The social and ethical dimensions of science and technology are central to UNESCO’s mandate, with a priority concern for the most vulnerable segments of society. 

In this regard, bioethics identifies and addresses the ethical dilemmas that scientific advances and their application may pose to the integrity and rights of human beings and communities, both for present and future generations. 

In this context, through the bioethics program, UNESCO continues to provide capacity-building to Member States, promoting international standards in bioethics, including UNESCO’s normative instruments. 

The Organization continues to support the development of national policies in this domain through the establishment of national bioethics committees, and through education, professional training and awareness- raising using the media. IGBC, IBC and COMEST will support the development of ethical frameworks to support science for social inclusion and sustainable development. 

With respect to environmental, legal and social dimensions of ethics, UNESCO builds on the established strengths of its programmess of bioethics, science ethics, ethics of nanotechnologies and environmental ethics while working towards a more integrated and comprehensive vision that better reflects accelerating patterns of scientific and technological convergence. 

UNESCO therefore promotes and reflects on the ethical principles that govern science and its applications, through instruments such as the 2005 Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights and the 1974 Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers; supports national policies to give substance to them, through mechanisms such as the establishment of National Bioethics Committees; and seeks to embed them in routine scientific practice through education, professional training and awareness-raising.


Recently implemented activities:

  • Regional conference on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), bioethics and ethics research 17-18 October 2017, Gaborone, Botswana

SADC Senior Officials responsible for Education and Training, Science, Technology, and Innovation requested UNESCO to support the development of bioethics in the SADC region. It is in response to this request ROSA along with its regional counterparts in East Africa; the Botswana’s Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science, and Technology; and the University of Botswana organised the 2017 regional conference on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), bioethics and ethics research from 17-18 October 2017 in Gaborone, Botswana. The conference sought to review the status of bioethics, ethics education and research to prepare a solid foundation for strengthening bioethics engagement in Africa. It covered several themes including bioethics and SDGs; issues concerning medical and biological research; environmental ethics; the state of ethics research; and improving the bioethics infrastructure in Africa. The participants came up with an outcome document that identified several priority action points including:

  • advocating for the teaching of bioethics and research ethics in higher learning institutions;
  • ameliorating the ethics oversight and review capacity of National Bioethics Committees in the region;
  • establishing National Bioethics Committees in East and Southern African countries; and
  • establishing a South-South network of Bioethics researchers, scholars, and institutions to promote global cooperation and exchange. 
  • Capacity Building Workshop on Bioethics, 1-2 June 2017, Windhoek, Namibia

A two-day workshop Capacity Building Workshop on Bioethics was held at the Namibian Institute of Public Administration and Management (NIPAM) in Windhoek, Namibia. The workshop sought to create a critical mass of researchers, academics and health practitioners/managers knowledgeable on contemporary issues of bioethics. It also put in place a Working Group that will to work on the establishment of a National Bioethics Committee in Namibia.

  • National Bioethics Committee Training, 22-26 May 2017, Lilongwe, Malawi

Malawi, as a UNESCO Member State, established the National Committee on Bioethics (NACOB) through the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST). The second training of the National Bioethics Committee in Malawi took place in Lilongwe, Malawi, from 22 to 26 May 2017. This training focused on spearheading the development, review and assessment of national policies, procedures, guidelines, regulations and standards within the research and development enterprise pertaining to bioethics. It was aimed at fostering debate, public awareness, engagement and consciousness in matters of bioethics at national level.

  • Developing a manual on training of journalists on bioethics 2017-2018 

UNESCO started developing a manual on training of journalists on bioethics in collaboration with University of Namibia. Subsequently, UNESCO will organize a series of trainings in Southern Africa in collaboration with UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa.

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