Article 15

The following contains the background to the current discussion of Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

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AAAS and the Human Right to Enjoy the Benefits of Scientific Progress

First internationally recognized in 1948, the human right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress remains largely unknown and underutilized by the scientific and human rights communities.  Recently, however, the United Nations (UN) has begun to define and encourage implementation of the right. It is vital for the scientific community to be part of this process.

In April 2010, the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) adopted a statement recognizing the importance for the scientific community to contribute to the ongoing process to define the right to the benefits of scientific progress. AAAS is committed to engaging the scientific community in this process and to ensuring that good scientific practices are taken into account when the right is applied in practice.

The AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition together with AAAS staff have developed a series of questions aimed at soliciting input from professional scientific organizations and individuals about the meaning of the right and barriers to its realization. Responses to this questionnaire will be collated and presented to the UN Committee responsible for monitoring the implementation of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. The findings of this process will also be used to inform future programmatic work of AAAS.

Background information

The right: Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires governments to:

  1. recognize the right of everyone to benefit from scientific progress and its applications
  2. take the steps necessary for the conservation, development and diffusion of science
  3. respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research, and
  4. recognize the benefits of international contacts and co-operation in the scientific field.

The obligations: In order to meet their legal obligations to realize this right, governments must respect, protect and fulfill the right. This means

  • respect – refrain from doing anything that will violate the right (e.g., refrain from censoring scientists who publish politically inconvenient findings);
  • protect – ensure that private actors do not violate the right (e.g., protect research subjects involved in private clinical trials); and
  • fulfill – take the steps necessary to ensure the right is enjoyed by all (e.g., provide the institutional support necessary for implementing effective science curricula).

The practical steps: The steps governments must take to meet their obligations will include a combination of constitutional, legislative, institutional, programmatic and financial measures.

By answering the attached questions, you can help ensure the right is interpreted and applied in a way that reflects the realities and concerns of your discipline.


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