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Celebrating Human Rights Day on UDHR’s 73rd anniversary

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Participants release balloons as they celebrate international Human Rights Day at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh in 2019. Hean Rangsey

Celebrating Human Rights Day on UDHR’s 73rd anniversary

On December 10, we will celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in Paris on December 10, 1948, which carry the heritage of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789.

Three characters play a capital role in its drafting: Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of former US President Franklin D Roosevelt; Dr Peng-Chun Chang, a Chinese lawyer; and Rene Cassin, a French professor of law and resistant during World War II.

Adopted by the still very young UN just after World War II, this text represents a major step forward in the history of mankind and the foundation of a human rights architecture.

It is to the French jurist Rene Cassin that we owe the character of “universal” attributed to the Declaration, which originally was meant to be only “international”. More universal than international, the Declaration imposes the pre-eminence of the rights of the individual by “directly proclaiming the rights of the human being with regard to all the others, to a few social groups to which they all belong”.

Human rights do not concern only states, but are addressed to “all peoples and all nations”, as well as to “all individuals and all organs of society”, to use the formulas of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. The Vienna Declaration (1993) reinforced key principles, namely the universality of human rights and the duty of states to defend these rights.

The protection of human rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is central to the work of the UN, which asserts that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated (UN World Conference on Human Rights).

Human rights are defined as the inalienable rights of all human beings, irrespective of nationality, place of residence, gender, ethnic or national origin, colour, religion, language or any other status, and cover a multitude of themes.

France is attached to the defence and promotion of human rights. When these rules of international human rights law are trampled upon, the perpetrators must be brought to justice – just as they are in ordinary law. And this justice needs to be exercised in conditions of impartiality and independence. That is why France supports the activities of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in investigating crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime. Without accountability and without mechanisms to combat impunity, international human rights law would be ineffective.

In January 2021, France rejoined the UN Human Rights Council for the 2021-2023 period. In keeping with its commitments, France has these three following priorities: promoting the rights of women and girls, including the rights to sexual and reproductive health; protecting human rights defenders; and protecting the freedom of expression and the press.

Since 2018, with the International Strategy for Equality between Women and Men, France has engaged in feminist diplomacy. The rights of women and girls constitute one of the pillars of our diplomacy, in accordance with the spirit of the UN Sustainable Development Goal.

The fight for equality between women and men, for the promotion of education and the economic emancipation of women as well as for the eradication of all sexual and gender-based violence and discriminationremain more than ever of contemporary relevance. Internationally, we support the cause of women in all multilateral bodies and in our bilateral relations with our partners.

Thus, last summer, at the initiative of UN Women, France hosted in Paris, in co-chairmanship with Mexico, the Generation Equality Forum, the largest international meeting on women’s and girls’ rights, which enabled the establishment of six action coalitions.

France shares a common history with Cambodia and has made the promotion of human rights a cornerstone of its action in the country since the Paris Peace Agreements of October 23,1991. It is important that Human Rights Day be used as an opportunity for confident and constructive dialogue that is more than necessary in the face of multiple challenges: the Covid-19 pandemic, environmental degradation, the climate change battle, the fight against human trafficking, promotion of business and human rights.

Human rights in Cambodia are guaranteed by its Constitution which, in article 31, states that the Kingdom “recognises and respects human rights as defined in the UN Charter, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in all treaties and conventions relating to human rights, women and children”.

Furthermore, Cambodia has ratified eight UN Conventions: International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1983); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1992); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1992); Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1992); Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1992); International Convention on the Rights of the Child (1992); Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2012) and International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2013).

It is important to underline that Cambodia is one of the few countries to have abolished the death penalty in Asia (1989).

Since the horrors of World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been our compass: it is only when the inherent dignity and equal rights of all human beings are truly respected that we can expect that freedom, justice and peace reign in this world.

On this Human Rights Day, I would like to pay tribute to all those who fight for human rights on a daily basis, often risking their freedom and their lives to do so.

Jacques Pellet is French ambassador to Cambodia


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