For my taste, we have been hearing too much for some time now, and all over the world, a discourse questioning the very existence of universal values and the need to defend them. In Turkey, Russia, China, Africa, India, Iran, and many other countries, leaders explain that these so-called universal values are only a particular expression of the Western will to dominate the world economically, politically, and ideologically. And that, from now on, it must be clear that each nation, each culture, having become independent, freed from colonial yokes, must have the right to assert its own values loud and clear, even if they contradict those that the West has been trying to impose on the world for centuries, and in particular since the end of the Second World War, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all the texts, protocols and treaties that have followed.
Thus, under the pretext of a necessary decolonisation, many political regimes, many dictators, today loudly affirm their refusal to grant political and social rights to women, and their right to repress any form of individual freedom.
In the West itself, these rights are also being challenged, on the pretext that they were drawn up by men, with little regard for women’s rights, and because the very concept of “universality” is an insult to the right to be different, which is supposed to be superior to all others.
It is true that the values of human rights were gradually structured by Dutch, English, American and French philosophers, lawyers and politicians, before reaching a global status after the massacres of the Second World War. And it cannot be denied that many new rights (especially those of minorities, future generations and nature) are still poorly taken into account.
Moreover, the defence of human rights has been, and still is, largely discredited by its most fervent defenders, who trample on them, violate them, neglect them when it is not in their interest to assert them, protect them, defend them, respect them.
Moreover, all too often, this body of doctrine is clumsily presented as the best of Western civilisation, which would have a vocation to become universal; in particular, too many Westerners emphasise the Athenian origin of these values, forgetting that this so-called democracy was in reality censorious, slave-owning, paedophilic, and hostile to women; and forgetting that we can legitimately find much more credible democratic precedents in certain African and Indian practices, which were much earlier.
Nevertheless, these values, built up after centuries of experience by all of humanity, constitute one of the rare intellectual treasures common to all humans, an immense thesaurus of rights, always in motion. It is more essential than ever to reaffirm, defend, protect and complete them, everywhere, without condition, nuance or objection. They can be summed up in one simple sentence: every human being has the right to equal dignity, to respect for his or her physical, cultural and mental integrity, and to live in an environment where the political freedom of each and every person, and the rights of the weakest, of minorities and of nature are protected.
More than ever, we must claim these rights for all children, all women, all human beings in the world. We must not give up fighting, bringing to justice those who violate these rights. Wherever they are. It is both an altruistic and a selfish struggle: if we give up defending these rights wherever they are, no one will come to our rescue the day they are threatened at home; and no one is safe from these challenges. To defend the rights of others is to defend our own.
Painting : “Allegory of the Declaration of the Rights of Man” by Jean-Baptiste Regnault (1754-1829).