Our statement on the government’s plan to process asylum seekers in Rwanda

René Cassin is dismayed by the government’s shameful plans to initiate offshore processing of asylum seekers in Rwanda. These measures are inhumane, dangerous, and ineffective, contravening the Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, established in the wake of the bitter experience of the horrors the Holocaust.

This asylum processing method is inspired by Australia’s widely condemned offshore detention camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. These did not deter people from seeking asylum and contained cruel policies, which led to avoidable deaths and abuses of power. Similar conditions are likely in Rwanda, where LGBTQ+ people as well as general political opposition and independent media are criminalised. This belies not just international law, but basic human dignity, making access to healthcare, legal advice for those detained, and proper scrutiny of conditions extremely difficult.

Throughout history, Jewish people have been forced to seek asylum from persecution many times and were interned on the Isle of Man during WW2. As ‘speakers by experience’, we know what it is like to be dehumanised and deprived of our freedom when seeking refuge. This policy poses a serious threat to our integrity and international reputation as a nation which values compassion, fairness, and human dignity, and René Cassin firmly reject this actively prejudicial and hostile approach to asylum processing.

“My late mother arrived in London in August 1939 on the last Kindertransport out of Prague. She loved this country and was always grateful for the welcome she received during her wartime years while she awaited news of her Czech family. I can only wonder what treatment or welcome she would have received had she been a child refugee awaiting offshore processing in Rwanda. She would have been shocked and dismayed by this appalling, heartless and (very likely) unlawful policy of this government” – Danny Silverstone, Chair, René Cassin

Rwanda, Refugees, and Our Rights under threat – newsletter 13 July 2022



Dear Supporter

On 22 June the government introduced its Bill of Rights “… repealing and replacing the Human Rights Act 1998”. If this measure passes in Parliament, it will be the first bill of rights that actually reduces our human rights, earning it the nickname ‘Rights Removal Bill’.

As the Conservative Party looks to elect a new leader, we urge candidates to read what its former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, said about the Human Rights Act in the Jewish Chronicle in 2016 – that the Act is a legacy of the Holocaust and history shows why we need it.

We pressed that argument when we met MPs at Westminster yesterday and will reiterate it to Parliamentarians scrutinising the Bill in the weeks ahead. If you are in any doubt about how the Human Rights Act help ordinary people in their everyday lives read our briefing or watch our short film, Sunrise not Sunset, which tells the story of how the Act kept an elderly couple together after their local authority put them in separate care homes.

Provisions like the Human Rights Act protect us all, but they are particularly important for vulnerable minorities. We are extremely concerned by proposals to forcibly remove asylum-seekers to Rwanda. The last-minute intervention of the European Court of Human Rights underlines the crucial importance of human rights and may explain the government’s timing in introducing its Bill of Rights – which will limit the power of the court – a few days later.

As we say in our statement, sending vulnerable people to Rwanda is “… inhumane, dangerous, and ineffective”, and we urge supporters to get involved both on the specific issue of Rwanda and the ‘hostile environment’ more broadly.

These are messages we repeated for last month’s Refugee Week, during which we also ran events on:

Hassockfield is a new centre built to detain women seeking asylum, and so featured in our actions to mark International Women’s Day. Our briefing on Hassockfield featured the harrowing testimony of Elizabeth – a woman trafficked to the UK who, rather than being helped by the authorities, ended up being appallingly treated in detention.

Vulnerable women like Elizabeth – in fact, all migrant women – are in danger of being further disadvantaged if the government fails to fully ratify the Instanbul Convention on Violence Against Women. Ministers plan to exclude migrant women from the Convention’s protection. René Cassin urges the government to ratify without reservation, protect all women, so that “no woman is left behind”.

Women’s rights formed the basis of the first three sessions in our Judith Social Justice Series of events (Disabled Women’s Experiences of Hate Crime; When the Police Fail to Protect Women; Women in Immigration Detention). This is a series of events hosted by René Cassin, delivered by specialist organisations working to support, protect and advocate for marginalised groups. This series is part of our work kindly supported by The Judith Trust.

