Promoting a human rights approach to S&T advances will reinforce moves towards inclusive development. But implementation challenges remain. This is the focus of a great special feature on SciDev.net on human rights, science and development.
While there is a growing acceptance that enjoying the fruits of scientific knowledge is a basic human right, there are still gaps in how this right can be implemented in the context of social and economic development. Any serious attempts to transform our society, from the local to the global scales, towards sustainable ecological and social development needs to take human rights into account. This point needs to be hammered home, especially in light of the newly launched process of replacing the Millennium Development Goal with a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.
Human rights and science have been established as a supposedly inseparable entity as early as the The Universal Declaration of Human rights in 1948. The declaration contains an article that states "everyone has the right to share in scientific advancement and its benefits". The same status is given to science by the UN's 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). But in reality this is not the case. The example of intellectual property rights is an obvious case in point - in essence laws and restrictions are put into place to control who can access the fruits of innovations such as vaccines. Another example is the issue of science journal subscription fees that put a price on scientific information that poorer societies often cannot afford.
In an editorial introducing the special issue, David Dickson asked some important questions:
"1. Given that the idea of universal human rights is largely a product of the European Enlightenment, to what extent are its assumptions and conclusions valid in a non-Western context built on different cultural values?
2. What constitutes a "misuse" of science, and who is qualified to make such a judgement?
3. What does a human rights-based approach to science add to efforts that are already under way to inject science into the development process?"
The special feature in SciDev.net tries to address some of these issues, and others, through a series of great opinion pieces by SR Mukherjee (senior lecturer at the Paris Institute of Political Studies and the University of Chicago Center in Paris), J Piotrowski, RV Bhavani (director at the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in India) and S Caney (professor of policy and international relations at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom) among others.
Jan Piotrowski for example has talked to some of the organizations and people that are tackling the complex task of trying to develop a legal framework (for binding science and human rights) that the international community can accept. Interestingly, this piece highlights one dilemma that is also shared by the field of resilience science. While scientists and intergovernmental organizations (UNEP, UNESCO etc) are embracing the concepts, the ideas of a 'right to science' have yet to significantly filter down to smaller organizations focused on practical and operational solutions. Such organizations are still more interested in practical examples where science improves lives and livelihoods in a more direct fashion.
In any case, its all very thought-provoking reading and will certainly spawn a series of follow up posts here on sdupdate.