By Sarah Kass
I first heard about René Cassin after my sister wrote a paper for the charity earlier this year. I was immediately intrigued when I heard how René Cassin takes the experiences of our history as Jews, and uses this as a force for good. As a Social Policy and Criminology student at the University of Birmingham, I have learnt about genocide, hate crime, the refugee crisis, and other pertinent issues of our time. René Cassin enabled me to take this passion, and actively use it to benefit others.
My week of work experience started with a brief introduction to human rights, and the work that René Cassin does specifically. The introduction quickly turned into an eager discussion about how human rights has been pushed to the back of people’s minds, as Brexit has taken over. After a discussion like this, it is easy to feel pessimistic about the future of our country, however, once my work really started, I realised how important the work is that that charities like René Cassin do, and I immediately started to feel optimistic.
My first task was to do the media tracking for the previous week. I researched news articles relating to modern slavery, asylum and detention, the Gypsy Roma Traveller community, and hate crime. One of the most surprising things that I discovered through this, was that in Reading, £300k had been put aside to improve security against unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller camps. At first thought, I was shocked at how much money was put aside for this act of discrimination and intolerance. I then thought about how much could be achieved if this money was put towards educating people about the Gypsy Roma Traveller community, and helping them find safe places to live. As Jews, we understand what it is like to be unwanted, and thrown out of places we consider home. It is therefore essential that we, as the Jewish community, do more to help and protect the Gypsy Roma Traveller community.
My next task involved writing briefing papers for a Jewish youth movement regarding hate crime, as well as asylum and detention in the UK. This project helped to further develop my knowledge of the subjects, and gave me a deeper appreciation for why the work that René Cassin does is so important. Through my research for the papers, I learnt about the inhumane treatment of detainees in a particular immigration detention centre. Detainees revealed how they were physically and verbally abused at the hands of the staff at the detention centre. Additionally, in the UK there is no time limit on how long a person can be held for in one of the detention centres. Research shows that after 28 days, the mental health of those detained in immigration centres seriously worsens. Today, we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental health, and this concern should be for all people, including those detained in such centres.
On the Tuesday night, I had the privilege of attending a René Cassin organised talk by Francesca Klug, a professor of human rights. Francesca spoke in great detail, and with undeniable passion, about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was co-written by Monsieur René Cassin, a French Jew. She also spoke about the relationship between human rights and the Jewish community. After the talk, I was able to speak to Francesca, and learnt that this would be her penultimate public talk. She expressed that she has said all she could possibly say on the subject of human rights, and that it was now up to the next generation to educate themselves and others about the importance of human rights. This conversation stayed with me for the rest of my week at René Cassin, and further pushed me on my journey towards being a young human rights advocate in the Jewish community.
On my penultimate day, I attended two meetings. The first was with UJS, where we discussed upcoming UJS and René Cassin campaigns. We also discussed the role that Jewish students can play in ensuring that hate crime, in particular hate speech, is eliminated. This was particularly interesting for me as a student, as it enabled me to think practically about how students can be involved, and why this is important. In second meeting of the day, Hannah, the campaigns officer at René Cassin, pitched the upcoming #CutItOut campaign to a group of representatives of different organisations that focus on hate crime. During the meeting, run by Equally Ours, each representative gave their feedback on the #CutItOut campaign, and discussed how important it is that all people, whether they are politicians or students, cut hate speech out of every-day language. I enjoyed listening to how each organisation present was keen to support each other, and I realised that even when one advocates for the human rights of one particular group, all groups benefit.
Although my time at René Cassin was short, what I have learnt about human rights, and those who are refused them, and the skills I have gained will stay with me for a long time. During the Q&A section of Francesca’s talk, someone asked, “should we be scared?”. After working at René Cassin, I am confident that the answer to this question is no and that the work of human rights charities will lead us to a place where all people, whoever and wherever they are, can fully enjoy all their human rights. I plan to use this knowledge and experience in my university studies, and as a platform to continue my involvement as a human rights activist.