The next session – Disability Rights, with Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK – will explore disability rights and their accompanying policy landscape in the UK. This is an online session on Monday 5 September at 3pm, chaired by Dr Annette Lawson – book your free place via our Eventbrite page.

With the deepening cost of living crisis, food poverty has become a far from marginal issue. On 28 May we marked World Hunger Day by launching our Jewish Food Rights Declaration, concluding “Judaism values dignity – enshrining the Right to Food promotes dignity and liberty for all … our message is clear: enforceable food rights are needed so that Government is accountable for ensuring that nobody goes hungry”.

Dignity and respect are the core values that human rights aim to uphold. And there can be no greater affront to those values than the blanket persecution of people because of who they are and what they believe. We are committed to keeping China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslims in the spotlight and during London Fashion Week in June, we joined a wide coalition to highlight the fact that the Chinese cotton industry uses Uyghur forced labour on a truly massive scale – globally, one in five cotton garments is most likely tainted by slavery. We are asking corporations to urgently audit their supply chains; and governments to ban imports produced by slave labour.

Since meeting Uyghur exile Rahima Mahmut in 2019, René Cassin has been successful in mobilising the Jewish community on this issue. Last year, we were instrumental in negotiating a generous start-up grant from Pears Foundation for Rahima’s organisation Stop Uyghur Genocide. Since then, as an advisor to the organisation, I have helped Rahima develop a powerful and effective campaign – work that has been rewarded in recent weeks by further support from Pears that will underpin the organisation’s work for the next three years.

Our work on making a difference in the present, of course, is founded on our remembrance of the past. Earlier this week we marked the anniversary of the genocide of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.

None of the work outlined above would be possible without the help of our supporters. Please make a donation today to ensure a Jewish voice for human rights is heard loud and clear.

As always, please do get in touch with me if you have any comments or questions about our work[email protected]. I would very much welcome your thoughts.

With best wishes


Mia Hasenson-Gross
Executive Director


René Cassin is a registered charity, number 1117472

Refugee Week 2022 – René Cassin’s statement

This year has posed so many new challenges to the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, who deserve a just and dignified life. From the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act criminalising refugees, the shirking of our responsibility by sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, to the real-life refugee crisis unfolding in Ukraine. 

In this complex and even bleak landscape for our human rights, the theme for this year’s Refugee Week, healing, poses a challenge. What might “healing” during refugee week look like, then? How can we as Jews seek to educate and understand the roll back of our rights when these very laws were written and ratified in the wake of our bitter persecution?

For Jews, it means finding a pathway from our historic experiences and values, to addressing some of the daily challenges of refugees today. Through collective education, listening, and recovering the deep similarities between our experiences, Jews can take a stand against refugee hostility and for all our human rights. 

This year, we will be bringing our Jewish partners and our sector partners opportunities for action, which challenge the UK’s ever hardening hostile environment to migrants and refugees. From trafficking and exploitation to indefinite detention, you will hear from refugees themselves about their lived experience, and range of advocacy and grassroots activists taking the government to task on the hostile environment.

René Cassin is proud to support Refugee Week to raise our voice in solidarity and to strive for an approach to migrants that centres social justice and humanity. We look forward to seeing you at our events!

#HealingTogether 

#RefugeeWeek

Actions

#Refugee Week 2022: Ways to challenge the hostile environment

Our events

Monday 20th 6pm in partnership with the Human Trafficking Foundation: A Twitter Space – war in Ukraine and crisis for modern slavery victims

Tuesday 21st at 7pm, in partnership with Generation2Generation: Then and Now, Learning from Refugee Experiences.

Thursday 23rd at 1pm No To Hassockfield – an Instagram live conversation with the campaign to shut down Hassockfield/Derwentside detention centre

We hope to see you there!

Our briefing

If you would like a more in depth look at the key issues facing refugees and asylum seekers in the UK for 2022, please find our briefing linked here.

Offshoring in Rwanda: what’s the problem and what can you do about it

Last week the UK government announced its plans to initiate offshore processing and settling of asylum seekers in Rwanda. These measures are inhumane, dangerous, and ineffective. They contravene international human rights obligations, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), established as cornerstones of refugee protection in the wake of our own bitter experience as Jews in the Holocaust.

