The conference “Towards Universal Recognition of the Rights of Humankind” took place on Saturday the 15th December in Strasbourg. Taking place on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), this symposium made it possible to extend the question of these fundamental rights to encompass the whole of humankind.
Below is a summary of the day:
Universal Declaration of Humankind Rights: an Extension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Summary of the proceedings of the conference organised in Strasbourg on December 15, 2018 coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The proceedings were opened by Mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, who – after recalling the tragic hours that the city of Strasbourg had just experienced – stressed the all the more urgent need for the Universal Declaration of Humankind Rights.
He welcomed the fact that the city of Strasbourg was the world’s first city to have officially recognised the Universal Declaration of Humankind Rights in November of 2015, in the presence of many representatives of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. He stressed the links between past, present and future generations, which are currently responsible for meeting the multiple challenges we face.
Corinne LEPAGE, President of the Association of Friends of the DHR, then briefly took the floor to thank the Mayor of Strasbourg for his warm welcome. She also expressed her solidarity with the people of Strasbourg in regard to the dramatic events that had occurred a few days earlier and that she shared in the Mayor’s belief in the necessity of promoting the Universal Declaration of Humankind Rights now more than ever.
After stressing that it was not an environmental law text, she explained the reasons why, in her view, it is an extension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (with reference to the human family and human dignity and the obligations contained in Articles 27 and 28 of the ECHR); Moreover, the DHR was also becoming a condition for the effectiveness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself, as environmental challenges were undermining the effective realisation of human rights.
Chantal Cutajar, Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg then welcomed the participants and made an introduction to the day by stressing that the Universal Declaration of Humankind Rights was not only an extension of the UDHR, but now also its condition for implementation.
At the beginning of the day, a video from Jérémy Rifkin, in which he outlines his support for the DHR, enabled him to explain why he feels this text is essential.
The first round table was chaired by President Costa, former President of the European Court of Human Rights and President of the René Cassin Institute.
This first round table was devoted to the relationship between individual and collective rights.
President Costa first recalled the history of the 1789 declaration and the lack of representation of women, referring in particular to the actions of Olympe de Gouges who had written a declaration of the rights of women and citizens and ended up hanged as a result of his disagreement with Robespierre.
He then recalled the individualistic nature of the 1948 declaration even if it referred to the human family which is at the heart of the DHR. However, since 1948, in addition to purely individual rights (right to life, freedom of expression, prohibition of inhuman treatment), there have been individual rights that can only be exercised collectively (assembly, partnership, protest). Since then, there has been an evolution in human rights with the progressive emergence of collective rights concerning more segments of humanity (women, children, minorities) and even extended to living creatures with the emergence of animal rights. For President Costa, the DHR is “a new step forward”.
Recalling President Cassin’s words, in that “there will be no peace on this earth when human rights are violated”, President Costa stressed the importance of peace in both the UDHR and the DHR. He noted the polysemic nature of the word ‘humanity’, which was neither very old nor very new. In conclusion, he observed that since 1945, when the notion of a crime of humanity had been recognized in international law, the notion of humanity as such had been recognized; consequently, if humanity could be a victim, it could also be a holder of rights and duties.
Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber, journalist and essayist, Chairman of Human Rights Watch France and Vice-President of HRW, began by underlining the extent to which human rights are now being challenged. It is necessary to “go beyond human rights by expanding human rights”, the subject of the DHR, “political declaration launched by civil society”. He pointed out that unfortunately, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would no longer be voted on today, simply because democracies have become a minority, which is why there is so much anxiety about a general greed, which demands a real urgency for action. “Current weather conditions are poor on and for the planet.” The most worrying thing is that those who attack human rights are those who refuse to accept the threat of climate change. There is now a very wide gap between them and all those who are aware of the situation, which is in reality that of an informed catastrophism, and who wish to find solutions.
Laurent SERMET, Professor of Law at Aix-Marseille, then spoke, through an intermediary reading, with the objective of providing a critical look at the DHR. After reiterating that he fully supports it, he performed this task. He recalled the rights of Mother Earth and that the rights of Mother Earth were accompanied by duties. He stressed the existence of two cosmologies, that of mother earth and that of the Western vision.
The critique focused on the notion of future generations, he stressed the ambiguity of this notion and the obligation it entailed to change its relationship with time. In this regard, he referred to the Kanak People’s Charter, which requires reflection on six generations. Such a philosophy is of course in complete contradiction with that of the omnipotent power of the State, which is still only interested in the short term and in defending the interests of the current generation.
Secondly, he stressed the fact that the DHR had somehow remained in the middle of a crossroad in refusing to recognize a legal status for nature and of humanity, considering that States were not ripe to do so. He indicated that, in his view, this was unclear.
Finally, he stressed the risks of recognizing collective rights for humanity, which, pushed to their limits, could lead to a risk of ecological dictatorship.
It was up to Christian HUGLO, Attorney at Law, Director of the Environmental Jurisclassurer, to answer these criticisms.
