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Human Rights between Universality and Indivisibility: In Conversation with François Zimeray

François Zimeray is a prominent French diplomat, lawyer, former politician, and human rights activist. Zimeray previously served as France’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights. He later became the French Ambassador for the Kingdom of Denmark in 2013.


This interview was conducted on 14 September 2023.


CJLPA: Welcome, Mr. François Zimeray. We would like to begin by thanking you for taking the time to come and interview with The Cambridge Journal of Law, Politics, and Art. Your extensive political career as an MP in the European Parliament, being the French Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights appointed by President Sarkozy, and serving as the French ambassador to Denmark, combined with your experience as a lawyer in international criminal and human rights law, provides a valuable perspective on pressing international law and political questions. We would specifically like to examine key legal and political issues in respect to the Russia-Ukraine War, but also more broadly, in the name of human rights. I wanted to begin by asking you to briefly outline your career. Having begun as a commercial lawyer, you transitioned into successful career in politics, and then started a leading law firm specializing in international human rights. What prompted your decision to delve into the field of human rights law?


François Zimeray: Thank you for inviting me, it’s a privilege for me to have this opportunity to share some thoughts and maybe experiences with the students you represent. Human rights has always been a commitment in my life, even before I became a lawyer, before I got involved in politics. I was in high school when I heard about Cambodian genocide, and I was very troubled, because my generation was raised with one motto, inspired by the tragedy of the Second World War, and this motto was ‘never again’. And we were obsessed about what to do in order to avoid a new perpetration of the crimes and atrocities of the mid-20th century. I realised when I was a very young student that this was happening again. I thought that indifference is a crime without forgiveness. So, I got involved in human rights through the schools by welcoming and supporting Cambodian refugees. This put me in contact with the realities of the world. Before, I didn’t know because I was not configurated or confronted to these realities, living in a protected environment in Paris. After meeting the Cambodian refugees and discovering what they had seen and endured, this inspired the rest of my life.

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