This new policy consolidates the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ in the greatest attack on refugee rights in 50 years, spearheaded by the Nationality and Borders Bill. It criminalises people forced to take irregular journeys to the UK, it undermines fair hearing for asylum seekers and expands an inhumane system of offshore indefinite immigration detention. As Jews, we have been forced to seek asylum many times, and have an important stake in maintaining a domestic protection system for refugees and asylum seekers.

Why is this approach so harmful?

  • Lack of scrutiny: These camps would be hidden from public view and almost impossible to access for journalists and human rights monitors. The Rwandan Government persecutes critics, including journalists and opposing politicians (and where Violations of the rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression and privacy continued, alongside enforced disappearances, allegations of torture and excessive use of force Continue to happen).
  • Dehumanising & prone to abuse: It is inspired by Australia’s widely condemned offshore detention camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. They caused more than a dozen deaths, numerous cases of violence, sexual assault, and suicide.
  • Rwanda has a poor human rights record: The UK gave asylum to people fleeing persecution in Rwanda as recently as last year, and Rwandan police shot 12 refugees dead who were protesting against poor conditions in the camps there.
  • LGBTQI+ refugees at extreme risk, according to widespread evidence from Human Rights Watch, and Rwandan LGBTQ+ organisations on the ground who reported Rwandan authorities rounding up and arbitrarily detaining over a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers and others before a conference in June 2021. Read more about this via Rainbow Migration.

Why must Jewish people challenge this?

  • Jewish people have been forced to seek asylum from persecution many times. We believe that the British public, and the Jewish community, have an important stake in maintaining a domestic protection system for vulnerable minority groups, including refugees and asylum seekers.
  • These measures contravene the Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which were both established as cornerstones of refugee protection following our experience in the Holocaust.
  • Jewish people have their own experience of detention, having been interned on the Isle of Man during WW2. We cannot let history repeat itself. Read more about it on our website.

What you can do about it  

Write to your MP to stop the Rwanda policy

  • Via Detention Action, who challenges the inhumane detention regime in the United Kingdom generally, and has written a template on the Rwanda issue specifically
  • Via Rainbow Migration, based particularly on concern for the treatment of LGBTQI+ people and refugees in Rwanda

Donate to the legal fight here, lead by Freedom from Torture, to get the government to back down or have the plans overturned

Challenge the UK’s Hostile Environment more broadly

  • Use our Jewish specific template letter – cosponsored by René Cassin and the Union for Jewish Students, to email your MP, which challenges the Nationality and Borders Bill alongside the inadequacies of the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme

Learn more

#Refugee Week 2022: Ways to challenge the hostile environment

STOP THE INHUMANE POLICY SENDING REFUGEES TO RWANDA

  1. Write to the airlines via JCWI’s campaign HERE. One of them, Titan has already pulled out thanks to public pressure.
  2. Sign one or all of these three petitions:  

SHUT DOWN DERTWENSIDE DETENTION CENTRE

  • Women for Refugee Women are taking the government to court to get Dertwentside shut down. Donate to their legal challenge here   

THE UKRAINE REFUGEE CRISIS

If you are unable to help by hosting, follow these links for more initiatives to get involved in!

NATIONALITY AND BORDERS ACT

  • Read our detailed response to the Bill here. 

Further information

Happy Human Rights Day – newsletter 10 December 2020



Dear SupporterHappy Human Rights Day! Seventy-two years ago today, on 10 December 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is a day to celebrate. The Declaration was a powerful and poignant expression of a world uniting to say ‘Never again!’ after the atrocities of the Second World War. It provided a ‘beacon of hope’ for Nelson Mandela in his darkest hour and has provided the foundation stone to the global human rights framework – including the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK’s Human Rights Act.

And just as it lit the way out of the darkness 72 years ago, we believe the Declaration can provide the inspiration to rebuild a better society as we recover from the pandemic. Its Article 25 states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being” and, as we say in our Human Rights Day statement today:

“Giving renewed attention to our neighbours’ needs to be fed, clothed, housed, healthy and secure would be a fitting testament to that landmark day 72 years ago”.

