the organization Amnesty International. But I’m bound to say that, deep down, I am slightly uneasy about the change that has happened in the history of Amnesty. Amnesty originally was an organization set up almost exclusively for the support of individual prisoners. Indeed, members
of Amnesty adopted particular prisoners and saw to it that their names were not forgotten and that their destiny was part of the awareness of those who were fortunate enough to live in free societies.
I believe one of the important ways in which those of us committed to human rights can fight the violation of human rights in despotic or totalitarian regimes is by keeping in the public consciousness the names of particular individuals who have been detained, imprisoned, or otherwise unjustly treated in violation of human rights.
Since then, Amnesty has coupled the concern with individuals with a wider campaigning activity about political systems in general. That is perfectly comprehensible to me, and it certainly makes sense to someone who is himself interested in political analysis. But I wonder whether in the process that great organization hasn’t lost some of the effect of the insistence on specific individual cases, and indeed not cases, but specific people, persons, individuals in that sense.
And there is the phenomenon of failing or failed states. In many parts of the world, we now see communities that seem to be incapable of sustaining the elementary organizational framework of states as we know them, the elementary political framework that is so utterly necessary. This is a strange phenomenon. In Europe, the region in which this is most evident is the Balkans, where the political framework has dissolved. There are some functioning local communities, sometimes even regions, but there is great uncertainty about the rules that govern the lives of people generally. The Balkans, however, are just one example.
There are important parts of the Middle East in which one can’t really speak of functioning states with which one could deal. There are parts of Latin America in which there are increasing signs of failed or failing states. And there are parts of Asia, quite a few parts of Asia, in which this is also true. There is an absence of authority, an absence of basic structures, and, in that sense, a degree of anarchy.
In my view, these failed or failing states remind us of the crucial need for the rule of law if we want to establish human rights and be sure that they are guaranteed. I say this not only because I want to continue the debate, which I understand you had in the course of the day, about legal aspects of human rights. I say this for an even more fundamental reason. I have increasingly, and if I may say so reluctantly, come to the conclusion that, in the kind of society I want to live in, even more important than democratic procedures is the existence and prevalence of the rule of law. I have increasingly felt that, as we try to assist countries in which the state has failed in the attempt to rebuild structures in which human beings can enjoy their rights, we should look first at the rule of law and not assume that by organizing elections we will automatically create a state of affairs in which the dignity of human beings, freedom of expression, and participation are guaranteed.
This is a statement that requires many qualifications and additions. The rule of law requires, perhaps first, that rare thing: an independent judiciary that is incorruptible and is one of
the great achievements of a civilization in which it exists. It is also quite frequently threatened in countries in which it is supposed to exist in terms of their constitutional foundations but is, in fact, not there.
Of course, the rule of law requires the existence of a minimum state power, the power of enforcement, for example, and also, to some extent, the protection of the independence of the judiciary. But in a minimal state, the rule of law itself implies and includes those principles that I set out in the beginning. Establishing the rule of law certainly was my advice to those I knew who were charged by international organizations to go, for example, to the Balkans in order to assist there in creating conditions of an acceptable liberal order.
This takes me to my third point, one that is close to my own current concerns and, incidentally, to the concerns of Baroness O’Neill. And that is the peculiar risk we find in many countries that can legitimately be called part of the “free world” of what I called creeping authoritarianism. That is a very peculiar phenomenon. It has a great deal to do with, at the moment, the question of countering terror or terrorism. In the fact of this question, a need is perceived, perfectly understandable, to protect the citizens of countries from the risks and dangers of terrorism. And it is not just citizens who have to be protected but visitors, anyone living in these countries. At the same time, there is the other risk that in trying to protect citizens from terror, we introduce measures that actually lead to the powerful destruction of that system of the role of law and human rights that we cherish.
It is a very difficult balance that hardly anyone will ever get right. Incidentally, this is one of the areas in which democracy is crucial. It is a system of politics in which it is possible to correct mistakes when you’ve made them. It does happen that measures are taken that destroy some of the foundations of the liberal order, but it is also possible to undo this and reverse whatever decisions have been taken.
