Address by Vaclav Havel President of the Czech Republic to the Senate and the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada (Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 29 April 1999)
[T]here is a value which ranks higher than the State. This value is humanity. The State, as is well known, is here to serve the people, not the other way round. If a person serves his or her state such service should go only as far as is necessary for the state to do a good service to all its citizens. Human rights rank above the rights of states. Human liberties constitute a higher value than State sovereignty. In terms of international law, the provisions that protect the unique human being should take precedence over the provisions that protect the State.
If, in the world of today, our fates are merged into one single destiny, and if every one of us is responsible for the future of all, nobody – not even the State – should be allowed to restrict the right of the people to exercise this responsibility. I think that the foreign policies of individual states should gradually sever the category that has, until now, most often constituted their axis, that is, the category of “interests”, “our national interests” or “the foreign policy interests of our state”. The category of “interests” tends to divide rather than to bring us together. It is true that each of us has some specific interests. This is entirely natural and there is no reason why we should abandon our legitimate concerns. But there is something that ranks higher than our interests: it is the principles that we espouse. Principles unite us rather than divide us. Moreover, they are the yardstick for measuring the legitimacy or illegitimacy of our interests. I do not think it is valid when various state doctrines say that it is in the interest of the state to uphold such and such a principle. Principles must be respected and upheld for their own sake – so to speak, as a matter of principle – and interests should be derived from them. […]
Many times in the past, I have pondered on the question of why humanity has the prerogative to any rights at all. Inevitably, I have always come to the conclusion that human rights, human liberties and human dignity have their deepest roots outside of this earthly world. They become what they are only because, under certain circumstances, they can mean to humanity a value that people place – without being forced to – higher than even their own lives. Thus, these notions have meaning only against the background of the infinite and of eternity. It is my profound conviction that the true worth of all our actions – whether or not they are in harmony with our conscience, the ambassador of eternity in our soul – is finally tested somewhere beyond our sight. If we did not sense this, or subconsciously surmise it, certain things could never get done.
Let me conclude my remarks on the State and on the role it will probably play in the future with the following statement: While the State is a human creation, humanity is a creation of God.
Yet the awkward fact we have to face is that for all the liberalization and democratization of the past century, only one state proceeds from the basis that Mr. Havel correctly outlines here:
You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.
and has preserved that principle without change:
Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.
—George W. Bush