It really was an extraordinary and ambitious idea, to ask all the countries in unison, the assembled nations of the world, to sign a founding text, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of its main architects, the French jurist René Cassin, had to fight in 1948 for the declaration to be "universal "and not just "international."
He was one of those who, like us, think that the suffering of victims is the same everywhere, and that an African or an Asian has as much right as a European not to be tortured.
But, 60 years later, this principle of universality is denied by many states. In Asia, for example, senior officials can often be heard extolling the merits of their "national" concept of human rights. They prefer, they say, to put the community's well-being first whereas as we, in Europe, just think of the individual. And if a journalist, government opponent or trade unionist is imprisoned or beaten? No, that is not a human rights violation. It is just a measure to safeguard public order and reassure decent citizens.
This way of thinking is hypocritical and unacceptable. Especially when you know that those who drafted the Universal Declaration included not only European jurists but also a Lebanese diplomat, a Chilean, and even a Chinese academic, Peng-chun Chang, the ambassador of a young nation embroiled in civil war.