Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 869–875 | Cite as

Human Rights and the Challenges of Science and Technology

Commentary on Meier et al. “Translating the Human Right to Water and Sanitation into Public Policy Reform” and Hall et al. “The Human Right to Water: The Importance of Domestic and Productive Water Rights”
  • Stephen P. MarksEmail author


The expansion of the corpus of international human rights to include the right to water and sanitation has implications both for the process of recognizing human rights and for future developments in the relationships between technology, engineering and human rights. Concerns with threats to human rights resulting from developments in science and technology were expressed in the early days of the United Nations (UN), along with the recognition of the ambitious human right of everyone “to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications.” This comment explores the hypothesis that the emerging concepts most likely to follow recognition of the human right to water primarily involve issues of science and technology, such as access to medicines or clean and healthy environment. Many threats to human rights from advances in science, which were identified in the past as potential, have become real today, such as invasion of privacy from electronic recording, deprivation of health and livelihood as a result of climate change, or control over individual autonomy through advances in genetics and neuroscience. This comment concludes by urging greater engagement of scientists and engineers, in partnership with human rights specialists, in translating normative pronouncements into defining policy and planning interventions.


Human rights Human right to science Misuse of science UNESCO International Bioethics Committee Human Rights Council 



The author wishes to thank Jessica Wyndham and Natalie Gyenes for their assistance and suggestions in developing this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Program on Human Rights in Development, Department of Global Health and PopulationHarvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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