This significant day has a particular meaning for us – we are named after Monsieur René Cassin, the French-Jewish co-author of the Declaration. Cassin is Jewish Human Rights Hero – but he is far from alone. If he is Superman, read about Hersch Lauterpacht as Batman, Raphael Lemkin as Captain America, Simone Veil as Wonder Woman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as Captain Marvel.

It was Lemkin who coined the term ‘genocide’. And his work led to the UN adopting the Genocide Convention, the day before the Universal Declaration. But sadly, unlike the Declaration, the Genocide Convention has not been a success. It narrowed Lemkin’s original definition of genocide and placed a too onerous burden of proof on prosecutors. It has failed to prevent subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and Myanmar. Never again has become all too often. Now that terrible history is repeating itself for the Uyghur Muslims in China. As we say in our Genocide Prevention Day statement:

“The millions of Uyghurs, currently interned without trial, being used as forced labour or organ donors, being sterilised, and punished for speaking their language or practising their religion, do not need us to quibble over the definition of ‘genocide’. They need us look at what is happening to them, condemn it, and act to stop it.”

On the same theme, our ‘Human Writes’ essay competition asked: “Why is genocide still happening and what can we do to stop it?”. Our judge Lord (Danny) Finkelstein was impressed with the entries, describing the shortlisted essays as “compelling”, and winner Noah Lachs’ as “intellectually thrilling”.

In terms of the task at hand, Noah is clear: “Prevention should be less about destroying concentration camps and more about ensuring the first bricks in such places are never laid”.

And on that note, our 54-page Human Rights Shabbat resource pack asks “How can the Jewish experience and principles inform the prevention of genocide today?”

One simple yet powerful thing we can do is use that experience to show solidarity with the UK’s Uyghur Muslim community. So I invite you to join us for Celebrating the Light Together – our festive Jewish-Uyghur lighting of the 4th Candle of Hanukkah on Sunday 13 December at 5.45pm.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about René Cassin or our work, do please get in touch: [email protected]

And finally … to help René Cassin remake the case for human rights and mark many more Human Rights Days to come, please make a one-off or regular donation via our website at www.renecassin.org/donate

Happy Hanukkah! Happy Human Rights Day!

With very best wishes

MHG signtaure
Mia Hasenson-Gross
Director

René Cassin is a registered charity, number 1117472


Genocide Prevention Day

Today, 9 December 2020, is UN Genocide Prevention Day – the anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Genocide Convention in 1948.

To mark the anniversary, René Cassin Executive Director, Mia Hasenson-Gross made the following statement:

“On this day in 1948 the world, having seen the horrors of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, came together to say: “Never again!” when the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Sadly, that fine ambition has been betrayed by subsequent events: Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, the Rohingya of Myanmar, and now the Uyghur Muslims in China. Never again has become all too often.

The Convention has failed – it has not prevented genocide. In the words of Lord Hope, former Deputy President of the Supreme Court, speaking in a House of Lords debate in October, the Convention is “ … a deplorably weak instrument for dealing with the challenges we face today … it is simply not up to the job.”

Lord Hope’s damning assessment would have been echoed by Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer who coined the term ‘genocide’ and who worked on early drafts of the Convention. Lemkin’s concept of genocide went beyond the deliberate killing of a group and included the systematic destruction of culture, language, and religion – the attempt to remove any proof that it ever existed.

However, the final draft defined genocide much more narrowly and set a very high evidential bar for potential prosecutions to clear – meaning that, even if successful, the Convention could only be used in response to genocide, not to prevent it.

But to blame the Convention alone is grossly unfair. It has been suggested that a further flaw is that, once a situation is defined as genocide, the Convention impels states to act, and so those states choose to ‘look the other way’. That is shameful and speaks less of the failure of an international treaty than of a deplorable lack of political will to help vulnerable minorities just when they most need protection.

The millions of Uyghurs, currently interned without trial, being used as forced labour or organ donors, being sterilised, and punished for speaking their language or practising their religion, do not need us to quibble over the definition of ‘genocide’. They need us look at what is happening to them, condemn it, and act to stop it.”

What to know more about genocide and the Uyghur Muslims in China?