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
René Cassin is a registered charity, number 1117472