Statement Commemorating International Human Rights Day

Ralph J. Cicerone, President, National Academy of Sciences
Wm. A. Wulf, President, National Academy of Engineering
and Harvey Fineberg, President, Institute of Medicine

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the
individual who can labor in freedom.
Albert Einstein, 'Out of My Later Years,' 1950

Dec. 10, 2005

As the world celebrates the 57th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we at the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine are reminded of the importance of this remarkable document to people the world over, and to future generations. The rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration -- such as nondiscrimination; freedom of movement and association; right to education and asylum; freedom of thought, opinion, and expression; and protection of moral and material interests of authors of scientific works -- are of particular significance to scientists, engineers, and health professionals in the conduct of their work. We join in the celebration of these rights and this day.

In addition to setting out rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls on every person to help promote and defend those rights -- for ourselves and our fellow human beings. For many years, the National Academies have actively promoted these rights and defended our colleagues around the world who have become victims of severe repression. Since 1976, our Committee on Human Rights, whose work is grounded in the Declaration, has come to the defense of more than 1,120 unjustly detained or imprisoned colleagues; currently it is working privately on more than 150 cases in 18 countries, including the United States. Many of our members actively support the Committee by responding to its Action Alerts and taking other initiatives to help colleagues who are prisoners of conscience.

In addition, the National Academies have provided substantial financial and moral support to the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies, a group of nearly half of the world's national academies that works to address issues of science and human rights. We have had the honor of hosting this Network's secretariat since its creation in 1993. In 2004, through this Network, the Council of the National Academy of Sciences endorsed and has subsequently helped to establish the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, which is working to revive, foster, and fund scientific and scholarly endeavors by Palestinian and Israeli researchers working together in the region. By advancing scientific knowledge in this region, we hope to promote economic growth and chances for lasting peace. For further information on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the human rights activities of the National Academies, see: