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Newsletter 10
The quarterly SHS Newsletter provides information on the work of UNESCO in the field of social and human sciences.
Human Rights at the heart of UNESCO programming – September-November 2005 (English | Français | Русский)
Newsletter 10 Human Rights are central to the very origins of UNESCO. They were massively violated in the tragic backdrop to the Organization’s emergence, and universal respect for them is the ultimate goal set for it by Article 1 of its Constitution, which was adopted in London on 16 November 1945. What, then, does it mean, as UNESCO reflects on 60 years of its history and draws lessons for its future, to give human rights a “priority” that they have supposedly always had?

The main issue is not the failure always to respect the rights proclaimed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which UNESCO’s Constitution refers. The problem is rather that such rights have not always – perhaps not often – been taken seriously.

It is a particular challenge for the Social and Human Sciences Sector to take human rights seriously, along with all they imply. For there are two rather predictable pitfalls in the objectives set by the Constitution that relate specifically to its work: to maintain, increase and diffuse knowledge; and to encourage intellectual cooperation among nations.

First of all, knowledge may come to be seen as a self-sufficient goal, addressed to specialized communities. No doubt such communities must respect human rights in their scientific work, but they need not directly promote them.

Secondly, knowledge may serve to justify forms of action in which human rights appear, at best, as a constraint, but not as a goal. To think of development, for instance, as a quantitative objective to be pursued within the bounds of human rights is not to take human rights seriously. Quite naturally, and perhaps in perfectly good faith, such a view leads one to consider whether it might be expedient to restrict human rights (just a little) as a quid pro quo for faster development. In other words, such a view detracts from the universality of human rights and the equal dignity of all those who bear them.

UNESCO’s mission may similarly be diluted with respect to intellectual cooperation. There is no suggestion that such cooperation should be restricted to scientists or intellectuals. On the contrary, the Constitution refers specifically to nations and people. Nonetheless, while the modalities of “professional” intellectual cooperation are by now well established, a form of cooperation reflective of the universal character of human rights and the aspiration to knowledge is not yet even on the drawing board.

It is hardly necessary to point out that many traces of both retreat into the ivory tower and paternalistic utilitarianism are perceptible in the history of the social and human sciences at UNESCO. In order to guard against such temptations, it is important to reaffirm a basic principle: the social and human sciences are not owned by those who make their living from them, any more than human rights are owned by those who proclaim them. Putting human rights at the heart of the future work of the Sector means thinking of science in terms of action and of action for the benefit of all. What matters, above all, is to write this dual concern into every programme, every action, and every activity.

Pierre Sané
Assistant Director-General
for Social and Human Sciences

p. 3 Ethics Bioethics on the agenda of the General Conference • "Bioethics Days" in West and Central Africa • Ethics Teaching • Ethics and Nanotechnology / p. 5 Interview Zahira Kamal, also available in HTML format / p. 10 UNESCO SHS Prize The 2005 UNESCO Prize for Architecture • The 2005 Prize for Landscape Architecture / p. 11 Social Transformations Together with Migrants in Mongolia • "Growing Up in Cities" in Canada and the United States • MOST Intergovernmental Council elections / p. 14 Special Section – 60 years of UNESCO / p. 20 Human Sciences World Philosophy Day • Building a Portuguese language virtual campus • Natural disasters – the need for forecasting / p.22 Dossier: Human Rights The human rights-based approach to development / Human Rights The coalition of cities against racism goes global • West Africa – Project for Peace / p. 30 Just published / p. 32 NewsCalendar

Click here to download the SHS Newsletter in PDF format.
Periodical Name Newsletter
Publication date 2005-09
Publisher UNESCO
Publication Location Paris
Number of pages 32 p.

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