François Zimeray

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François Zimeray and Aung San Suu Kyi - Paris - 2012
Zimeray and Shimon Peres
François Zimeray and Mahmoud Abbas - Ramallah - 2008
Burma 2010
François Zimeray in front of Kharkov prison (Ukraine), trying to meet Yulia Tymoshenko
Benjamin Netanyahu and François Zimeray, 2008

François Zimeray is a lawyer, former politician, Human Rights activist and diplomat. Born on 4 July 1961, he was a Member of the European Parliament for the Party of European Socialists from 1999 to 2004. Former mayor of Petit-Quevilly, he served as President of the Greater Rouen - Normandy area from 2001 to 2008.

He was appointed on 13 February 2008 as French Ambassador-at-large for Human Rights by Nicolas Sarkozy and Bernard Kouchner. In 2013, he was appointed as France's Ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark by President Francois Hollande and Minister Laurent Fabius. He survived the 2015 Copenhagen shootings, Islamist terror attack on February 14, 2015 where he was targeted together with other activists.


Ambassador to Denmark[edit]

On October 8, 2013, François Zimeray presented his credentials to the Queen of Denmark.[1] On February 14, 2015, following the Paris terrorist attacks, Zimeray was invited to give the keynote speech at Krudttønden in Copenhagen, a debate on freedom of expression and blasphemy, featuring Lars Vilks and Femen leader Inna Chevtchenko, when it was attacked by a masked gunman. One participant was killed during the gunfire, others were wounded, Zimeray was uninjured. Some criticized him for having brought his support to the controversial Femen leader and cartoonists.

Ambassador for Human Rights[edit]

As France's Ambassador-at-large for Human Rights since February 2008, Zimeray has held a fundamental yet discreet role aiming at spreading the culture of human rights into the French diplomacy. He has been the first non-career diplomat to hold this position since its creation in 2000 and has also had the longest assignment so far.

Recognized for his commitment and technical expertise in human rights, Zimeray has worked with four different Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Secretary of State: Bernard Kouchner, Michèle Alliot-Marie, Alain Juppé and Rama Yade. He was chosen to present France’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council in 2008 and 2012, as well as to represent France to the Alliance of Civilizations and Durban II Conference.

Since then, near to 100 diplomatic missions have led him to the Syrian border, Chechnya, Colombia, Gaza, Israel, Sri Lanka camps, Turkmenistan, Burma, Moscow, Thailand, Baghdad, Jordan, Lebanon, Kirghizstan, Uganda, Chad, Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Nepal, among others.

In October 2011, he went to Tripoli just a few days after the death of former leader Muammar Gaddafi. In November 2011, he was one of the first diplomats to be received in Rangoon by the Lady Aung San Suu Kyi, one month before the official visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In January and April 2012, François Zimeray went twice to Kharkov prison, attempting to visit former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko. Although he was not allowed to enter the prison and see her, he attended the opening session of her second trial and denounced "accusations obviously politically grounded".

Zimeray represented the French diplomacy by attending several trials. He went to Moscow for Mikhail Khodorkovsky's trial, to Kazakhstan to support the human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis. In January 2011, he went to Yuriy Lutsenko's trial, in Kiev. In accordance with EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, François Zimeray set the following goal: "Each French embassy has to become a 'House of Human rights'."

As Ambassador in charge of the Holocaust issues, Zimeray launched different initiatives to raise awareness about contemporary antisemitism: he went to Auschwitz several times and supports important projects enhancing dialogue between cultures, such as the Aladdin Project,[2] which had been presented in Baghad in February 2010.

Human rights and peace activism[edit]

Zimeray's commitment to human rights dates back to 1979, when, then aged 17, he founded an association to support and cater for Cambodian refugees in Paris. Thereafter, he made visit to refugee camps on the Thai border, where he forged his political beliefs. Since then, his commitment for human rights has never ended.

He played a decisive role in the organisation of the European campaign in support for Darfur. In 2007, he visited the Darfur refugee camps in Chad with the French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy. He raised awareness and managed to mobilize French public opinion as well as political leaders.

In May 2009, Zimeray founded the Alliance of Lawyers for Human rights, based in Paris[3] offering free legal expertise to associations, NGOs and institutions working in the field of human rights.

Zimeray is also a prominent figure well known for his committed support for the Palestinian moderates and the Israeli "peace camp" in 2002. He actively supports The People's Voice, the initiative by Palestinian Sari Nusseibeh and Israeli Ami Ayalon. François Zimeray went to Gaza twice and described the attitude of people defining themselves as exclusively in favour of one side against the other ("pro-palestinian" or "pro-Israel") as "intellectual hooliganism" (speech at the French National Assembly for "Kids creating Peace").[4]

He founded the Cercle Léon Blum and worked to promote dialogue between European leaders and Middle Eastern political and civil society representatives as Chairman of the Medbridge Strategy Center founded in Brussels with prominent European politicians such as Willy De Clercq, François Léotard, Emma Bonino and Ana Palacio. He then had several meetings with Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II of Jordan.


