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History of the French NRHI

Date de publication: 
Lundi 20 Août, 2018


Over fifty years ago, a decree by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published in the Official Gazette of 27th March, established the ‘Consultative Commission for the Codification of International Law and the Definition of the Rights and Duties of States and for Human Rights’(‘Commission consultative pour la codification du droit international et la definition des droits et devoirs des Etats et des Droits de l’homme’), under the chairmanship of René Cassin, General de Gaulle's lawyer in London and a Compagnon de la Libération (Companion of the Liberation). It soon became known as the ‘Consultative Commission for international law’ (Commission consultative de droit international’), then as the ‘Consultative Commission on Human Rights’ (‘Commission consultative des droits de l’homme’), and consisted of ten members (diplomats, magistrates, lawyers and academics).

On 16th June, René Cassin prepared a draft Universal Declaration of Human Rights which consisted of 45 Articles, the final version of which was to be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at a meeting convened at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris on 10th December 1948, and the fiftieth anniversary of which was celebrated in 1998. Its second task was to contribute to the founding of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, for which the French Consultative Commission was to become one of the initial national focal points. The Consultative Commission, which was open to other experts and to representatives from six ministries, was to prepare the French position on all human rights issues in international forums, particularly during the drafting of covenants and conventions. It was to put forward requests and recommendations regarding subjects of national interest and had four working groups by 1952. It was to extend its sphere of competence up until the death on 20th February1976 of its chairman and Nobel Peace Prize winner, René Cassin, who was buried at the Pantheon.


On 30th January, the Consultative Commission on Human Rights was revived, with Mme Nicole Questiaux, a former minister and Member of the Council of State, as its chairperson. It was to assist and advise the Minister for Foreign Affairs on France's efforts to promote Human Rights throughout the world and, in particular, within international organisations.


On 21st November, its international human rights mandate was extended to the domestic front. The Commission was integrated into the State Secretariat for Human Rights, under the Prime Minister. It was appointed for a two-year period, and consisted of forty members. It was chaired by Mr. Jean Pierre-Bloch, a former minister.


On 31st January, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights was attached directly to the office of the Prime Minister. It was empowered to take up any matter falling within its competence. It had 70 members and from April 1989 was chaired by Mr. Paul Bouchet, a State Councillor and former president of the Lyons Bar.


On 13th July, the Commission received its legislative enshrinement on the occasion of the passing of the Act providing for the punishment of all racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic acts; this required it to present an annual report.


On 9th February, the Commission’s status, expressly recognized as ‘independent’, was brought into line with the guiding principles adopted by the United Nations, which relate to the status and role of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights.


On 18th March, Mr. Jean Kahn was appointed chairman of the Commission which was accepting new members. On 11th September 1996, the Commission's mandate was extended to include humanitarian emergencies, the arrangements for handling these situations and the implementation of international humanitarian law.


On 10th May, Mr. Pierre Truche, First Honorary President of the Court of Cassation, was appointed chairman of the Commission which was welcoming new members. On 22nd October, a circular issued by the Prime Minister was published in the Official Gazette, in which Mr. Lionel Jospin stated: ‘I have called upon the Secretary-General of the Government to ensure that, from now on, the Commission will be provided with all the key legislation relevant to its sphere of competence. (...) In this connection, I would ask you to establish an arrangement in each of your départements, in liaison with the General Secretariat of the Government and my Cabinet, for following up the CNCDH’s recommendations.”


On 15th December, Mr. Alain Bacquet, Honorary Section Chairman of the Council of State, was appointed Chairman of the Commission following the resignation of Mr. Pierre Truche, who had been called to perform other duties.


On 3rd October, the Prime Minister, Mr. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, installed the members of the Commission who had been appointed for a three-year period by the Decree of 27th September. He stated that the Commission would be fulfilling its advisory role and that it would be informed of all Governmental projects having a direct impact on the fundamental rights of citizens recognised by the law and by international treaties ratified by France. Mr. Joël Thoraval was appointed as Chairman of the Commission.


