Human Rights Are the First to Benefit from Freedom of Research

Heidi Hautala addressed “Human Rights and Freedom of Research” seminar in House of Science and Letters in Finland on 14th of January. In her opening remarks she emphasised the need to ensure access to information and ability to analyse data without fear of repercussions. [:]


Please see her address below in full;



Dear colleagues, dear friends, 

I am very happy to have been asked to open this “Human rights and freedom of research” seminar, here in the House of Science and Letters today.


While the issue of human rights and freedom of research might not be in the frontline of the global human rights debate of the moment, once one looks deeper into the issue, it cuts across all the major topics.


Free discourse and strenuous scholarship hold the keys to progress and justice.




In introducing the discussion today I would like to touch upon different facets of the issue of human rights and research.



Firstly, accumulating knowledge and exchanging information in any society is however a complex issue.


For example, not all the information is advisable to be shared, not all views are helpful to be exposed. While we must be mindful of such concerns, we must be careful to think who has the right to judge where the access to data and its publication ends. Before vulnerable data is opened to everybody there should be thorough research made by scholars and experts.


What I have advocated several times is in the past is more communication amongst the research communities, scientists and the wider public. Great ideas are born when creative, different minds come together. The success of such ideas is guaranteed only when they are owned by the people.


I have had excellent discussions about this with the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation during my first year in charge of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights.



Secondly, to understand the challenge the freedom to study, analyze and research today we must understand the challenges of studying, analyzing and researching data in the past.


If we do not know of the past challenges, hindrances, obstruction, manipulation and politicisation of research, we cannot learn how to avoid it now.


Access to information about past crimes helps to prevent them in the future. Information about persecution helps to build safety guards against it later on. Victims of past abuses can repair their lives only once truth has been told.


Responsibility to handle such information is shared by many, academics, researchers, politicians. Data and historic facts must also be scrutinised by many rather than few, to ensure inclusive interpretation.



Thirdly, while there are many areas of focus for this discussion I would like to emphasize the one that I have encountered most frequently. The free discourse over science and research is the absolute precondition to fight prejudice, stagnation and oppression.


Let me give you an example, the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis in Russia, is an independent institution for research and analysis of sociological research on nationalism and racism in modern Russia.


According to their studies, preliminary data for the year 2010 show that in Russia racially motivated attacks resulted in the deaths of 37 people, with 368 injured. Rightwing and xenophobic groups have played a big part in these unrests.


SOVA Center has also learned that in 2010, the Federal List of Extremist Materials was updated 27 times, totalling now in 748 entries. The List of Extremist Organizations was also updated in 2010, totalling now in 18 organisations.


Moreover, this kind of lists are reinforced by a specific extremism law. The scope of extremist activities is undefined and such charges are imposed with unpredictability and arbitrariness. For the authorities, these laws are the catch all clauses of all inconvenient truths.


While academics and political scientists can find this information most useful in our analysis of any state, institutions such as the SOVA Center face many challenges to stay in operation.


Similarly were the lawyers of Khodorkovsky under pressure to compromise their rigorous standards of jurisprudence. Careful legal analysis of the judgment in this case will neither be possible for the researchers. Research into the conduct of the trial by the court and prosecution would not be allowed.


In a situation where the people have been agitated against each other, law outlaws itself and colleagues discussing the situation has become a crime, importance of independent lawyers, researchers and the functioning of institutions such as SOVA increases. Otherwise, abuse reigns free and persecution dominates.


Dear colleagues, the issues such as xenophobia and arbitrariness must be seen as solid evidence of the intentional closing of the space for free scrutiny, analysis and critical discourse over political science, statistical research, domestic jurisprudence and academic freedom. It must be treated as such.




Today, the question of freedom of research and analysis is of a global scale. In my work as the Chairwoman of the European Parliament Subcommittee of Human Rights I have encountered many representatives of the state who deem it necessary to imprison their own citizens who ask too many questions.


Human Rights Lawyers have been locked up and new repressive laws passed in droves again during in 2010.


Asking questions over state abuse and making analysis of hate-crimes, for example, can land you in jail in surprisingly many countries.


For example, in Syria Human Rights Lawyer Haitham al-Maleh has received a prison sentence for weakening nationalist sentiments, in Iran Human Rights Defender Emad Baghi was detained under charges of propaganda against the Islamic establishment and in Tunisia new criminal law prohibits harming the country’s “economic security” which, according to the Justice and Human Rights Minister means also of “inciting foreign parties not to grant loans to Tunisia, not to invest in the country, to boycott tourism or to sabotage Tunisia’s efforts to obtain advanced partner status with the European Union”.


What I also hope would be raised here today are the new developments in science and technology which have been in the forefront of this battle. In Iran people found a new way to share information and expose abuses via twitter and other social media. While this offered for them ways to protect themselves, the authorities were quick to break into the confidential communication and crack down on the people. Too many died.


While it is not for the technology to resolve encroach of tyranny, it can assist the freedom movement in unprecedented way.




Let me tell you, I can see couple of trends developing here. Firstly, it is almost as if these despots compare notes on methods of oppression, so similar are they in many different corners of world. Secondly, there is certainly a tendency to legalise the human rights violations by the state authorities in this way.




Dear colleagues, for this reason our discussion is most timely.


Unchained speech and freedom to think is under threat all over the world. Let me emphasise, many countries have suffered setbacks in rule of law in 2010; democracy appears to be on the global retreat.




Colleagues, when people exercise their right to research, analyse and share information, they are exercising their fundamental rights. Certain rights are fundamental because they are inalienable and inherent in all human beings. Such rights are the organic root of a society that is free, fair and transparent.


With these thoughts, I invite the distinguished speakers continue from here. I look forward to hearing for your views and I hope we will be able to develop some fruitful ideas today here together.