The following statement on human rights and academic freedom was approved by the RSE Council in March 2024.

The free and open exchange of ideas is paramount in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding in all academic and scientific disciplines; it is of vital importance to society as a whole. Academics should have the right to ask challenging questions, debate controversial ideas, and express evidence-based opinions, wherever they live in the world, without fear of reprisals. In support of those rights, it is their responsibility to behave professionally, apply rigorous methodologies, uphold professional standards, and comply with relevant codes of conduct.

As Scotland’s National Academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), holds a distinct position in supporting international research collaboration, upholding professional codes of conduct, and promoting those standards in the global academic and scientific community. In today’s interconnected world, national academies and institutions play a critical role in championing the cause of human rights. As advocates for the advancement of knowledge and societal progress, national academies have a responsibility to use their influence and expertise to safeguard and promote human rights for all.

The RSE is a member of the UK Human Rights Committee and is currently holding the Secretariat. The committee seeks to support academics and scientists around the world who, on the basis of their work, are subject to restriction, even oppression of the rights of freedom of thought and of freedom of speech, to which they are entitled under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration states that every individual is inherently free and equal, and entitled to fair treatment devoid of any discriminatory practices. Through this committee, the RSE makes active representation to governments under which abuses of academic freedom are reported.

Through supporting joint programmes with international partners and in the interests of upholding universal codes of conduct and international academic and scientific diplomacy, the RSE will include respect for academic freedom and human rights in all its strategic partnership programmes.