Making the Jewish Case for Human Rights – Monsieur René Cassin

Who was René Cassin?

René Cassin was born in 1887 to a Sephardi Jewish family in the South of France. Throughout   his life, Cassin combined political leadership in France, secular leadership within the world’s Jewish communities and a deep commitment to peace  and human rights.

Cassin first showed this commitment to human rights as a leader of France’s veterans during and after the First World  War.  In  the  1920s  and  1930s,  Cassin  was  a French delegate to the League of Nations in Geneva. There he witnessed the destructive power of the doctrine of ‘absolute state sovereignty’, which eventually undermined the League and became a contributing factor to the start of the Second World War.

From 1940, René Cassin was at the heart of Charles de Gaulle’s ‘Free French’ government-in-exile in London. De Gaulle appointed Cassin as President of the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU), the representative body of the Jews of North Africa, the Middle East and Persia. Cassin’s leadership enabled the AIU’s 100 schools to remain open to 50,000 Jewish students throughout the war. He would remain president of the AIU for 30 years.

With the defeat of Nazi Germany, the whole world became fully aware of the horrors of the Holocaust. Cassin himself learned that 29 members of his family had been murdered by the Nazis. His response was that such atrocities should ‘Never Again’ be allowed to happen and he dedicated the rest of his life to the creation of an international system of human rights.  In 1948, he co-drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which guaranteed the rights of the individual, and of groups like the Jews, in the face of over-mighty sovereign states.

In 1968, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role as lead jurist of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

René Cassin always maintained that the concept of human rights emerged from the same roots as his Judaism. A member of that generation whose response to war was to promote peace through international law, René Cassin integrated his life as a Jew with his life as a jurist. For these reasons, he is the inspiration behind our organisation.

“Human rights are an integral part of the faith and tradition of Judaism. The beliefs that man was created in the divine image, that the human family is one, and that every person is obliged to deal justly with every other person are basic sources of the Jewish commitment to human rights.”  Monsieur René Cassin, 1974

Read or download Making the Jewish Case for Human Rights in the UK as a PDF