We are watching, in quite a number of countries in the free world, the introduction of controls of citizens, and even more of noncitizens or visitors, that damage human rights, even if they do not destroy them. I think we are in the process of doing that. Perhaps in this country we should feel triumphant about the effects of visa restrictions on foreigners in the United States, because, up to this moment, many of those who now find it too burdensome to try and get access to the United States have a tendency to come to the United Kingdom. All universities in this country, at the moment, benefit to a considerable extent from being the second choice of people in many parts of the world who would like to be in an English language country at university but don’t want to go through the difficult process of gaining access to American universities.
Here, too, we are faced with a peculiar conflict. As a member of the Upper House of Parliament and the House of Lords, I could tell many a story about recent debates we had on legislation that would enable the police and thus, indirectly, the government to arrest suspects and detain them for long periods contrary to those basic rules of habeas corpus that I included in the inviolability of the person. There is a great risk that a climate of fear of terrorism turns into a
general climate of fear, with quite serious threats to individual liberties. There is also a very great risk, which is always a serious one, of people beginning to censor themselves—no longer saying things that they believe might be objectionable or might seem suspicious or no longer conducting research that they fear may be unwanted and would certainly not attract public funding or perhaps no funding at all. There is the risk of a voluntary reduction of human rights, and that is something that we have to watch very, very carefully.
Authoritarianism is not totalitarianism. The first of my three points relates to regimes that are based on the attempt of those in power to organize society totally and keep it under control. Authoritarianism is more designed to keep people quiet and create conditions under which they try not to offend prevailing views, but it is just as limiting on basic human rights.
It is therefore my general conclusion, in looking at the risks that await us in the future—the risks of new despotism, the risks of failing states, the risks of creeping authoritarianism—that remaining active in the defense of human rights is absolutely crucial. That is to say, human rights do not remain in force just by themselves. They require the activity of those who cherish them. And what I hinted about or said at the beginning I will say again at the end—I believe that those of us who live in the world of ideas, in the world of research, committed to innovation and the exploration of new frontiers, have a very special obligation to preserve these human rights in the face of the threats of the future.
Baxi – I teach currently at the University of Warwick, which is neither a function of the first nor the second choice. Thank you very much for your most illuminating observations on the risks facing human rights and our duties to face the future together. There are very few occasions on which we have such a sagacious address, so I thank you again. I do want to clarify a question that relates to the second threat, namely that of failing states. There are states of political communities that fail because of endogenous causes and there are states that are made to fail by external forces—the cold war is one such historic tidal wave that made political communities otherwise existing fail, as do the structural adjustment programs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and so does the unfair international trade system. How do we address this problem? The problem comes from societies of the North committed to the rule of law and human rights in their own territories but significantly lacking in the will to treat other nations equally and constructively.
Dahrendorf – The question, as I understand it, was that some states are failing for endogenous reasons, but others are made to fail by the way the international community treats them or the conditions that the international community creates that make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for states to succeed. Well, what am I to say? I agree with you. I think it is a very important distinction, and, if you had given examples, I’d be happy to discuss these examples. It is a mistake for the international community (whatever that is) to believe that there is anything to gain by making states fail. There is a lot to gain by trying to persuade states to change their
ways. But the deliberate or unintentional but effective destruction of state structures is just very, very bad politics in the interest of human rights. So, I entirely agree, and I would be happy to look at particular examples.
Robert Hinde – I’m from Cambridge University. You mentioned the question of scientists being allowed to do the research that they want to do and not being restricted. I’d like to ask your view about research. Since the boundary between pure research and applied research is so vague these days, What is your view about research on weapons, on potentially dangerous chemicals, and, even beyond that, research in which human subjects are used insensitively and even inflicts unnecessary pain on animals?