Zimeray is a member of the Paris Bar and the International Criminal Bar of The Hague. He has represented victims in trials of Khmer Rouge leaders, successfully campaigned to free imprisoned political opponents in Laos, and defended a child soldier in Congo/Kinshasa before the International Criminal Court. He has also defended cases before the European Court of Human Rights.

During twenty years, Zimeray has worked as a lawyer in the firm Jeantet&Associés. Back then, he advised individuals as well as French and international companies. With his partners, Hubert Védrine and Jean-Pierre Jouyet, he took part in the international development of the Jeantet firm.

Zimeray is a member of the French Institute of International Legal Experts (IFEJI).

Member of the European Parliament[edit]

At 37, Zimeray became the youngest member of the French socialist delegation at the European Parliament, elected on Francois Hollande's list. He worked in the Legal Affairs Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defence Policy Committee. He is the author of eight reports adopted unanimously and took part in the framing of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Zimeray at the European Parliament. Mario Soares in the foreground

In 2001, at the request of Emma Bonino, former Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, François Zimeray went to Laos in order to defend and free a member of the European Parliament, as well as four other human rights defenders.

Much appreciated by his former European colleagues for his integrity and independence of mind, François Zimeray, although member of the socialist group, did not hesitate to defend the parliamentarian immunities of Charles Pasqua (PPE) and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (PVE), respectively in 2002 and 2003.

But for the 2004 election, the socialist party choose another candidate to represent them, judging Zimeray too anti-Palestinian.[5]

Local official[edit]

Zimeray, identified by former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, first made his mark in 1989 when at just 27 years old he was elected Mayor of Petit-Quevilly (23,000 inhabitants). He became the youngest mayor of a town with over 20,000 inhabitants in France and founded the first association of mayors for environment, "Eco-Maires".

He transformed the city by creating parks, accommodation, new areas and facilities such as the multimedia library François Truffaut. He was re-elected two times in the first round. In 2001, he was elected President of the Greater Rouen-Normandy area (37 cities, 450,000 inhabitants) and launched several urban and cultural projects: the Palais des Sports (designed by Dominique Perrault), the renovation of the docks and public transportations (metro, cycle).

Views on human rights[edit]

Zimeray has stated "We face a frequent misunderstanding. Many people place human rights in some kind of moral area and wait for us to answer with symbols, declarations and gestures.One must have the courage to say that Human Rights are not morality, they are rights that exist or does not exist, that are applied or violated: the right to not be tortured, access to fair trial, equality between men and women. Our action does not only take place in some declaratory and narcissistic style."[6][7]

Zimeray has commented that he does not like the expression that France is "the country of human rights" and stated "I know the state of French prisons... I would rather say that France and Human Rights are like an old couple, and as with every couple there are ups and downs.[8]

In his book published after the Copenhagen terror attack he survived (February, 14, 2015) he advocates against patriarchy : “But if, at the end of this journey, I had to choose just one cause that stands above all others, I now know that our determination to empower women to achieve their full potential – particularly by educating girls – will speak volumes about the future of humanity. It is a cause we can all subscribe to, and I know no higher one. (..) Around the world I have seen women challenge the patriarchal order that subjects them to violence and forces men to serve the empire of domination and performance.” The book, "J'ai vu partout le même visage" ("I have seen the same face everywhere I went") - "An Ambassador comes face to face with man’s inhumanity to man" was granted the Pierre Simon Ethics and geopolitics prize in Paris City hall. (Plon, Paris 2016)



  • He might have inspired one of the characters of the Yasmina Reza theater play, "The God of Carnage" (the lawyer)
  • All the French Embassies in the world have a facade plaque with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fixed onto. On these plaques, the preamble of the Declaration is reproduced with Zimeray's handwriting engraved. A plastic replica of these plaques with handwriting was sent to the International Space Station Colombus on November 14, 2008 [9]
  • The theater play "Bella Figura", written by Yasmina Reza, is dedicated to Francois Zimeray[10]

Public office[edit]

  • From 1989 to 2001: Mayor of Petit-Quevilly; Vice-President of Greater Rouen-Normandy Area
  • From 1995 to 2001: Chairman of the District and Community Environment Committee
  • From 1994 to 1999: Departmental Councillor, Normandy
  • From 1995 to 2000: Chairman of the Greater Rouen Sanitation Syndicate
  • From 1999 to 2004: Member of the European Parliament; Member of the Legal Affairs Committee; and Member of the Industry, Trade, Research and Energy Committee
  • From 2001 to 2008: President of the Rouen Urban District Community; First Deputy to the Mayor of Petit-Quevilly
  • From 2008 to 2013: France's Ambassador-at-large for human rights, and Ambassador for Holocaust issues
  • Since 2013: French Ambassador to Denmark


External links[edit]