Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights : Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
1. The anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights by an assembly of 58 nations in 1948 is an opportunity to remember two important things : the first one is the fragility of basic principles, all concerning more or less the weakness of the human person, when confronted with the collective official power of states.
Let’s recall the fundamental paradox on which the human rights movement was built up : on one hand, the most important institutions in charge of making these rights respected are the states, but on the other hand the same public authorities are frequently infringing them. This paradox explains why there is no end in the necessity of vigilance and action in favour of basic human rights, even in the very countries which took some advance in declaring their constitutional attachment to these principles, like the United States as early as 1776, or France some years later. Every day, in the most democratic countries, something happens which shows this fragility : for example, I’ve heard one week ago that in France there was a project to legitimate the imprisonment of 12 years old children, and very recently a journalist was brutalized by the police. Not speaking of many other problems. The United States were not more virtuous those recent years, notably with the Guantanamo bay detention camp, which is not just a small event but a scandalously lasting fact.
There is indeed an innate tendency to arbitrary in the state, and the universality of the declaration is, in itself, a powerful tool for helping peoples “not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression” (I quote the preamble of the declaration). The universality helps peoples and states to recognize a higher level of sovereignty, which presents the unsuperable advantage not to be corrupted by any “raison d’Etat”. At the same time, this tendancy has to be contradicted not only by declarations, but also by institutions able to enforce them like real laws : this is the case of the foundation of a permanent international criminal court dedicated to judge the crimes against humanity, which was established only in 2002. It was an achievement that René Cassin, one of the main authors of the 48 text (and Nobel Peace Prize in 1968) had long struggled for, but that he knew well it would not be established in his lifetime.
But even then, nothing can replace the constant activity of watching, whistle-blowing and denouncing infringements which tend to be repeated again and again : that is the job of everybody, and not only of specialized NGO, and that is why education is so crucial.
The second important thing is, somehow, the other side of the same issue : it is very difficult, when all the energies are mobilized by the defence of basic rights of the person, to pay enough attention to problems which emerge from diffuse or new causes. The rights of woman or children are examples of questions raised not only because of state responsibilities, but mainly because of the inertia of popular or domestic cultures.
Even more difficult is probably the threats which come from global behaviours, like the abuse of energy or water supplies, pollution, deforestation, etc, which all finally converge to attack health, freedom, and other fundamental rights, not only these of the living human beings but also these of future generations. And this constitutes a whole immense field for research, and progress, which shows us that, in a way, the superb declaration of 48 was only its opening, its beginning.
2. In a way, I am not at ease to point out specific questions concerning St Lucia, because of course St Lucians are the only ones entitled to say something serious about their state and domestic problems. But if I was consulted as a political anthropologist, I would say that, if the situation is at large much better than in many other Caribbean states, three issues coud be accurately addressed : firstly, relationships between men and women (question which is developed by the other participants of this round table), then perhaps the way the rule of law is applied, leaving sometimes people in situations where the law is unclear or unapplicable. But I would leave more competent people than me speak on that subject.
Finally I would like to put the emphasis on the difficulty to expand the human rights to some very important topics like environment and economic self sufficiency.
In an island like Saint Lucia, it is obvious that preservation of natural resources is absolutely vital for its future. And in a way, when international institutions like WTO are strongly pushing everybody everywhere to enter the global market without any serious consideration to the rights of “local” people to preserve their means of economic sustenance, are they not infringing indirectly some important human right ? Why only the individual person should demand liberty and integrity, while, considered in a group, he or she would be criticized for taking any step to protect his ot her self-sufficiency ?
3. For the future, I can only insist on the two points I have already raised :
One, More vigilance than ever on the very basic rights, which tend to be put more at risk in periods of crisis, and that in every country, above all in these where the principles were first stated.
Two, more attention and work are to be given on topics which seem to be indirectly related with human rights, but which are, in fact, more and more linked with the core of human rights, beginning with the rights to live securely and freely on this planet.
I’ll give two examples : On March of this year the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on human rights and climate change. The resolution was co-sponsored by 69 countries. It recognizes that climate change poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights. The resolution requests that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights conduct a detailed study on human rights and climate change. We already know that small islands can be affected today by the rise of the oceans or by heavy rains which wipe out good soils.
More broadly, I think that there is much to do for political scientists in investigating fields like the right of human persons to choose their collective way of living and working. That means that the kind of dictatorship the economic and financial powers exerts on people today, which practically forbid any free choice for countries or groups in societies which would follow other paths in economic local development, is a real problem for human rights. I know this point could have been raised frequently by militants or movements insisting on links between human and civil, social and economic rights, but I sincerely assume that in the coming future, the obstacles still opposed to the right to a real plurality by the global economic forces could become, sooner or later, elements of a collective crime against the human kind.