The Associazione Luca Coscioni and Science for Democracy are organizing the 6th meeting of the World Congress for Freedom of Scientific Research in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 25 to 26 February 2020. The event is co-sponsored by the Commission of the African Union in the person of Sarah Mbi Enow Anyang Agbor, Commissioner for Science and Technology.
The themes at the center of the debate will be identified to contribute to the global debate on the “Right to Science”, which constitutes the object of the latest “General Comment” adopted by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Congress will therefore include speakers and round tables on the promotion of scientific culture, open access to science, vegetal biotechnologies, rare, infectious and non-transmissible diseases as well as aero-space.
Finally, particular attention will be given to the contribution that women can bring to scientific progress in general. All over the world women account for less than a third of those employed in scientific research and development. The situation presents some encouraging aspects in developing countries that need to be supported as women are less likely than men to enter a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field but more likely to leave. Furthermore, female underrepresentation in clinical trials reduces women’s opportunities to access effective treatments posing problems in terms of discrimination and full enjoyment of the right to health. Ultimately, women and girls are unable to enjoy the same opportunities than men when it comes to STEM fields.
Target participants in the World Congress will include Commissioners of the African Union concerned with Human Resources, Science and Technology, Social Affairs, Rural Economy and Agriculture; members of national executive and legislative bodies, relevant regional organizations and UN Agencies and Offices, academics and research institutes, media, civil society and non-governmental organizations with a particular focus on those that work on patients rights.
The 2020 Congress is convened a few months after the adoption of the above-mentioned General Comment on Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which will address what, for some time, has been called the “right of” and the “right to” science.
1.The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone:
(a) To take part in cultural life;
(b) To enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications;
(c) To benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for the conservation, the development and the diffusion of science and culture.
3. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity.
4. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the benefits to be derived from the encouragement and development of international contacts and co-operation in the scientific and cultural fields.
The “General Comment” will be formally adopted at the 66th session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which will take place in Geneva from 30 September to 18 October 2019. The document will serve as the basis for the United Nations to draft guidelines for Member States to report to relevant UN bodies on the respect of international obligations deriving from the ratification of the ICESCR with particular attention to all science-related aspects.
The interaction between science, the scientific method, evidence-based debates and the decision-making process in full respect of the international Rule of Law has always been at the center of the five meetings of the World Congress organized since 2004 at the Italian and European Parliament by the Associazione Luca Coscioni.
The Addis Congress will explain the ramifications the “right of” and the “right to” science on a variety of topics that are becoming crucial for African countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030, arguing that international legality will need to take into structural consideration all issues related to scientific evidence when policy decisions are taken, stressing the need to educate the general public on the ways in which science works through the verification, duplication, and falsification of research. All SDGs would greatly benefit from investments in research and technology to strengthen science and innovation in the developing world.
The decision to organize the 6th session of the World Congress in Africa was taken at the European Parliament in Brussels in April 2018 at the end of the 5th meeting, when it was decided that the next “[…] World Congress meeting […] should take place in a developing country that is struggling to establish or reinforce its democratic institutions, the Rule of Law and that is promoting and protecting scientific progress”.
In several recent AU-sponsored meetings science has been hailed as one of the resources that should be made increasingly available to the African continent both in terms of investments and policies that can allow its use in line with the Agenda 2063 launched to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the African Union.
The declaration outlining the agenda marked the re-dedication of Africa towards the attainment of the African vision of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena” to be achieved as a continental endeavor by 2063.
The agenda of the Addis Congress is in discussion with the African Union. It will include a general presentation on “science as a human right” that will be elaborated in various fields from increasing quality education, including open access to scientific literature, to new breeding techniques, from palliative care to family planning to aerospace projects. Other issues addressed will be global warming, information technology, Artificial Intelligence, as well as the role of women both concerning their reproductive rights and their underrepresentation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) fields.
Among the confirmed scientific keynote speakers Professor Richard J. Roberts 1993, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and Professor Michele De Luca, Director, Centre for Regenerative Medicine “Stefano Ferrari”, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy.
The preparation of the event will allow the organization of several thematic meetings to address national issues: a first seminar entitled “Advancing Knowledge-led Development Through The Right to Science in Africa” will take place at the Law Faculty of the Addis Ababa University, on 11 November 2019.