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“Democracy is the fruit of unending diligence”

Human rights are in crisis. Disregarded everywhere, they are contested, regarded as hypocritical, ineffective and too abstract to incorporate into society. And this repudiation isn’t reserved to authoritarian regimes. We observe it even in our democracies. To understand why this tendency against human rights is dangerous, read Monique Chemillier-Gandreau’s book, Régression de la démocratie et déchaînement de la violence (The regression of democracy and the unleashing of violence), published in September 2019 by Editions Textuel. This jurist deconstructs the mechanism which harms the functioning of democracies, in suggesting some avenues for revitalizing them. Here is our review of the book:

At a time when Vladimir Poutine is announcing that he is going to revoke an Additional Protocol added to the Geneva Convention of 1949 for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and is brutally calling into question the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights established by it, it appears interesting to us to understand what the legal interpretation is of the disintegration of these international lawful measures. In her book, Monique Chemillier-Gendreau brings together concepts at once philosophical and judicial, examining the relationship between the law and the construction of the democratic plan, to present a humanistic and yet worrisome analysis of the actual reality of democracy.

Dissent and contentiousness at the heart of democratic society

Monique Chemillier-Gendreau is a jurist in public law, practicing notably at the International Court of Justice at the Hague. With this experience as a practitioner of law, she addresses the collapse of democratic principles that we are observing today on an international scale, just as we are within our own societies. A decisive premise that assumes the conflict and divergence at the core of society which translates into violence, declared legitimate or illegitimate. Thus the law is also the mechanism that allows fixing the cursor to define the point of balance in this democratic confrontation.The notion of dissent is delicate to promote at this time, inasmuch as diversity in all its forms is perceived as dangerous and suspected of weakening a nation and its blueprint of society. It is a fear observable in authoritarian regimes or in states of emergency which are going to result in the suspension or restriction of individual rights.

Democracy and human rights are being met with catastrophic inertia.

This defines itself as a deviation in the concept of the sovereignty which can be summarized and integrated into the sole power of a state, in contradiction with the affirmation of diversity which is at the heart of a democracy.

The analysis of Chemillier-Gendreau is damning: the institutions and mechanisms which should guarantee the liberties of individuals and of the people are no longer functioning today. On the scale of international law, world governance, concentrated in the United Nations Security Council, isn’t operating because it is precisely little democratic in itself. Fundamental rights are a tool in order to advance liberty on the condition that it can prevail before justice. However, if the court is part of a state and its jurisdiction, and the state thinks of itself as sovereign, we are in an impasse. Chemillier-Gendreau evokes the unsuccessful project alas of the Tunisian jurists of an international constitutional court which would have obliged the states to keep their word in controlling their constitutional practices in relationship to the international norms concerning human rights.

The right to have rights

In different ways, these invaluable interrogations illuminate what human rights are: the ideal they represent is very high and is often perceived as abstract and for this reason, criticized. However it must be kept in mind that the foundation of these rights is eminently political. They have legal force because they were proclaimed and are likely to evolve with society.

Also, democracy could not consist solely by the claim to these rights; it is equally possible that society could go beyond existing rights to move towards other rights.

Thus the right of resistance, the right to stand up to oppression is an intangible concept, precisely because its inclination is to go beyond the judicial framework in place, to test it in order to invent another. In witnessing the movements agitating Hong Kong, the Sudan and Algeria, adds Chemillier-Gendreau, she underlines their vitality and the hope that they embody.

Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, Régression de la démocratie et déchaînement de la violence. Conversation avec Régis Meyran. Textuel, 2019.

Translated from French to English by Sally Gordon-Mark

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