An Alarming Context
The 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be celebrated on 10 December 2018 at a troubling time. Serious violations are multiplying in conflict areas, targeting women and people who belong to ethnic, religious and sexual minorities in particular.
The space granted to freedoms and civil society is shrinking considerably in many countries. Even at the United Nations, some States have been questioning the primacy and universality of human rights.
Universal Human Rights
The 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides an opportunity to recall that human rights are not “values” that need to be adapted to local cultures and identities. Respecting human rights is not a political choice but a legal obligation. They are commitments with a universal scope, principles of law guaranteed by solemn declarations or legally binding treaties.
France’s Commitment to Human Rights
France is working tirelessly to defend the universality and primacy of human rights. Ensuring the respect of these rights is one of the founding principles of the French Republic and is at the core of its foreign policy. The priority for France is first to recreate a space in the law to protect human rights.
France will support the activities of the International Criminal Court in investigating crimes committed against the Rohingya – crimes that may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. France also encourages all States who have not yet done so to accede to the Rome Statute.
We also need to strengthen the space dedicated to human rights in all the areas of action of the United Nations.
The Office of the High Commissioner and the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, which France has supported since their creation, are also essential in promoting and implementing these achievements.
That is why France is putting forward a candidacy for a seat on the Human Rights Council for 2021-2023.
“We recall our commitment to the international system promoting human rights, to the power of the rule of law, and to the multilateral institutions. That is the best tribute we can pay to those who, seventy years ago, drafted a Universal Declaration amidst the ruins of a global conflict that had devastated Europe.
As we meet here today, we solemnly state that the universalist achievements of 1948 are our heritage, a ‘common good’ for humankind that we are prepared to defend and determined to foster.”
Jean-Yves Le Drian, United Nations General Assembly, 26 September 2018
History of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Human Rights Council is made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds. The Drafting Committee was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A French legal expert and committee member, René Cassin, composed the first draft of the Declaration.
In 1948, the United Nations sought to establish international cooperation to ensure the respect of fundamental freedoms. The Universal Declaration officially defines these freedoms. The main idea is that everyone can live freely provided that they respect and do not harm the freedom of others. Based on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, the 1948 text expounds on and adds certain rights: the right to work, education, culture and health. Since 1948, it has been expanded even further to cover other areas, such as women’s rights, children’s rights and forced disappearances. The 1948 Declaration also created “duties to the community” for individuals.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in Paris on 10 December 1948 (with eight abstentions and no opposition) by more than 50 States whose different ways of life and of functioning reflected the “universal” nature of the text.