Hub evidence integrated in the UN Special Rapporteur’s report on the Human Right to Science 

By Elisa Morgera

The UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Alexandra Xanthaki, has published a report on the human right to science (A/HRC/55/44), which clarifies how the human rights approach needs to apply by all actors involved in scientific research, funding and cooperation. The Rapporteur has cited four times a submission from the One Ocean Hub on access to scientific progress, which underscored the specific challenges of applying the human rights approach to ocean science, as well as transferable learnings on fair research partnerships for sustainable development. 

Key findings  

UN Special Rapporteur Xanthaki started the report by emphasising that: 

“Science has had a transformative effect on efforts to address complex and interconnected environmental, social and economic challenges for people and the planet, including poverty, access to health and education, natural resource depletion, biodiversity loss, land degradation, climate change, natural and human-made disasters and spiralling conflicts and related humanitarian crises.” (para 1). 

The report then focuses on the need for inclusive science that ensures that it benefits all of humanity. To that end, Rapporteur Xanthaki underscored that a human rights approach to science entails “non-discrimination, equality, participation and respect for cultural diversity, including scientific diversity” and “must be implemented at all levels by all actors” with a view to “continuously review[ing] and improv[ing] the understanding of what science is, its biases and blind spots, who sits at the table to decide on its direction, which scientific evidence must inform decision-making, who benefits and who suffers from scientific advancements and how to mitigate risks” (paras 2-3). 

The Rapporteur also cautioned that when public participation is not ensured, “science is currently presented in an uncritical and undisputed way as the main solution to current challenges, missing the paradox that those challenges partially result from scientific products, including the genetic modification of crops, climate change, artificial intelligence and big data.” (para 16). 

She also stressed that “[t]he cultural element of participation is often forgotten” and requires “embed[ing] in one’s own context and … integrat[ing] people and peoples with their identities, values, aspirations and resources”, so as to contribute to “community-led development” (para. 10). 

Reliance on Hub evidence 

The report cited the Hub submission four times, with respect to the following key points: 

  • fostering systemic integration and crossfertilization among the different domains of international law to find effective solutions to address the complex current challenges (with the Hub having specifically recommended the integration of international biodiversity law, the law of the sea, international climate change law and international human rights law). In that connection, the Special Rapporteur added that a “human rights-based approach helps to ensure that policies, including those designed to respond to such challenges as climate change and migration are not regressive in terms of human rights and can effectively improve the lives of all people” (para 13); 
  • making efforts to devise direct mechanisms so that Indigenous sciences are included in the formulation of public policy, always acknowledging their contribution and allowing for benefit-sharing (para 28), mentioning the importance of the Global Biodiversity Framework (para 14); 
  • expressing concern that  

“[i]nformation housed in the global North does not flow to countries of the global South. Scientific priorities and modalities tend to be determined by donors and researchers from the global North, overlooking the needs and priorities of the global South and extracting data with the help of researchers from the global South without fully enabling their equal contribution.” 

In particular, the Special Rapporteur reflected on these Global North/South equity dynamics and capacity gaps in the context of ocean science, in particular deep-sea science, with “only 10 countries in the world appear to benefit from research” (para 76); and 

  • calling for “research collaborations, mutual capacity-building between governments of the global North and global South and various other actors to ensure effective and appropriate benefits to local contexts and the co-development of technologies” (para 77). 


In concluding her report, UN Special Rapporteur Xanthaki made the following recommendations, that are particularly important also for the UN Decade for Ocean Science for Sustainable Development: 

  • States and other stakeholders should fully recognise, respect, protect and promote the right of everyone, not only professionals, to participate in science as a human right to varying modalities, without discrimination (para 88); 
  • States must revisit their policies to eradicate any exclusionary processes in defining and applying science, and foster a wide, inclusive and decolonised understanding of science (para 89); 
  • Participation in science requires education in science for all, with special measures necessary to improve the educational opportunities for vulnerable and marginalised groups (para 90). These are also key points for ocean literacies
The Special Rapporteur further indicated that States must:  
  • “Devise public science programmes that involve individuals of all sectors of the population, not only in the collection of information, but in all aspects of research, including design, development, the analysis of results and the preparation of reports”;  
  • “Remove the specific obstacles that prevent women from participating effectively in science, including stereotypes and biases”; 
  • “Take specific and special measures to ensure the effective participation of marginalised and vulnerable sectors of the population, including minorities, migrants, individuals in rural and remote areas and those living in poverty and socioeconomically deprived situations”;  
  • Ensure the free, prior informed consent and fair and equitable benefit-sharing with Indigenous Peoples in all matters relating to science that concern them (para 92); and 
  • “establish and support multiple science-policy interfaces, engaging all relevant stakeholders, including affected communities and scientific researchers from all relevant disciplines”, with the informed participation of the public (para 93). These are important considerations also for the IPBES, IPCC and World Ocean Assessment
The Special Rapporteur finally recommended that the United Nations:  
  • Request all United Nations bodies and satellite agencies to review their regulatory frameworks in line with a human rights approach to science and the right to participation in science, including the sharing of the benefits of scientific progress and emerging technology; 
  • Strengthen, through its monitoring processes, the implementation of the right to participate in science, including through core indicators and guiding questions; and 
  • Explore a proposal for a new special rapporteur on the right to science and technology, fully understood as a cultural right (para 98). 

These are important indications for the future implementation of the BBNJ Agreement, the plastics treaty and the WHO pandemics treaty, as well as for the IPBES, IPCC and World Ocean Assessment

Illustration: Margherita Brunori

Related SDGs:

  • Reduced inequality
  • Climate action
  • Life below water