It was our pleasure to invite François Croquette, Ambassador for Human Rights and
our assiduous supporter, to assess the past year 2018 for us.
It is time to evaluate the evolution of human rights in the world this past year. How do we not take to heart the somber prognosis which pervaded the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? The concept of universalism which prevailed on December 10, 1948 would be struck at its heart by the cultural relativity defended, notably, by China. Thus, the German Chancellor estimated in November that the 1948 text would, without a doubt, not have any chance of being adopted in 2018 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
It isn’t by chance: the withdrawal from mainstream ideas is doubling after the return of grave human rights violations in the world. Last August, some weeks after the death of Kofi Annan, the fact-finding commission that he had created in Myanmar retained the classification of genocide to define the crimes committed by the Burmese Army against the Rohingya minority. The adoption of the Declaration of 1948 had been preceded, the day before, by that of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide… It must be said, as the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda approaches, that we still haven’t brought to an end the « crime of crimes, » to borrow the expression of the Franco-British jurist Philippe Sands.
The same observation of failure concerning crimes against humanity: in September, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination denounced the mass internment in China of members of the Uyghur community. We know now that a million people have been incarcerated in a vast detention center network in the Xinjiang region and very rare are the voices which dare to denounce, in the face of Beijing’s power, the return of practices worthy of the Cultural Revolution.
With the exception of some glimpses of hope (in Mexico, but also where it wasn’t expected, in Uzbekistan and Ethiopia), the withdrawal is general. In Turkey, the investigation by a media consortium on the hidden prisons of the Erdogan regime bring to mind the worst images of Midnight Express. In this country, as in Hungary and in Egypt, the powers in place succeeded in consolidating their bases in 2018 by obtaining their re-elections, albeit through dubious manoeuvres. The advent of these intolerant democracies (or, in the case of Egypt, the consolidation of a pure and harsh military dictatorship) calls out to us. And what can be said about the election in Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro, the tropical version of Trump, by whom we can measure, every day, the ravages on the fragile democratic ecosystem? In face of the electoral triumph of the populists, it comes down to us to pose the foundation of a new scenario to engage in the counteroffensive.
This scenario comes with the unremitting reminder of the rights proclaimed in 1948 (let’s insist on this point: it does concern universal rights, protected by international conventions, and not supposed Western « values » and by the protection of those who incarnate them. Paris welcomed in October 2018 the second world summit meeting of the defenders of human rights, at the initiative of civil society organizations. It is from these women and men in the forefront of the resistance that I draw the energy to lead this combat - that the partisans of the realpolitik say is lost in advance.
Echoing their request for support, we reached out to other defenders to give evidence on December 10th at Quai d’Orsay. Their speeches still resonate in my ears. I think of the testimony of Rosmit Mantilla, LGBT deputy, tortured in Venezuela, and of Riyard Al-Turk, the « Syrian Mandela, » both political refugees in France. Certainly I think of the call for help from Lamia Hadji Bachar, which brings to mind the Nobel Prize awarded to Nadia Mourad and Denis Mukwege. Describing the abuses that she suffered at the hands of Daech, she asked for assistance from the international community. France responded to this appeal by welcoming a hundred Yezidis families in 2019.
I think also of my conversations in Moscow and Paris, where he was our guest, with Alexandre Cherkasov, one of the heads of the Memorial organization which resulted from Soviet dissidence. Among so many other battles, his priority in the end of 2018 is to support Oyub Titiev. Titiev, organizer of the Memorial in Chechnya, was the victim of one of those trials based on trumped-up charges, which are the hallmark of Putin’s regime. Titiev received the 2018 Vaclav Havel Prize.
« Sacha » Cherkasov is a nuclear physicist by education, as was Andreï Sakharov who founded Memorial in 1988. The European Parliament’s 2018 Sakharov Prize went to Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker whose hunger strike of 145 days in a Siberian camp made such a mark on public opinion. Sentsov used the only weapons at his disposal, his own body and his will, to sound the alarm on the fate of Ukrainian political prisoners. The Russian carceral system has remained inflexible, despite the calls for mercy which have come from the entire world.
To prolong Sentsov’s combat and draw lessons from our incapacity to obtain his freedom, a reflexion has been made on the adoption at the European level of a law Magnitsky (named after the Russian lawyer assassinated in prison), permitting individual sanctions on those responsible for grave human right violations. I believe in this undertaking, which worries Putin and his clan, to reinforce the fight against impunity that the International Penal Court has still not been able to control. It is this logic that has led France and Germany to sanction the Saudi-Arabian personalities implicated in the sordid assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
To this list, I would like to add the name of Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Liu Xiaobo, whose liberation last July shows that our combat is never in vain. No one knows better than these current heroes how to sum up the year of 2018. As long as there are Nadia Murads, Denis Mukweges, Liu Xias, Oyub Titievs, Oleg Sentsovs, and other dissidents, old and new, to support them, the fight for human rights will not be lost.
Translated from French to English by Sally Gordon-Mark.