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The Human Right to Science

Although the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress (REBSP) is included in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and several human rights treaties, it remains a right that is not well known nor yet well explored.

The role of science in societies and its benefits and potential dangers have been discussed in various international fora, but hardly ever in a human rights context. Nowadays, within a world that is increasingly turning to science and technology for solutions to persistent socio-economic and development problems, the human dimension of science has also received increased attention. One of the avenues to reinforce the link between science and human rights is the elaboration and implementation of the REBSP.

The project aims to increase the knowledge and understanding of the REBSP and to raise awareness of the existence of this right and of its content. A better understood and elaborated REBSP will be better implemented by states, better respected by non-State actors such as corporations and better enjoyed by individuals and communities. The added value of a human rights approach or human rights lens to science, compared to other approaches such as ethics of science, is that a human rights approach does not only focus on scientists and science, but on broader society, including economic activities, and the rights and obligations of different stakeholders. It identifies rightsholders (empowerment) and dutybearers (obligations), as well as accountability mechanisms. It guarantees that research and technology agendas include human rights principles, such as universality, participation, non-discrimination and equality, and that these agendas focus on vulnerable groups.

Most of the existing research on the REBSP has been done by human rights lawyers. This right however demands reflection from different disciplines, applying different research methods. The REBSP should be studied from the perspective of its link to other human rights or its role as enabling the enjoyment of other human rights. But, the REBSP also has value in itself and this value needs to be further elaborated (e.g. what is precisely the added value of the REBSP to for instance the right to health or food; or what does REBSP mean for Open Access; or how does patenting the results of science relate to the REBSP?). 

Several developments have taken place in the last years. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 2020 a General Comment on the right to science and economic, social and cultural rights. Member States of UNESCO adopted in 2021 a Recommendation on Open Science, following the adoption in 2017 of the UNESCO Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers. Although these documents and instruments reaffirm the importance of the REBSP, much more research and analysis should be done to further elucidate this right in a legal as well as a policy context and to make it justiciable and actionable.

Publications

Researcher

Yvonne Donders, Faculty of Law, University of Amsterdam

Partners

  • Valerie Bradley, Human Services Research Institute, Boston
  • Michael Chou, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School
  • Matthias Mann, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Munich
  • Christine Mitchell, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School
  • Helle Porsdam, Faculty of Humanities and Law, University of Copenhagen
  • Sebastian Porsdam Mann, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School
  • Jessica Wyndham, American Association for the Advancement of Science

 

Prof. dr. Y.M. (Yvonne) Donders

Faculty of Law

Dep. Public International Law and European Law