Conference on Freedom of Thought

The Russell Tribunal on Human Rights in Psychiatry


The Mind Challenges Genes

Berlin, 30 June 2001

Message from Mary Robinson
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." Yet we all know a divide remains between this and the other solemn commitments made in the Universal Declaration and the reality of human rights in every part of the world.

Often it is those regarded as "different" - minorities, the disabled, people of diverse faiths or backgrounds - whose fundamental rights are most at risk. The United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 7 September 2001, offers the opportunity to reaffirm with new force that while each of us is a unique individual, shaped both by nature and nurture, we are equal in dignity and rights.

I am pleased that this conference on Freedom of Thought will consider these issues and will focus on the fields of psychiatry and biotechnology. The advances that are taking place in these fields are extraordinary - they hold out the promise of further improvements in our quality of life but also raise fundamental issues of human rights. It is clear that professionals in the life sciences have critical roles to play, not only in protecting the rights of those receiving psychiatric and other forms of health care but also in the wise use of biotechnological knowledge for this and future generations.

The Durban Conference provides the international community with the occasion to embrace the diversity of humanity and encourages us in the full exercise of all its inventive, creative and moral capacities, enhanced by the equal participation of men and women. I commend all of you who are working towards achieving the goal of equality and justice for all people and extend my best wishes for a successful conference.