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Force Must Remain a Final Resort

Force Must Remain a Final Resort

Speech By M. Dominique de Villepin, French Minister of Foreign Affairs to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (Excerpts). Geneva, March, 24 2003. Source: Quai d'Orsay, Paris.

(...) How can one reconcile the sovereignty of nation-States with the duty to enforce the observance of human rights when minorities in them are oppressed or indeed massacred?

In each case, the solution has to be proportionate, legitimate and tailored to the particular situation.

Use of Force/Bosnia/Kosovo

In Bosnia in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999, in the face of the denial of the most elementary principles of human dignity, France played an essential role in the international community's decision to intervene militarily. There was a need to put an immediate end to the barbarity of ethnic cleansing. Yes, the intervention was necessary.

Does that mean there is a need for a wider and more systematic use of force? It is our duty now more than ever before, for the sake of our future, that of us all, to answer this important question: how can one impose the observance of the basic freedoms on a State which isn't observing them? It applies to Iraq, where your Commission has rightly denounced, year after year, the human rights violations. It applies elsewhere.

We firmly believe that one can't advance the rule of law while at the same time circumventing it. While force must remain a final resort, its use can't be made a principle of preventive and unilateral action. That would destroy trust between States and lead to a spiral of violence and war. It would above all harm the progress of human rights themselves. (...)

  • Our action must be guided by three major principles.

Accountability / Need for Responsible Action

  • First principle: accountability and need for responsible action.

We are accountable for our actions over the long-term. In an ever-more interdependent world, force is not enough. Genuine power now requires winning round and mobilizing the international community.

The democracies have a special responsibility towards the world's peoples: solidarity. They manifest it through their action. It is also shown through the courageous and generous action of the non-governmental organizations, increasingly active in the defence of human rights.

Middle East

Faced with the regional conflicts, it is our duty to free the peoples from the spiral of violence wherever the clash of weapons resounds, new hatreds are being stirred up and new fault lines created. (...) In this respect, the situation in the Middle East is the top priority.

Africa/South African TRC

Impunity generates repeated human rights violations. It contributes to the eruption of conflicts: think about the development of the main African conflicts and the way they drag on. This does not, however, mean that if we refuse impunity there can be no forgiveness, on the model of South Africa's reconciliation process. But by ending impunity, we shall step up the scale of the battle for human rights to an unprecedented degree.


This is why, with the International Criminal Court, we have given ourselves a model, strategic instrument for pushing back the borders of the areas without the rule of law and ensuring the observance of international humanitarian law. We are asking for universal ratification of the Court's Statute.

We must defend and consolidate the civil societies in the countries which have not completed their march towards democracy and development. This is what we are doing in Afghanistan by helping re-establish the rule of law. This is the purpose of our action in Africa, where we are supporting the NEPAD, which expresses the Africans' desire to take control of their destiny.


Responsible action requires dialogue. An open, honest dialogue between all the countries, religions, civilizations. This is why we must recognize the equal dignity of every culture and fight every form of racism. (...) But this dialogue must be robust, regardless of the constraints of culture, development or geography. It has to bring concrete results, for example in the human rights dialogue the European Union is conducting with China, and with Iran.


This requirement applies too in crisis situations. In Chechnya, we hope that yesterday's referendum will be the first step towards a political solution to the conflict, the only way of ending the spiral of violence and terrorism. Without underestimating the challenges confronting Russia, we call on her to allow the international and humanitarian organizations access to the territory.

North Korea

It also applies to countries which are flouting the rules of the international order. It is high time the Commission turned its attention to the situation in North Korea where a whole people are suffering in oblivion and silence.

Respect for Human Dignity

  • Second principle: respect for human dignity.

It is man's bulwark against his own barbarity, always ready to spring up again.

Regardless of the example you take, be it the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen or the abolition of slavery by Victor Schoelcher, France has been guided by an ideal. She has long placed civil and political rights at the very heart of her action. Because these constitute mankind's common heritage, they must be recognized by everyone.

Indeed, respect for human dignity requires the recognition of the universality of these rights and in particular of our six major pacts and treaties. Tremendous progress has been made since the last world conference, almost ten years ago. We must complete the process and make these instruments a universal reference.

Death Penalty

I renew here solemnly President Chirac's appeal for the abolition by all States of the death penalty. Because no justice system is infallible, because, above all, death does not serve the cause of justice.

