Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Human Rights Out of French Government Priority.

Today is the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

(Eleanor Roosevelt holding a poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

Strangely it is still called "the Rights of Man" in France, probably because of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, written during the French Revolution.

As we posted before, France likes to think of itself as the "land of the Human Rights (or rather Rights of Man)". So much so that Sarkozy created a new post in his government: a ministry for human rights.

Ms Rama Yade, (who was born in Senegal), the first black woman as a minister of State is in charge of it. Well, as always in France, the devil is in the details. Her title is officially Minister of State with responsibility for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, and she is sort of working under? with? the actual Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, whose idea it was to create a specific post for human rights.
The idea of connecting human rights with foreign affairs is a very telling one because it clearly implies that its aim is the "human rights" of others. Doesn't sound a bit arrogant? Doesn't it imply some moral superiority?
If, on the other hand, it had been linked with the Ministry of Justice, the message would have been entirely different: it would have been about pushing for more human rights in France, the only place where the French government has real power to change things anyway.

To me, the whole thing is more a useless gimmick (and sometimes an embarrassing one) than anything worth spending taxpayer's money on.

Today, the French Foreign Ministern, Bernard Kouchner, seemed to agree with me, he was quoted precisely as saying that he had made a mistake in asking President Nicolas Sarkozy to create a ministry for human rights.
"I think I was wrong to ask for a junior minister for human rights. It's a mistake. Because there is a permanent contradiction between human rights and a nation's foreign policy, even in France," Kouchner said in an interview published in the daily Le Parisien on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"You cannot govern a country's foreign affairs only according to human rights," Kouchner said. "To govern a country obviously distances you from a certain saintliness."
So principled politics or political realism? Which is best?
Well, I tend to think that one should put one's own house in order before critisizing other people anyway - it is a question of credibility, and god knows there is still a lot to do in France. It doesn't compare to most countries of course, but so what....
This of course does not mean we should all be cynical and in put people we suspect of anything in seclusion on some forgotten island (hum, hum..) and in some cases, politics should prioritize more human rights in their dealing with other countries, but there's no need to always make a big fuss of it. Discretion may be more effective.

At the same time, for Kouchner to make such a stament on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a bit of a faux-pas, but the media think he may have had ulterior political motives:
...some French media saw Kouchner's statement as a form of political punishment for Yade, who this week refused a request by Sarkozy to head a slate of candidates for next June's EU parliamentary elections.
Kouchner's statements suggest that her post will likely be eliminated during the next government re-shuffle, probably in January. (source)

Who cares.....


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