On 5 March 2007, Parliament adopted legislation that restructured the Commission and laid down its responsibilities: ‘The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights has the role of providing advice and making proposals to the Government regarding human rights, international humanitarian law and humanitarian initiatives. It is to assist the Prime Minister and other ministers concerned by advising them on all matters of general interest, whether national or international, within its sphere of competence. It may, on its own initiative, publicly draw the attention of Parliament and the Government to measures which it considers conducive to the protection and promotion of human rights. The Commission shall carry out its mandate in complete independence’. On 26th July 2007, a Council of State decree laid down the conditions under which CNCDH was to function and reinforced its independence via a mechanism for monitoring the appointment of members of the Commission: ‘Members of the Commission ... and their deputies are to be appointed by order of the Prime Minister after consultation with a committee consisting of the Vice-President of the Council of State and the First Presidents of the Court of Cassation and the Court of Auditors, regarding the organisations liable to put forward such proposals’.


On 14th May 2014, the Government’s Council of Ministers approved the first National Action Plan for combating human trafficking. Measure 23 of the Plan states that ‘In order to fulfil its role of monitoring and evaluating the outcome of initiatives undertaken, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) shall take on the role of National Reporter or “equivalent mechanism” within the meaning of the Directive, as an independent administrative authority thus able to evaluate the public policy being implemented’.


On 27th March 2015, at the close of the ‘High-level Conference on the Implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights — a Shared Responsibility’ (‘Conférence de haut niveau sur la mise en oeuvre de la Convention européenne des droits de l’homme, une responsabilité partagée’), France made a commitment under the Brussels Declaration to involving CNCDH more closely in the process of implementing European judgements. In practice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refers all action plans or reports concerned with the implementation of European judgements to CNCDH.


In early 2016, the Legislative Commission of the National Assembly petitioned CNCDH to participate in the monitoring of the measures for the state of emergency that had been declared on 14th November 2015. This petition was consistent with the Paris Principles which govern CNCDH, which stipulate: ‘In situations where the authorities are being overthrown or there is a state of emergency, it is anticipated that NHRIs will conduct themselves with a heightened level of vigilance and independence, and strictly in accordance with their mandates. NHRIs must promote and ensure respect for human rights and democratic principles and must strengthen the rule of law under all circumstances and without exception. In situations of conflict and states of emergency, this may involve surveillance, documentation, the communication of public statements and the publication of detailed regular reports via the media at appropriate moments, in order to tackle urgent problems involving the violation of human rights...’ [1] (General Observations 2.6) CNCDH also had many requests from United Nations and Council of Europe agencies for information concerning the exercise of human rights within the specific context of states of emergency and, more broadly, in the fight against terrorism. On 9th December 2016, Parliament adopted Act No. 2016-1691 on transparency, combating corruption and the modernisation of business practice; this obliges members of CNCDH and its Secretary-General to declare their assets, including any interest, so as to protect the institution from potential conflicts of interest.


On 20th January 2017, Parliament strengthened CNCDH’s independence by appending to Article 1 of Act No. 2007-292 of 5th March 2007, which relates to the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, the stipulation that CNCDH ‘shall neither receive nor seek instructions from any administrative or governmental authority’. On 27th April 2017, the government adopted its first National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, stipulating that ‘The monitoring and evaluation of the National Action Plan for Human Rights and Business and of the outcome of activities undertaken will be carried out by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), which is regarded as an independent administrative authority, in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations working group on Business and Human Rights. Its mandate will focus on evaluating policies being implemented, which will be the subject of a periodic report’.


On 3rd April 2018, the Government entrusted CNCDH with the new mandate of independent national reporter, with particular responsibility for the evaluation of the implementation of the National Plan for combating all forms of anti-LGBT hatred. The assignment of this new mandate is an acknowledgment of CNCDH’s expertise on the subject of LGBT-phobia and gender issues.