Academics urged to do more on human rights

A leading activist has called on the academic community to do far more “to help promote and defend human rights”.

Human Rights

Carol Corillon, who has directed the Committee on Human Rights in the United States since 1984, said such action was necessary given academics’ position “as scientists, as supporters of science, and as people of conscience”.

She was speaking at Gresham College in London on 9 December as part of a series of events celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.

Her committee, she explained, was a joint initiative of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, and has intervened in many countries in support of persecuted scientific colleagues.

These included, for example, “engineers who expose shoddy school construction that has led to deaths of young children”, “forensic anthropologists who are exhuming the bodies of those who disappeared during dictatorships” and “statisticians who have published figures at odds with rosy-coloured government statistics”.

Their campaigns had led Ms Corillon and her committee into some dramatic situations in places such as Chile, India, Somalia and Turkey.

She gave an example of a mission to Guatemala in 1992, where a meeting with a general “widely believed to be involved in torture, disappearances and murders” was interrupted by the sudden appearance of two men swinging past the window. To this day, she is unsure whether they were “the general’s bodyguard, would-be assassins or simply window washers with a dangerous sense of timing”.

Yet, despite the inevitable setbacks, Ms Corillon was clear that the committee’s “appeals and statements of concern have led to changes in policy…One lesson is that even dictatorial and capricious leaders want to look good” – and can often respond favourably when people “appeal to their egos and vanity, approach them as if they are humanitarians”.

In another event as part of Cara’s anniversary, Jeremy Seabrook will be speaking at the London’s Weiner Library at 1pm on 12 December about “Britain’s attitude towards academic refugees”. 

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Man measuring bar graphs with tape measure

An Elsevier analysis explores the viability of a ‘smarter and cheaper’ model

  • David Willetts

The former universities minister discusses the reforms that reshaped higher education and his first steps into academia

  • Man holding a box filled with work-related items

Refusal by John Allen to obey instruction from manager at Queen Mary University of London led to his sacking, tribunal rules

  • A black and white crowd scene with a few people highlighted

What are the key issues local union branches are dealing with, and how do they manage relationships with institutions in what many activists argue is an increasingly confrontational environment?

  • Muslim woman at graduation ceremony, Barbican, London

Sector called on to embrace faith-related concerns in intellectual debates