UK & Ireland human rights committee (UKI HRC)

The UKIHRC acts in support of academic freedom around the world through information-sharing, awareness-raising and advocacy, both in general and through responding to individual alerts issued by the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies. This international network is run by a group at the US National Academy of Sciences and identifies incidents where scientists and researchers worldwide are subjected to repression for having expressed human rights in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, the network assists scientists and scholars around the world who are subjected to severe repression solely for having non-violently exercised their rights as given by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The UKHRC’s practice is to act in cases where there is evidence that the human rights of an individual have been violated or denied because of their academic work. It is the practice of the UKI HRC to act only in cases where there is evidence that the human rights of an individual have been violated due to reasons directly related to their research or academic/scientific work.  The Committee therefore considers cases raised by the International HR Network, and coordinates responses either from individual Academies or on behalf of all member academies where appropriate.

The RSE is currently acting as lead Secretariat for the committee.

Professor Alison Phipps OBE FRSE FRSA FACSS Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies, Glasgow University UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts

As Scotland’s National Academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh is a member of the UK Human Rights Committee (UKHRC). As the incoming Chair of the RSE Human Rights Committee, as the RSE takes over its Secretariat from the Royal Society, I am grateful to our outgoing committee members Professor Sir David Edward, Professor Hector MacQueen, and Dr Alice König and the incoming committee for their determined, perspicacious and thoughtful discussions of the remit of the committee.

The UKHRC consists of Academies from the UK and Ireland: the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Learned Society of Wales, the Royal Irish Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Academy of Medical Sciences. The Academies usually meet twice a year and share the secretariat for the Committee taking turns. From June 2023 onwards, the RSE will hold the secretariat. Each Academy has 1-3 representatives on the committee to make informed decisions regarding Human Rights alerts, and to discuss how to respond best and most effectively.

The above-mentioned human rights violation alerts involve scientists and scholars and are sent to the UKHRC by the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies (IHRN), established in 1993.

The Committee receives these alerts from the IHRN on a regular basis and needs to consider whether action should be taken or whether additional information is required from the IHRN. The Committee discusses the majority of cases via email to reach consensus regarding the alert. Deference is given to the view of the Academy most obviously concerned, e.g. the Academy of Medical Sciences in the case of medical professionals. Once the Committee agrees on the approach, a response is drafted by the secretary on behalf of the Committee.

Until now, the UKHRC responded to alerts where victims have been prosecuted because of their academic work. This is usually done in form of a letter to the head of state and/or the ambassador of the respective country. In some cases, the responses have indeed contributed to putting an end to the abuse. However, even if it does not, victims do derive reassurance and comfort knowing that their colleagues from around the world are paying attention and taking action to help.

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