The Robert F. Kennedy French Center for Human Right is the French affiliate of RFK Human Rights, a nonprofit organization aimed at defending and promoting human rights all over the world. Founded by the friends and family of Robert Kennedy after his death in 1968 to honor his legacy by continuing his work on the frontlines of the struggle for justice.
The younger brother of President John F. Kennedy, under whose administration he served as Attorney General of the United States, Robert Kennedy was a shining figure in American politics, whose tireless involvement on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, and against all forms of racism, discrimination, and injustice explain his continuing relevance.
In the years after his untimely passing, he became one of the great American figures of the twentieth century. Ronald Reagan said of him that he “renewed and inspired the American conscience” while Barack Obama invoked him in his remarks at the fiftieth anniversary of the civil right marches in Selma.
Nelson Mandela, upon first travelling to the United States after his release from prison in 1990, visited his grave in remembrance of Kennedy’s 1966 plea to the young people of South Africa against apartheid. Now as before, his legacy inspires all of those who aspire to “tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of this world.”
RFK Human Rights, led by his daughter Kerry Kennedy, an American lawyer and human rights activist, is a group of experts, advocates, lawyers, activists, reporters, scholars, and citizens of all nations who are committed to the tireless defense and promotion of human rights all over the world.
The Robert F. Kennedy French Center for Human Rights was founded in early 2017 by Paris lawyer and essayist Jean-Pierre Mignard, who after authoring one of the first French-language books dedicated to the life and vision of Robert Kennedy, wished to convert renewed French interest in Robert Kennedy into action (see Robert Kennedy: La Foi Démocratique – Stock, January 2016, w/ Hugo Roussel).
After meeting Kerry Kennedy in the summer of 2016 and traveling to Florence to meet with the Italian founders of Florence’s RFK International House, Mignard joined forces with fellow French personalities such as Catherine Jean-Joseph Sentuc, founder of Ecole Miroir, to create the Robert F. Kennedy French Center for Human Rights.
In France, our organization is currently working on innovative programs designed to promote human rights education both in top French universities and in marginalized neighborhoods. Our programs will be based on the Speak Truth To Power curriculum, originally developed in the United States by RFK Human Rights, and distributed today in America, Switzerland, Italy, and other countries.
Robert Kennedy and France
Robert Kennedy did not speak French, but he was a great friend of America’s oldest ally, and a fond reader of some of its greatest authors, such as Albert Camus, whom he particularly admired often quoted.
Despite the complicated, often tumultuous relationship between France and the United States under his brother’s presidency (no doubt at least partly attributable to John Kennedy and Charles de Gaulle’s strong temperaments), Robert Kennedy made no secret of his longstanding admiration for the French general who had once led Free France.
As President, de Gaulle gave Robert Kennedy, then a U.S. Senator, a particularly warm welcome, inviting him to the meet at the Elysée Palace, seat of the presidency, where they spoke candidly for over 70 minutes about the Vietnam war.
That such different men got along so well was no surprise to those who knew and admired both of them. Robert Kennedy was a man of thought and action, whose speeches and writings are still, fifty years after, as extraordinarily powerful as ever before. He had a keen mind, steeped in the classics, philosophy, sociology, geopolitics and anthropology, and a warm heart that gave him an acute sense of otherness, care for those who suffered, and an unrepentant love for his fellow human beings.
Robert Kennedy, murdered as he tried to stop an unjust war, never rose to the presidency, but yet what he leaves us is the memory of a particularly brave and genuine leader, a man of rare qualities who was not afraid of acknowledging his own mistakes and listening to those who told him he was wrong. His steadfast commitment to human rights was resolutely modern; his unwavering defense of civil rights for minorities, and his staunch dedication to sustainable development and environmental causes almost prescient.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights models its own efforts after his fight for justice. France and the United States, whose bond was forged in the blood and tears of their sister revolutions in 1776 and 1789, are living in troubled and uncertain times, but so are they times of opportunity. The Robert F. Kennedy French Center is one more bridge between our two countries, and we hope that the American community in France, and all those who in our country wish to strengthen the Franco-American relationship, will join and help us.
The American Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed in 1776 that “all men are created equals (…) and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and the French 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens, whose first Article states that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights,” rooted in both of our countries’ values a deep and resolute concern for human rights, which we hold as our inspiration in this troubled world. This is what we will work towards, and what we hope you will join us in accomplishing.