Dahrendorf – We are talking about human rights and therefore talking about the question of whether there are kinds of research that are potentially so damaging that it is a matter of human rights and their application to do what? To prevent it from happening, to stop it in some way? Let me make first the point—I would be very reluctant to draw easy boundaries of permissible and impermissible research. I would be inclined to say that we should, as a matter of presumption, be wide open to the attempt to explore new boundaries of knowledge, and my inclination would always be to allow more, rather than less, research. I don’t find it easy to draw an early boundary.
You mentioned the use of animals in research. As it happens, along with Baroness O’Neill, I was on a committee of the House of Lords about stem cell research, and we went through, in detail, many of the ethical issues there. As you know, we came to the conclusion, which was then implemented, that there should be an agency which has a say in the public financing of such research, but there should be no legislation that prohibits or limits it. I strongly supported that conclusion. Countries that take a view, through legislation, that certain kinds of stem cell research should be prohibited, are limiting research in a way that I regard as dangerous in principle. I would draw the boundaries very, very far away from what is happening most of the time.
It is not always easy to tell what research can be used for military or for other purposes. It has always been true that the findings of research are, in a certain sense, morally neutral—that is, they can be used for terrible purposes and for good purposes, and you can’t assure good purposes by preventing research. If we had an extensive discussion, we would probably find points at which I agree that these are limits that must not be transgressed, but my basic approach is, in most cases, possibly including those you mentioned, that research should be free.
John Sulston, The Royal Society – I wondered if I could just go back to the first question. I was very pleased that Professor Baxi asked you about that, because it was exactly in my mind as well, about the reasons for failing. I also wanted to ask you about your point that Amnesty had weakened its approach to individual cases by looking at policy matters. This is something that is happening across the board. I have had nothing to do with Amnesty, but I do work with both Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). In both of those cases, they have realized that their efforts to bring food and medicines to impoverished people are fruitless unless they correct the causes of poverty. So, for example, I joined Oxfam’s fair trade campaign, and I’m now part of the MSF’s access to essential medicines campaign. I’d like to have your views about this,
because my impression is that this is part of the changing world. What these organizations are doing of necessity is offsetting globalization, which we all agree is a good thing, drawing together people, and drawing together in terms of power and particularly a financial power. The NGOs speak in some way for the people at large and the dispossessed when governments cannot because of the transnational financial powers that push against them. I just wondered if you’d like to say any more about that, and whether your disappointment in the NGO’s change in individual cases is real, or if you have seen that the world is moving on, and also perhaps relate these views to the activities of the human rights Network here.
Carol Corillon, U.S.A. [Network Executive Director] – There is one other question about Amnesty International from the Norwegian Academy, so maybe you’ll be able to answer both of them?
Arne Haaland, Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters – It has been a long time since I’ve thought much about Amnesty [International], so what I’m saying now is not properly organized. I attended a meeting about Amnesty International in Oslo in 1962, that was one year after the organization started. There were five or six people in the room, and I joined. It was a very strange organization. In Norway, there were probably 50-60 people who were active through the first part of the 1960s. They all had to know English because there was no material in Norwegian. So people who did not speak a foreign language were excluded. We had no office. We had no typewriters. Members bought typewriters. Members paid the rent for the office. We adopted prisoners. We had to get 30 colleagues each to collect enough money each month to send. Here in London, there was a secretariat. There were four people there who were salaried—very low salaries and hardly enough typewriters. The expert on the Soviet Union and the rest of Europe had a degree in Russian literature, and he was the only expert we had. The rest of the world was shared between two women who were very intelligent, very dedicated, but had to do it all themselves. Typing was done by the volunteers. I can remember a meeting in the mid-1960s discussing that the secretariat in London, on which we had all depended, had money enough for just six more weeks. The Norwegian section was one of the larger ones, so I promised to send everything we could. They asked how much we had, and I said 500 pounds. The other sections were not rich. The context in which Amnesty operated was the cold war. There was very little faith in an organization that “pretended” to be neutral. We all knew that if we made two bad mistakes, the organization would not survive. I would also say that most of the people involved had personal histories relating to World War II.
