UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science in the Arab States co-organizes a Regional consultation on “Ethics in Scientific Research and Technology Applications in the Arab Region”

 On 11-12 July 2017, UNESCO Regional Offices in Cairo and Beirut partnered with the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO (LNCU), the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS-L), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology in Egypt (ASRT), in organizing a Regional consultation on “Ethics in Scientific Research and Technology Applications in the Arab Region”, in Beirut.

In recent years, Arab countries have shown an increasing interest in the ethical dimension of scientific research. In fact, scientific research and technology applications intersect with society in many ways; they often bring about societal impacts that raise ethical dilemmas. Appropriate and innovative strategies, tools, more inter-disciplinarity and coordination among stakeholders are needed at the institutional, national and regional levels to promote reflection and debate on ethical issues in science and technology, raise awareness among specialists and the general public, educate researchers, and ensure scientific research and technological applications are respectful of human dignity and freedom.

Recognizing the above need, Arab countries have sought to set up national ethics committees, and develop national standards, codes and legislations in the field. For example, in 2016, the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS) partnered with the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO, the National Advisory Committee on Ethics in Biology and Health, and a number of scientific and academic institutions, to prepare the National Charter of Ethics and Guiding Principles of Scientific Research in Lebanon. In Egypt, led by a presidential initiative, a National Committee was established under the auspices of the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT) to study the ethical implications, including those related to the environment, of large-scale projects such as the phase II of the Suez Canal project, the Sinai Peninsula development projects and others. Responding to the growing trend that many social and development research are conducted beyond university boundaries, the Arab Council Social Sciences (ACSS) produced guidelines on Research ethics in social sciences.

Against this backdrop, UNESCO organized the Regional consultation on Ethics in Scientific Research and Technology Applications in the Arab Region, in Beirut, in order to discuss the development of an Arab regional charter for scientific research that builds on existing national experiences. The meeting was held under the patronage of Lebanon’s Minister of Education and Higher Education, Mr Marwan Hamadeh, and with the presence and contribution of HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, President of Jordan’s Royal Scientific Society, and an advocate of science as a catalyst for change in the Arab world. It brought together around 50 ethics experts from 10 Arab countries, including high-level representatives of universities, research institutions and research councils from the region.

Participants at the meeting agreed about the need for an Arab charter of ethics for scientific research in the Arab region to improve the quality of research activities in the region. UNESCO will work with regional partners to advance such a regional document.

The Opening Ceremony

In the opening ceremony, Mr Marwan Hamadeh praised the effort of the organizers stating that: “It is crucial to call for a meeting on ethics at a time where transparency, integrity, and objectivity seem to have disappeared or become obsolete in most of the governments of the Arab countries”. He continued: “This meeting is highly important because it can provide all of us – national institutions, international and regional organizations, and policymakers –with ideas and tools to ensure that scientific research abides by certain regulations, and thus serves humanity”. Hamadeh stressed that “the Arab world is faced not only with an ethical crisis, but also with a societal crisis that translates into lack of respect for human rights and universal principles”, and encouraged the panelists and participants to imagine ways to save the region from obscurantism and violence, while advancing a culture of peace, human values, and ethics.

Dr Henri Awit, President of the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO, emphasized UNESCO’s role in promoting a balance between science and respect for ethics and human rights, through various publications and international conferences. Awit stated that: “Reports by regional and international organizations, in particular UNESCO Science Report towards 2030, show that in this region, there is a need to promote scientific research, to strive for the publication of its results in the most prestigious journals, to stimulate and give incentives for researchers to work diligently. These reports also show that rigorous scientific research has profound social impact, and those who conduct it bear important moral responsibilities. Hence the need for this regional consultation that reminds us of the principles and values that should guide research, and of the ethical standards to be respected, and above all of the principles of impartiality, objectivity and integrity, which should be at the core of any scientific work to ensure that science advances humanity”. Awit stressed the “consultative” character of this event and urged the panelists and the participants to ask the real questions and discuss openly the real issues.

Dr Mouin Hamzeh, Director of CNRS-L, emphasized the role of science in advancing the Arab region. He asserted that: “Scientists have a central role in bringing about change; the great transformations in the history of mankind were the result of scientific discoveries. Science, no matter how abstract it is, cannot be stripped of its human dimensions”. He added: “Despite the tragedies affecting Arab countries and the destructive role technologies play in the wars of the region, we believe that peace can only be achieved through good governance, the adoption of scientific rationality in human relations, and the reliance on science and technology to achieve social security”. Hamze also mentioned the efforts made in Lebanon to promote science at the service of humanity. He pointed to the value of the “Lebanese Charter of Ethics in Scientific Research” drafted by CNRS and indicated that “the Charter contributes to defining a clear framework and setting guidelines for researchers”, thus advancing ethics in scientific research.

As to Dr Fouad Mrad, director of the ESCWA Technology Centre, he called on researchers and innovators to always ask themselves about the appropriateness and responsibility of their productions to their families and communities. Mrad emphasized that the “UN Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2030” aims to achieve human dignity and ensure a decent life for individuals, partly through “harnessing technology and science, and guaranteeing the right of people to have access to correct, accurate, scientific information”. He stated that one of the main goals of ESCWA Technology Center is “to ensure that scientific research and innovation follow the principles of good governance, and that ethics in scientific research and technology application be integrated into educational material and given enough attention in national educational policies and development plans”.

Finally, Dr Ghaith Fariz, director of UNESCO Cairo, stressed the importance of developing a comprehensive and unified Arab Charter for the ethics of scientific research and technological applications reflecting the needs of Arab societies and agreed by all countries in the region. “We are meeting to exchange expertise and gain good advice in this field in order to enhance ethics in scientific research in the Arab region,” he said. “As a Regional Bureau for Science in Arab States, UNESCO Cairo is seeking to enhance science, technology and innovation systems in the Arab region, and to promote knowledge as a lever for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”.

The two-day conference included 4 panels : the first one, titled “From national to regional approach to research ethics”, presented an overview of different research ethics tools developed nationally or at the institutional level, and which can represent a regional approach to research ethics; the second, titled “Research ethics and inter-disciplinarity to address societal challenges”, highlighted the contribution that various disciplines could bring into a prospective regional research ethics tool; the third one, titled “Ethics, Higher Education, Technology and Innovation”, aimed at identifying elements of an ethical framework that is best suited for promoting quality in higher education and advancing humanistic technologies and innovation in the Arab region. Finally, the last session presented a summary and the recommendations of the regional consultation. 

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