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France, the country of Human Rights

France, the country of Human Rights

Foreign precedents

The struggle for human rights is an age-old one. In Europe, in 1555, Sébastien Castellion denounced religious persecution and wrote On the Impunity of Heretics, a manuscript that was not published until 1971. In England, following the Magna Carta of 1215, the principle of habeas corpus guaranteed that, from 1679 onwards, every arrested person would be brought before a judge within three days, and that he or she could not be held without respect for legal proceedings. After the Revolutionary War, the American States supplied French deputies with what Tom Paine called in 1792, "a practical syntax of freedom."

As Gilles Manceron has shown, the progressive emergence of human rights has taken place in reaction to historical events. However, France's defense of these rights "has not ceased to be based on foreign examples", including in terms of the abolition of slavery, which was enacted in France on 27 April 1848. Even though it was based on an abolitionist text that the Abbot Grégoire had submitted for a vote during the French Revolution, it came a full ten years after the implementation of the Abolition Bill, which had been voted in London in 1833. Precedents for the separation of Churches and State existed in the United States and Mexico. In terms of women's rights, the French MPs were among the last to endorse them, even though the Blum government of 1936 included female under-secretaries, and the first French female delegate to the 1944 Consultative Assembly in Algiers was French Resistance member Lucie Aubrac. At the centennial ceremonies of Dreyfus's rehabilitation, Aubrac emphasized that the memory of the Dreyfusard struggle was one of the reasons that she joined the Resistance. France's elimination of the death penalty in 1981 was preceded long before by similar legislation in the Netherlands (1870), Switzerland (1874), Sweden (1921), Denmark (1933), Austria (1968) and England (1973). Despite everything, however, since the time of the Enlightenment philosophers, France was one of the countries where the rights of every human being were clearly asserted to the entire world.

Constitutional principles

On 26 August 1789, the National Assembly proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the sovereignty of the Nation. Its "simple and unquestionable principles" were voted, and first among them that all are both and remain free and equal in terms of rights. This text, along with the preambles to the Constitutions voted in 1946 and 1958 were-by decision of the Constitutional Council dated 16 July 1971-included as part of the principles in the name of which the decrees and laws promulgated in France are examined. They thus formed, in the words of Louis Favoreu, a "bloc of constitutionality" that protects persons subject to trial. The principle of the presumption of innocence, the respect for the rights of the defense, the access to evidence in order to be able to respond to the charges-it is difficult to not see, in this series of rights, everything that was missing from the proceedings brought against Captain Dreyfus, which led the Dreyfusards to struggle in order to, in the words of the President of the Republic in 1998, "restore full meaning to the values of freedom, dignity and justice."


The precursors to the Revolution

An appeal to the population of Buenos Aires