This was a heroic time. Many people gave a lot of time and effort to the organization. But if we look back at it now, what happened is the best that could happen. The world needed a large organization that would survive for another year and have the expertise to treat things professionally. I can only repeat I think this is the best thing that could happen and the enthusiasts can go elsewhere and they will be needed.
Dahrendorf – Well, that is quite an important issue here. One aspect of it is simple. The key sentence in this second comment is one you tucked away when you said we adopted prisoners. That is what Amnesty was about: adopting particular prisoners and making particular individuals in free countries responsible for keeping this in the public awareness. I am not against what Amnesty is doing today at all. But I think these are two different things.
Adopting prisoners without making general political statements was curiously effective in quite a few cases. I’m sure there are dozens of human beings, maybe more, who owe their freedom to the fact that they were adopted as particular prisoners by an organization that was not regarded as being in principle against particular political systems. All I wanted to say with my remarks about Amnesty is that I wholly understand the train of thought that leads you to say that, unless we deal with the causes of things, we will never come to grips with the actual problem. These are two different approaches that both have their right, and it is a pity if one of them is lost because there is too much insistence on dealing with a cause that is essentially a campaigning issue, and a campaigning issue that does not necessarily lead a single individual to freedom. I’m not opposing what Amnesty is doing, but the other job did exist and still exists.
I can’t really comment on your Network, but my understanding from what I see in the subcommittee of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States is that one deals with the particular individual scientists and doesn’t say very much about whatever one thinks about the regime in which they operate. That is my basic point, so I don’t want to be misunderstood. I think what Amnesty is doing today is splendid. I’m one of those who, when they are asked to give their royalties to a charity, quite often name Amnesty. I nevertheless regret that the original function of Amnesty is not taken care of to the same extent anymore.
Second point, I’m unimpressed by your arguments about the enthusiasm that you had to put into the early activity of Amnesty. I think that is what NGOs are really about. I sometimes feel, quite honestly, that they have become too professional. There is something curiously non nongovernmental when international conferences take place in which the NGOs, (incidentally looked after by quite a large department in the United Nations or looked after by similarly large departments in other international organizations), meet and discuss matters in ways not fundamentally different from the discussions in the U.N. General Assembly or in formal, more governmental international bodies. There is, in other words, the opposite risk as well—the risk of over-professionalization.
Voluntary activity, NGO activity, is in a certain sense always specific, local, and at the most regional. The moment the NGOs become large international organizations, they are as remote from where things actually happen as governments often are. For that reason, I have always taken the view that NGOs must, from time to time, be discontinued. There is no particular reason why Oxfam should exist forever, or Amnesty, for that matter. Every now and again, the enthusiasm that led to their creation would be a highly desirable force to rekindle and to create a new and different organization. That is the line that I took when I was a trustee of the Ford Foundation, and that is also the line I take when I deal in a variety of capacities with charities here. We are just debating a charity bill that has just been reintroduced into the House of Lords and one of my key points is there must be not even an attempt to give charities a guarantee for life forever. That is one of the differences between nongovernmental and governmental activity.
So, I have perhaps a slightly different approach, although I think it is quite important that my first point is understood: that is, I don’t object at all to what Amnesty is doing. I just think there is the other task as well of dealing with individuals. That whole argument means that, yes, sometimes NGOs may speak for the dispossessed. But sometimes NGOs sound awfully like
government or public organizations. I believe in the creative chaos of organizations that are set up by people because they want to do something. I don’t believe in a highly organized world system of so-called nongovernmental organizations.
Wiesel – Your thoughts reflect very much the way I feel and think about this issue. This organization is not an NGO. It is a network and each of the members here, representing academies, are independent. They make their own decisions on actions to take. In this way, we don’t want to get rid of the academies in the world and we want to build strong science and that is why a number of academy representatives have said they feel we should work more in the direction of Amnesty and make policy statements about things. But, some of us who founded this organization feel that that would be a mistake. We wish to focus on individual cases. That said, there are times, like with the AUT’s call for a boycott, when statements are made on the principle that scientific freedom is essential for the future. Otherwise, we have tried not to get political in our operations. We are very grateful to you for making this clear and succinct and beautiful statement of your principles.
