Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 June 2020
This chapter revisits the relationship between the nascent UN human rights system and decolonization in the French empire after World War II. French officials went to great lengths to ensure that anti-colonialism would not be viewed as a global human rights movement. At the same time, faced with pressure to implement UN human rights standards in African colonies, they found themselves unable to reconcile their own constitutional doctrine of assimilationism, premised on a universalist conception of “the rights of man,” with the existence of unequal colonial rights regimes based on cultural difference. Private petitions sent to the UN from individuals and NGOs around the world drew attention to the French state’s abuse of colonial subjects, above all in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. These anti-colonial activists, whether residing in colonial territories or abroad, conceived of the defense of civil liberties as inseparable from the struggle for independence. While citations of UN human rights standards declined over the course of the 1950s, petitioners left no doubt that guarantees of individual freedoms and trade union rights were a prerequisite for national self-determination.