Forced Disappearances

Respect for human dignity demands action to end forced disappearances. To date, nearly 42,000 outstanding cases remain recorded in seventy-eight countries. (...) The Commission has initiated, with France's active support, the negotiation of a legally-binding normative instrument to protect against this scourge. We pay tribute to the initiatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, for asserting the "right to know". We are counting on the support of every one of your countries to bring this urgent negotiation to a successful conclusion.


Respect for human dignity also requires the end of torture: this practice fundamentally denies human dignity. France welcomes the adoption of an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. We are earnestly calling for its rapid ratification, so that it can be implemented.

Economic and social rights -- Globalization

But respect for human dignity also requires the recognition of economic and social rights. This concept was born with the industrial and technical revolution of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today it remains particularly necessary, at a time when the spread of information and communication technologies is speeding up the movement of wealth but tragically increasing inequality. We cannot tolerate the spectre of great poverty and destitution continuing to hover over entire populations.

Globalization offers an extraordinary development potential. Peoples, cultures are now constantly in contact with each other: in order for dialogue and not violence to emerge from their confrontation, men need the common grammar of human rights. Without humanism, globalization could well be destructive; if human rights are observed, it can encapsulate all the world's diversity, contributing to dialogue and mutual enrichment.

Millenium Goals/AIDS/Indigenous peoples

The Human Rights Commission must make its contribution to the realization of the Millennium Goals and the commitments made in Johannesburg. It must encourage access to health and education, particularly for children. These objectives are a major key to development, democracy and peace. Let us together fight the pandemics ravaging countries and whole continents. We cannot tolerate AIDS decimating peoples and devastating civil societies when the means to prevent it exist, when treatments are available in the most developed countries.

Vulnerable populations must be afforded special protection. We must defend the indigenous peoples. Their essential contribution to mankind must be universally recognized. Their cultures deserve all the more respect because of their greater fragility.

Life Sciences/Bioethics/Human Cloning

Finally, the revolution of the life sciences carries immense hopes. But it must be controlled and its repercussions on human rights assessed. It is to this end that France, with Germany, will be submitting to you a resolution on human rights and bioethics. Our two countries will also be pursuing at the General Assembly their initiative designed to bring in an urgent universal ban on human cloning for reproductive purposes.

Setting an example: Côte d'Ivoire

  • Third principle: the need to set an example

Because human rights derive their strength from their universality, they imply duties for everyone. Three rules are at the heart of our commitment.

  • First rule: impartiality

There can be no double standards when it comes to human rights. Confronted with the Ivorian crisis, France committed herself in the name of certain principles: respect for democratic legitimacy, support for regional mediation, concern to ensure the observance of human rights on all sides and not in any partisan way. This is why she asked for full light to be shed on the acts of brutality committed since the onset of the crisis and throughout the territory.

Not exploiting human rights means respecting them under all circumstances. In the battle against terrorism, nothing would be more dangerous than agreeing to put them on the back burner. The fight against this scourge will be effective only if it strengthens our principles of common action and our values.

  • Second rule: efficacy

In the face of a world haunted by threats and saturated with fear, we must constantly demand results.

Work of UNOHCR

We have to give ourselves the wherewithal to realize our ambition. I want to pay tribute to the action of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I want to welcome the new High Commissioner, Mr Vieira de Mello, and tell him that, working in cooperation with our European partners, we shall be launching an initiative to increase substantially the size of the UNOHCR's allocation in the ordinary United Nations budget. We shall ensure that la Francophonie (the international Francophone Organization) whose commitment in favour of democracy is a priority, strengthens its links with the Office of the High Commissioner.

France, on whose behalf, I pay tribute to your special rapporteurs and experts, is particularly keen to ensure the smooth operation of your mechanisms and the States' full cooperation with them. She will be proposing the extension of the mandate of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. She will support all your initiatives to speed up, facilitate and increase the efficacy of your action.

  • Third rule: vigilance

None of us can set ourselves up as sermonizers. Together, we must constantly seek to improve things and share our experiences.

This rule applies to everyone and even more so to those who have the eminent responsibility of representing our Commission. So we expect Libya, who today holds the presidency, to be exigent and respect her human rights obligations. For us all, there's a simple, strong message: being a member of this Commission involves special duties. (...)./


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).