Question – There is a need for many kinds of organizations. In the field of human rights I think there is a need for an independent, strong, professional source of information which is recognized as impartial. And Amnesty has taken up much of that part. Newspapers need it, media need it, and organizations that want to relate to situations in different countries need somebody to ask who is professional and independent. The Red Cross is an example. Where would we be without the International Red Cross for inspections? It is big. It looks like a government. But we need it.
Dahrendorf – I don’t disagree at all.
Hodgkin – I’m not here as a representative of Amnesty International. I was invited by a fellow and I have come on my day off, so I don’t want to talk about Amnesty International. But I agree, don’t make it the be-all and end-all of all organizations such as Human Rights Watch. In all of our countries, there are organizations on guard that are facing day-by-day difficulties. I wanted to make a point about individuals. I do think that the individual is absolutely important. When you stop having the names of the individuals, then you lose their identity. This is why I noticed when I was in Iraq that the people’s brothers would be shot by the Americans and they would be taken off to a hospital, where they died and were buried, and the Americans had no idea who they were because the hospital didn’t take any notice of them. And their brothers would go around from place to place trying to find them, but they would never find them again. For instance, in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Palestinians keep the names of those who are killed. The Israeli government doesn’t really notice how many it has killed.
I work now in Sudan and in Darfur. We tried to take down the names. There is a play on numbers on how many have been killed. Once you start saying 1,000 people are killed in the marketplace, instead of being able to say what their names are, you’ve lost them. So the names of the individuals, of each person, are very important.
About the rule of law, again, I agree that the rule of law is important, but the laws have to be good as well, because if you have a rule of law that is going to allow torture, then it is not
such a wonderful rule of law. Again, when things started getting worse and worse in Darfur, we went to the judges and said, people are being killed and you and prosecutors don’t prosecute anyone. They said, oh well, there weren’t any complaints and there wasn’t any evidence. Of course there weren’t complaints, because people were running away as fast as they could.
Question – When you are mentioning failed or failing states, you weren’t giving examples, but I don’t know why you never mentioned Africa. I hoped you were going to continue. On that basis, I wanted just to say that in the African states, you have failing or failed states and part of the problem is because of conflicts from our side. But also the long history of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been such as it is because of the conflict of interest of a few European countries. Then creeping authoritarianism has been a problem in a large number of African countries. It is important that the outside world gets to say something about this.
Dahrendorf – My notes certainly included Africa as a part of the world in which failed or failing states are much in evidence. It is certainly true that in the case of Africa, the gentleman from Warwick could quote many examples of external intervention leading to the failure of states. I’m afraid the Congo is one of the worst examples. Incidentally, one of Europe’s failing states is Belgium. But that is just by the way. It is quite an interesting problem arising in that particular case. I wholly appreciate your point and agree that I shouldn’t have omitted to mention it. I don’t want to go into a detailed discussion of particular cases, but the Congo is an extreme example.
Concluding Remarks Dr. Arjuna Aluwihare, President-elect, National Academy of Sciences, Sri Lanka; Professor of Surgery, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka; Network Executive Committee Member
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.
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
happened and where they are. The idea is that because a state or community consists of individuals, if you safeguard the individual, you will actually look after the state, eventually. But safeguarding the individuals is crucial, as is the role of the scientists in safeguarding the principles of political systems—law, human rights, respect of persons, etc. It was very interesting that the United States and the United Kingdom seem to have forgotten that you can change the political systems if you want to, but that is another debate. We have to accept that there are some inviolable norms and that if we start shifting the norms or goalposts, there is going to be no end to the chaos that we are going to see. And I think we have to remember that. Thank you.
Cohen-Tannoudji – Thank you for this excellent summary and to all the speakers of today.