I arrived in Paris last night and in Montparnasse met up with my colleague Hugo Estrella, the European director for the Center. Today we saw Simone Veil speak at the opening session of a United Nations conference on "Reaffirming Human Rights for All: The Universal Declaration at 60," held at UNESCO Headquarters.
In the city where Eleanor Roosevelt enjoined the General Assembly to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, Veil invoked Auschwitz, and the culture of "hate and death" that spurred the creation of the United Nations. 1400 representatives of 537 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had gathered for the 61st annual NGO conference of the UN, and the Center for Inquiry was now among them. Hugo and I had come to enlist allies in the advocacy we will be undertaking at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva later this month.
At their worst, NGO meetings at the UN are a kind of ritual observance, wherein civil society activists partake in rites of moral self-purification by bathing each other in well-meaning verbiage. This is no exception. The public computer room at UNESCO where I sit is decorated with a temporary display of fabric panels designed to form part of a peace "ribbon" to encircle the Pentagon (one of them says Save the Whales). But these meetings also draw interesting people doing important work. Hugo and I met many of them today, and tonight at a lavish Hotel de Ville reception hosted by the Mayor of Paris.
Earlier in the afternoon, it was another Holocaust survivor, the former French Ambassador to the UN Stephane Hesel, who spoke of the central paradox of the UN. Hesel, who participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration, pounded on the table and pointed out that the institution was formed by free democracies but is now dominated by states that are not, and many that are openly hostile to liberal rights.