He first stressed that there was no difference between future generations and the rights of humanity, due to the fact that the two are complementary. After recalling the five characteristics of the current ecological situation identified by Dominique BOURG, he proposed that our attitude be changed in an attempt to achieve a “climate humanitarianism”.
In his view, it must be positive, which implies a fundamental review of a number of rules, including those at the top of the Paris agreements, according to which climate provisions ‘must not constrain trade’. It is obvious that such a provision is likely to ruin any priority given to the resolution of the climate issue.
Finally, he stressed that the Universal Declaration of Humankind Rights is obviously in the interest of civil society, which leads to difficulties with States which are very reluctant to recognize such rights.
Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber then re-affirmed how difficult it is to overcome short-sightedness by emphasizing the overwhelming responsibility of the media in presenting the events that could occur, particularly with regard to the media’s extent of coverage of the ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow vests) and the Katowice conference.
This first round table therefore highlighted a form of continuity between human rights and the rights of humanity while highlighting the transformations that the latter entails.
The second Round Table was dedicated to the theme of the DHR: Extension of the UDHR
This round table was chaired by Pascal CREHANGE – former Bâtonnier of Strasbourg – and provided a broad overview of the subject.
Firstly Ms AZOUX-BACRI – Lawyer, Doctor of Bioethics, mediator in charge of recalling the history of the DHR – made a statement.
In emphasizing the evolution of human rights between first and second generation economic and social rights and third generation environmental, health and bioethical rights, she highlighted the innovative nature of the DHR as a starting point for a new legal framework, one which would allow a dynamic nature for rights and allow consensus to be reached through the different planetary societies in sharing the same challenges.
Nicolas de SADELEER, Professor of Public Law at the University of Saint Louis in Belgium, spoke to highlight the originality of the text on four levels:
- First of all, the conception of humanity and the new relationship between the rights of humankind and human rights being put on an equal footing by Article 11 of the DHR,
- The dimension of enlightened catastrophism that is at the heart of the DHR, reminding us that “what saves the human family is adversity”,
- The concept of the dignity of humanity applied to over-consumption, emphasizing the need for an ideological shift of the term ‘equality’ to encompass also the long term and the equality between generations,
- Finally, the emergence of the notion of ‘obligation’, which constitutes an epistemological rupture.
Professor de SADELEER concluded by stressing that the concept of humanity in legal context called for a broader conception than that of all human populations.
Dominique BOURG, Professor at the University of Lausanne, then spoke, stressing that the main, if not absolute priority, issue was that of the conditions of entitlement to the planet.
In a traditional conception, the environmental factor is that of the limits of the earth. But today, the subject is the destruction of life pertaining to more than just the climate. The erosion of biodiversity is now a thousand times greater than what we have seen before. This has resulted in the loss of 70% of the planet’s vertebrate biomass. If the planet’s temperatures increased by 3.5°C – 3.7°C, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indo-Pakistani arc would become totally uninhabitable. In the long run, three quarters of currently inhabitable landmass would no longer be inhabited.
In addition, he pointed out that photosynthesis ceases between 40 and 45°C and that by approximately 2050, with such an increase in temperature, an area such as eastern France would reach 55°C in summer. This is why the question is really about the habitability of the planet. Today, the rights of humanity act as a condition for the enjoyment of human rights. The relationship is not horizontal, it has become vertical. The notion of risk no longer makes sense when it comes to transcendental damage.
The movement launched will last at least 5,000 years for humanity and 5 to 10 million years for biodiversity. This means that what is happening today has nothing to do with our generation or even those who will immediately succeed us. It is therefore an incomparable responsibility. The origin of the problems is well known, it is the human way of life. Today, 8 people in the world have assets equivalent to the incomes of the poorest 3 billion people. 10% of the human population emits 50% of greenhouse gases, while 50% of the human population emits 10% of greenhouse gases. There is a clear contradiction between the short-term interests of some individuals, who possess the authority, and the long-term interests of all humanity.
The liberal heritage has made it possible to make lifestyle choices subject to individual arbitrariness. This is where the major contradiction in which we have entered has arisen today, since our lifestyles can no longer be arbitrated in an individual manner without putting humanity in danger.
It is therefore the philosophy of the agreement that is called into question and individual freedom which is being challenged by the freedom to live.
Dominique BOURG proposed to move on to a concept of positive freedom.
Professor de SADELEER re-entered the debate to highlight the differences that may exist between common law and the prevailing philosophy of the DHR. Indeed, some legal systems do not recognise fundamental rights (e.g. no Bill of Rights) such as Australia; general principles of law are not recognized at the common law level as precautionary or preventive principles. The vision is a very liberal vision that has been adopted in its first stage.
Opposition is also played out between monist and dualist regimes and between the methods of interpreting a text, ideological in one case and purely textualistic in the other.
Professor Bourg took the floor again to respond the question of how to overcome the contradiction in freedom. He suggested answering this question by basing human rights on the dignity of humankind.
