‘Les conditions nécessaires a la paix’

By Theo Gallis

The speech entitled ‘The necessary conditions for peace’ was given by John P. Humphrey at Laval University in 1987. Although a minimal amount of information is given as to the reasons of his speech during this period, we can contextualise it given a few global events happening at the time.  Following the final years of the Cold War, the world saw a rise in nationalism and democracy in the Eastern bloc, civil tensions in the Middle East in Israel and Lebanon persisted, and several blatant human rights abuses remained in several states such as Tibet and South Africa with apartheid. Hence human rights abuses was rife in the political platform of the global scale in the 1980s, as states seemingly disregarded the articles established by the United Nations established following the Second World War. Humphrey mentions both South Africa and the Cold War in his speech, as key examples in human rights abuses.

From this context arises Humphrey’s “necessary conditions for peace”, arguing that there can be no peace whilst human rights are still being ignored or abused to such an extent on the international scale. With this in mind he states that ‘only States were subjects of international law; Only States had rights […] all this is now changed’[1]. Humphrey compares the presence of human rights in the Universal Declaration to a ‘golden thread’[2]. Accordingly, the importance of the Declaration is highlighted as key to the development and respect of human rights, emphasiszing the ‘close relationship between world peace’[3] and these rights.  Hence he submits the following argument, unless states around the world begin to truly consider and respect the necessity for human rights on both the national and international scale, world peace cannot be achieved.  Based on this argument, Humphrey asks the question ‘how, and to what extent, has the world organisation achieved this goal of promoting respect for human rights?’[4]. By reflecting on the conflict of ideology caused by the Cold War, where as both superpowers are attempting to impose their ideologies to subordinate countries, the validity of the Universal Declaration can be questioned. Through his speech, Humphrey emphasizes the key struggles of implementing the Declaration on a global scale given the abuses of human rights present at the time. Nonetheless the author stresses the importance of the document, considering that it is the first of its kind to define, on an international scale, ‘standards which should govern the conduct of States in their relations with individuals’[5]. Although there was no legal implication following the implementation of the document, the global consensus concerning its ‘force of law’ has allowed it to emerge as a vital champion for human rights abuses, or as Humphrey states ‘it is now part of the customary law of nations and therefore binding all States’[6].  His speech thus attempts to draw the historical timeline and impact of the Universal Declaration of human Rights from its development in 1948, by the United Nations, up to our contemporary era.

In spite of the fact that John Peters Humphrey does underline the faults present in the development of the UDHR, considering that human rights abuses persists on an international scale, he portrays the document as a symbol of hope, constantly improving itself, in hopes of one day successfully allowing the establishment of world peace. This is reflected upon as he discusses the amendments of parts of the declaration since its creation. For example, in 1966, the United Nations ‘adopted other conventions relating to the crime of apartheid, the status of women, the elimination of torture and so on’[7]. These examples demonstrate the ongoing struggle for world peace, the principle cause behind which the United Nations was established, and the ongoing victories that it has won for human rights on the international scale.

Although the speech does not necessarily cover new ground, Humphrey underlines an essential requirement for the eradication of human rights abuses: education.  He argues that the real ‘purpose of all these implementation mechanisms is, in view of the still imperfect organisation of the international community, to educate public opinion’[8]. Hence, his statement allows the audience to understand in part why he is giving the speech at all, to educate the students of Laval University and propagate the goals established by the United Nations for the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Humphrey does not attempt to argue that the United Nations and its Declaration of Human Rights is a perfect institution for world peace, but rather a consistently developing legal template that all states should abide by. Only once the entirety of the international platform has adopted this Declaration can the world hope to attain the seemingly impossible notion of world peace ‘a matter to which all governments are sensitive, including authoritarian governments’[9]. The global acceptance and application of the UDHR however, requires the education of its citizens. As Humphrey emphasizes the inherent link between the respect for human rights and peacekeeping, he concludes by stating that ‘one of the best ways of preventing war would obviously be to educate world public opinion on these rights’[10]. As a consequence, the education of the world’s citizens concerning human rights can be considered his main condition for peace.  Nonetheless, Humphrey ignores how the abuses caused by the Cold War or South Africa are being dealt with by the United Nations.

[1]Humphrey, John. “Les conditions nécessaires à la paix.” Études internationales 18, no. 3 (1987): 601

[2] Ibid, 602

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid 603

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid, 604

[8] Ibid, 606

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid, 607

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