France Human Rights Policy
Human rights hold special historical significance for France. The French tradition of commitment to human rights stems from the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 26 August 1789. France was one of the first nations to draft a declaration proclaiming human rights. When the General Assembly of the United Nations met at the Chaillot Palace in Paris in 1948, it adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of the main drafters of the Declaration was René Cassin, a great French legal expert and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who served as the President of United Nations Human Rights Commission and the European Court of Human Rights. France has since participated in the drafting of most of the international doctrines and instruments dealing with human rights. In the spirit of Vienna in 1993, France considers that the promotion and protection of all human rights are a matter of legitimate concern for the international community and it attaches the same importance to civil and political rights as to economic, social and cultural rights.
France is a party to virtually all of the treaties drafted by the United Nations to promote and protect human rights and it calls for their universal ratification. It is an active participant in the framing of new protection rules. It advocates a new international instrument against ‘enforced disappearances’ and a Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. France and Germany also advocate a United Nations convention to ban the reproductive cloning of human beings. It has proposed a UNESCO declaration on bioethics that could provide a future framework for specific instruments drafted to deal with developments in medical techniques. France has been a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission since it was set up in 1947 almost without interruption. It has been a driving force on the Commission, on its own and as part of the EU. It periodically proposes resolutions on arbitrary detention, ‘enforced disappearances’, extreme poverty, bioethics, child soldiers and, in conjunction with its European partners, on capital punishment, children’s rights and the situation in various countries.
France’s diplomats are committed to action based on these instruments in its multilateral and bilateral relations to fight violations of human rights wherever they occur. It feels that the Security Council should take up serious human rights violations that threaten international peace and security. It advocates greater assistance for countries that are committed to promoting human rights. For this purpose, it has carried out joint cooperation actions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in certain countries since 2002. France feels that impunity must be fought to prevent further violations. Therefore it supported the Security Council’s decisions to set of international criminal tribunals to try cases of crimes against humanity and genocide in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. It also supports the creation of special courts with the help of the United Nations in certain post-conflict situations in countries such as Sierra Leone and Cambodia. France contributed to the creation of the International Criminal Court and was one of the first countries to ratify its statute. The entry into force of this statute on 1 July 2002 marked one of the most important advances in international law. War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide can now be punished. France is working to make the Court’s statute universal.
In Europe, France was one of the founding members of the Council of Europe, which has made its home in Strasbourg since 1949. Strasbourg is also the seat of the European Court of Human Rights, which ensures compliance with the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. France ratified the Convention and joined the mechanism that allows individual application for alleged breaches of the Convention and its Protocols. France’s international action to support human rights is in line with the EU’s foreign policy. The EU started a dialogue on human rights with China, and later, with Iran. All of the trade and cooperation agreements that the EU makes with other countries now contain clauses that make them dependent on compliance with minimum standards. France supports the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights proclaimed in Nice in December 2000 into the future European Constitution. Similarly, France has worked to include such clauses, including clauses on minority rights, in the cooperation undertaken within the OSCE framework.
In France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man is part of the Constitution. International human rights agreements prevail over national legislation and, in many cases, individuals can invoke these rights directly in court proceedings. The volume of national legislation on human rights is further testimony to the importance that France places on respecting these rights. Back in 1947, the French government set up a National Consultative Commission of Human Rights (CNCDH), which submits a report on the fight against racism to the Prime Minister each year. It also awards the ‘French Republic Human Rights Prize’ each year to leading figures from all over the world. The CNCDH advocates the creation of similar institutions in other countries, especially those where French is spoken. The guiding principles for the status and powers of such institutions were adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in Paris in 1993.