From the moment humanity bestows dignity upon individuals and no longer individuality, the two dimensions are no longer in conflict. Dominique BOURG also proposed to revisit article 4 of the Declaration of Human Rights, which defines freedom as the right not to harm others. In fact, the concept underlying Article 4 in its original drafting is the absence of immediate harm to others.
However, in our contemporary world, we have complete freedom to harm others through space and time; economic competition allowing, for example, to ruin another company, which of course constitutes a disservice to others. What about the debt left to future generations? We must therefore reflect on these new areas of freedom.
Ms AZOUX-BACRI spoke once again to express her regret that the Universal Declaration of Humankind Rights had not incorporated the idea of the Criminal Court on Environment and Health, as defended by the Brussels Charter.
Then came Richard SEDILLOT, Attorney at Law and member of the National Bar Council.
While appreciating that the National Bar Council had signed the DHR, he began his presentation by indicating that he had only one word to say about the DHR: “Finally”.
He then analysed the different articles concerning the rights (5 to 11) of the DHR, to see to what extent these articles would have been useful for legal practitioners and, more precisely, how he himself could have used them in different cases which he had to deal with. Turning first to Article 5, which recognizes the rights of humans and other living creatures to live in a healthy environment, he recalled a case concerning the ecological disaster suffered in a mining region of Mauritania as a result of the use of cyanide. An Expert had been appointed but no Mauritanian laboratory had been capable of carrying out the studies. If Article 5 could have been applied, it was an obvious solution for populations who could not afford it.
Moving away from individual rights, evidence was much easier to provide of the undeniable pollution taking place rather than on the consequences of this pollution on individual health. With regard to article 6, which aims at sustainable development, it could have been used in a case concerning the extraction process of a rare mineral in Congo, which used children less than 8 years of age.
How can we make a case for these children? How can we seek compensation and make sure that such methods are no longer possible? Article 7 concerns heritage and could have been used in the question relating to the restoration of cultural property in Benin. In fact, 26 pieces of art removed during colonization are displayed in France; the French Government agreed to return them. However, French law prohibits the release of a piece which has become part of the public cultural heritage.
Only the reference to a notion of the cultural heritage of humanity could have made it possible to go beyond this interdiction.
Article 8, which aims to preserve natural resources and in particular soil, could have been used in plant health cases, etc.
Qualifying Article 10 as “the most beautiful desire of Civil Society”, Master SEDILLOT ended his presentation by emphasizing the need to massively disseminate the DHR in Africa.
The afternoon roundtables were designed to allow civil society representatives from various countries supporting the DHR to explain why they had chosen to support it.
The afternoon began with the recital of Human Hymn and the broadcast of young Greta THUMBERG’s speech at COP24: “You say you love your children more than anything, yet you steal their future before their very eyes”.
Mrs Irene DANKELMANN – Senior Lecturer at Radboud University Nijmegen and member of Women Engage for a Common Future – spoke following her return from Katowice.
She first pointed out that Ms BACHELET, Commissioner for Human Rights, had pointed out that the commitment made to addressing climate change was far too weak.
She spoke of “chilling negligence” and resistance to action on the part of Governments and large corporations.
She emphasized that the DHR is interested in the pivotal issues.
Collective rights together with duties are an absolute necessity and many of the elements contained within the DHR have been discussed within the framework of the Paris Convention and more broadly.
A just transition and a right to civil participation were essential. Gender law is a natural component of this.
She concluded by indicating that for WECF, the DHR is a fundamental text and that its main concern is to be inclusive.
Nicolas IMBERT, Executive Director of Green Cross France, then addressed the conference to underline the fact that the speech of United Nations Secretary-General Guterres was very engaged and that he was in favour of changing ‘software’.
He welcomed the simple nature of the DHR, that it is comprehensible for anyone and addressed to all that constitute Society.
Referring to a recent trip to the Pacific, he highlighted the development of a sense of survivalism in the region and that there is a shift towards the necessary notions of vulnerability on the one hand, and to resilience on the other hand, rather than to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation.
He stressed that the DHR provides both elements of the map for the future and elements for sharing.
For him, the DHR is interesting because of its inclusive nature. It covers all the topics covered by the various NGOs around the world and is therefore of interest to NGOs regardless of their social objective.
It talks about obligations and not only rights and is interested in a common vision for the environment in the most global sense.
Richard SEDILLOT – speaking on behalf of the National Bar Council and Lawyers, signatory to the DHR – recalled that a large part of the response was judicial; that States do not understand the situation or do not wish to understand it and that, consequently, civil society must act and must do so through the systems of law and the Judge.
He called on Non-Governmental Organizations to use the law and the courts to enforce the specific obligations of States.
This was followed by a discussion, involving all participants, on the initiatives that could be taken to support and disseminate the Declaration.
A number of proposals were made, such as establishing a specific workshop in Strasbourg, publishing articles and calls for the DHR to appear in magazines such as Kizen or to publish the commitments of local associations to be subsequently linked to the national level.
Finally, the summary of the day was prepared by Corinne LEPAGE.