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Human Rights

"France wants to set an example, not to teach others a lesson but because it’s our history, our message. Setting an example in promoting fundamental freedoms is our battle and a matter of honour for us.

That is why France will remain at the forefront of all these struggles: for the abolition of the death penalty, for women’s right to equality and dignity, for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, which cannot be seen as a crime but – on the contrary – as the recognition of an orientation, and we will continue to fight for the protection of civilians."

François Hollande, President of the French Republic,
Opening debate of the General Assembly of the United Nations, 25 September 2012

Human rights are defined as the inalienable rights of all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status, and encompass many thematic issues.

The protection of human rights is central to the work of the United Nations which reaffirms that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated (United Nations World Conference , Vienna, 14 – 25 June 1993).

(60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - "Sketching human rights cartoon exhibit" - Bruno Liberati)

1. Main UN conventions on Human Rights Retour à la table des matières

On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Inspired by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, this declaration sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms of all human beings and proclaims that human rights are the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” The UDHR represents the first global statement of the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings.

The UDHR has considerable symbolic value and lays the foundation for more than 80 normative instruments relative to human rights, which are therefore binding for the States that have ratified them.

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Eleanor Roosevelt holding a Declaration of Human Rights poster - UN Photo - November 1949

On 16 December 1966, the General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These two covenants expanded many of the articles of the UDHR. Together with the UDHR, they constitute the International Bill of Human Rights.

The other major conventions on Human Rights are:

— International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
— Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)
— Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) and Optional Protocol
— Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
— International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990)
— Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006)
— International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2010)

Some committees of experts monitor implementation of these treaties. They examine the reports submitted by the States and issue recommendations regarding the incorporation into domestic law of the convention for which they are responsible. They can also examine individual complaints from persons who believe that their rights have been violated. For instance, the Human Rights Committee monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties

2. Bodies in charge of the protection of human rights at the UN Retour à la table des matières

A. UN mechanisms for protecting human rights

General Assembly

The General Assembly is the main deliberative organ of the UN. It is composed of committees and its work focuses on several areas, including human rights. It originates the conventions and texts that constitute the main body of norms with respect to human rights within the UN.

The General Assembly Third Committee deals specifically with issues related to human rights. As such, every year during its regular session it adopts a set of thematic resolutions or resolutions that address the human rights situation of a particular country. This committee also submits draft international conventions to the General Assembly.

Human Rights Council (HRC)

The Human Rights Council was created by the General Assembly on 15 March 2006 and replaces the Commission on Human Rights. It has its headquarters in Geneva and is made up of 47 States elected directly and individually by secret ballot and by the majority of the members of the General Assembly for three years. Members of the Council are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

France, which committed itself to supporting its creation, has been a member from 2006 to 2011. On 12 November 2013, France was elected for another term from 2013 to 2016. (Find out more about France’s candidacy).

The Human Rights Council is mandated with “promoting the universal respect and defense of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms” and with examining their violations. To this end, it has several mechanisms:

— The Council holds at least three sessions per year during which it adopts resolutions on the topic of human rights

— It also assesses the human rights situation in the Member States of the UN through the Universal Periodic Review. Established in 2008, this new process makes it possible to conduct a systematic review of the human rights situation every 4 years. The review is carried out by three country rapporteurs (troika) selected at random, and is based on information from the country, civil society and experts (NGOs, national human rights institutions) as well as the UN expert mechanisms such as the treaty-based committees (see below). The members of the HRC form a working group to determine if the country under investigation is complying with its international obligations and is implementing the recommendations of the UN organs. Following the review, the HRC is able to make recommendations and decide on the actions aimed at providing technical assistance, in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

— The Council has an Advisory Committee which functions as a think-tank for the Council, providing it with expertise and advice on thematic issues pertaining to human rights.

— The Complaint Procedure also enables individuals and organizations to inform the HCR of human rights violations

— Lastly, the Council established mechanisms called UN Special Procedures. The special procedures system involves an expert who is responsible for specific country situations or thematic issues. These Special Rapporteurs provide periodic reports on their work to the Human Rights Council, notably following country visits at the invitation of the countries concerned. As of 1 December 2012, there were 12 country mandates and 36 thematic mandates. (See OHCHR page on Special procedures).

The Human Rights Council is holding its twelfth session - UN Photo/Jess Hoffman - 15 September 2009

Security Council

The Security Council’s main role is peacekeeping and international security. Its activities associated with the respect and promotion of human rights have expanded due to the link between conflicts and human rights violations. This human rights component is present both in the thematic and country-specific Security Council resolutions. This is also the case with respect to the resolutions relative to the protection of civilians, children and women in armed conflict (see section on Work of the Security Council on “Women, peace and security” on our Women’s rights page). It is also incorporated into the mandates of the peacekeeping operations. Six PKOs now include the promotion and protection of human rights in their mandates (MONUSCO, UNAMA, UNMIK, UNMIL, UNMISS and UNOCI).

Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

ECOSOC is the principle organ responsible for coordinating the UN’s economic and social activities. It is responsible in particular for promoting the universal respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. To this end, it establishes the subsidiary organs (technical and regional commissions, permanent and ad hoc committees, groups of experts, etc.) needed to implement its objectives. This is the case for example for:

- the Commission on the Status of Women
- the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
- the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

B - The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

A United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was created at the 1993 United Nations World Conference in order to promote international cooperation with a view to protecting human rights. This office is tasked with coordinating the human rights-related activities for the whole of the United Nations and leads the efforts to incorporate a human rights perspective into all activities carried out by the United Nations organizations.

OHCHR also provides assistance to Governments to help them implement international human rights standards.

OHCHR is the secretariat of the Human Rights Council, the treaty-based bodies and the experts of the Special procedures.

Since 2008, the High Commissioner for Human Rights is Ms. Navanethem Pillay.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights- Palais Wilson - Geneva, Switzerland

3 . France and Human Rights Retour à la table des matières

French diplomacy sets out to fight - by means of its actions, in multilateral forums and in the context of its bilateral relations - human rights violations wherever they are committed. France considers that the Security Council has a duty to handle serious human rights violations that threaten international peace and security. Considering the fight against impunity essential in preventing new atrocities, France supported the establishment by the Security Council of international criminal courts tasked with prosecuting the perpetrators of crimes against humanity or acts of genocide committed on the territories of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as the establishment, with the help of the United Nations, of special courts for certain post-conflict situations (Sierra Leone, Cambodia). France contributed to the establishment of the International Criminal Court and was one of the first States to sign and ratify the Rome Statute (see page on International Criminal Jurisdictions).

France and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human rights have special historical significance for France. France’s traditional attachment to human rights originated in the 18th century with the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 26 August 1789.

In 1946, the Economic and Social Council of the UN set up a “Commission on Human Rights.” The French government appointed René Cassin, a leading French jurist who was president of the UN Commission on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, and a Nobel Peace Prizewinner. The new Commission set up an Editorial Committee to prepare a draft declaration.

The Commission on Human Rights produced a draft declaration in July 1948. The UN General Assembly examined it on 28 August. The debates were, for the most part, complex. France had the title “Universal” Declaration of Human Rights adopted, and ensured that the right to nationality and the general rights of intellectuals were included in the declaration. It did not however manage to have the right of intervention by the United Nations on behalf of stateless people and asylum seekers adopted.

The UN General Assembly, which met in session in Paris the same year, adopted the Declaration on 10 December 1948, all the members of the organization having agreed to it, with the exception of the USSR, the Eastern European states, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, which abstained.

France is running for the Human Rights Council elections for the mandate of 2014-2016. On 9 July 2013, Mr. François Zimeray, French Ambassador for Human Rights, presented this candidacy during an event organized by Amnesty International. He exposed France’s commitments to the defense of human dignity and all fundamental freedoms, and recalled the crucial importance of the universality of Human Rights and the necessity to fight against impunity in order to prevent further abuses and exactions.

He also welcomed the substantial improvements realized the past recent years within the functioning of the Council of Human Rights, while stressing that much remained to be done for the protection and the promotion of fundamental Human Rights.

At the European level, France was one of the ten founding States of the Council of Europe which has been based in France (Strasbourg) since 1949. Strasbourg is also home to the European Court of Human Rights, which ensures that the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1950 is upheld.

At the national level, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 which is incorporated into the constitutional texts. The French government instituted a National Consultative Commission of Human Rights (NCCHR) in 1947. This commission advises and makes proposals with respect to human rights, humanitarian action and the fundamental guarantees granted to citizens for the exercise of their public liberties. It publishes studies and reports in this respect. The NCCHR also promotes the establishment of similar institutions abroad, particularly in the French-speaking world. The principles governing the status and role of such institutions were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in 1993.

(November 2013)

3. French statements Retour à la table des matières

- 9 July 2013 - Presentation and discussion of pledges and commitments of candidates for the Human Rights Council - Statement made by M. François Zimeray, French Ambassador for Human Rights

- 2nd Semester 2008 – See all the statements made during the 63rd Session of the General Assembly in the 3rd Committee

* At the General Assembly, States can make statements on resolutions that are about to be - or have just been - adopted. In general, France joins itself to the statements made by the European Union. At the 63rd session of the General Assembly, France held the rotating presidency of the European Union. It thus delivered all statements on behalf of the European Union.

4. Reference documents Retour à la table des matières

- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

- General Assembly Resolution 60/251 – establishing the Human Rights Council

5. Useful links Retour à la table des matières

- The Human Rights section on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

- The Human Rights section on the website of the United Nations

- The website of the Human Rights Council

- The website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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