Sunday, December 14, 2008

Only in France!

Recently, we wrote a post just about the "land of human rights" - le pays des droits de l'homme- an expression cherished by the French media to talk about their nation, an expression however not much in use elsewhere since it is well known that Britain is the birthplace of human rights.

Here's more :

The centre-left Le Monde highlights the linguistic-stroke-cultural gap between the French and the rest of the world by reporting on the insistence displayed by former Irish president Mary Robinson to speak of "human rights" rather than, as in French of the "rights of man".

Robinson made her remark with her trademark smile and charm but, as Le Monde points out, firmly, at the Elysées Palace here in Paris earlier this week in the presence of President Sarkozy. Sarkozy had invited the great and the good to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Human Rights Universal Declaration.

If Unesco deputy director general Pierre Sané, from Senegal, applauded Mary Robinson's intervention, Le Monde says that several of the French guests were obviously taken aback. Stéphane Hessel, the French ambassador made it clear however that the fact that since 1948 it is women who have had their "rights of man" violated, the phrase should be "human right", though he prefers "rights of the person".

Indeed, the Council of Europe in 1990, Unesco in 1991 and 1993 and the NGO Forum 15 years ago have all called for the change to be made. But still, France holds out despite other French-speaking nations' jibes.

Amnesty International decided to drop "rights of man" for good after struggling to translate into French such phrases as "human rights of women" into the standard - and hilarious "droits de l'homme des femmes", or "rights of man of women". (RFI)

I suspect the French who didn't appreciate Mary Robinson's intervention were not happy simply because they see it as a battle in the linguistic war between English and French (which has long been lost by the French) and something of an Anglo-Saxon attempt at imposing their political correctness onto the rest of the world.

It is ridiculous of course, and only shows how some people in the French elite still live in their own 19th century bubble and may just need a lesson in sensitivity.

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