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“René Cassin shines brightly in our country as an organisation that stands up to discrimination”

Posted on Monday, July 8th, 2019

By Joshua Wuggenig

I came to René Cassin at a particularly daunting time for human rights around the world, with Western countries catering further and further to far-right groups and policies, bringing discrimination and hate crime into the public view, and brutal crackdowns on minorities by countries around the world – the Uyghurs in China, Muslims in India and Christians in the Middle East. Against this backdrop I have seen just how important the work that René Cassin does is, as we can see so clearly where the policies of hostility and discrimination appearing across America and Europe, including Britain, can lead. René Cassin shines brightly in our country as an organisation that stands up to this, working hard to ensure that our country upholds and protects the rights we treasure so dearly.

This week has shown me the reality of the situation in the UK – paradoxically good and bad at the same time. There are copious laws that safeguard our human rights in every way, thanks to our membership of global organisations such as the UN, the Council of Europe and the EU, and yet all too often we see these rights being abused. On my second day here, I went to Parliament to observe an inquiry into modern slavery in the UK. I was shocked to discover that the Home Office is completely aware that there are currently victims of human trafficking and modern slavery in its immigration detention centres, and yet it is reluctant to introduce a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. No-one, not even the organisations that work with these victims, know the full extent of their number. How can we, a country with laws designed to protect these people, be complicit in this?  Without the campaigning that René Cassin (and others) are doing, who would stand up for the rights of such vulnerable people? We must be reminded that human rights must apply to everyone, or they are no rights at all.

As I was researching another of René Cassin’s campaigns, Equal Rights for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, I saw why our Jewish connection was so important. The historical suffering of the Roma has been mentioned in Parliament many times, yet almost only ever comes up during discussions on the Holocaust. When we, as Jews, speak about the Holocaust, people listen, so surely here lies an opportunity to dramatically raise awareness of similar persecution and genocide inflicted on the Roma. René Cassin is one of the few groups to realise this, and its impact can easily be seen – it has submitted evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry into Gypsy, Roma and Traveller inequality and has campaigned to raise awareness of both national Hate Crime Awareness week and Roma Genocide Remembrance Day. Here the commendable work it does is that of educating others. Before my work experience here, I did not even think about the discrimination and racism directed at the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. It is all too easy to be complacent, and René Cassin works to wake people up to the situation.

My time at René Cassin has felt more well-spent than much else I have done, and the work I have been set feels truly meaningful. Being here has taken me from having basic knowledge of human rights and how they affect us to involvement at some of the highest levels of British politics.  I cannot emphasise strongly enough how far my expectations of what working here would be like have been exceeded. I have enjoyed every moment of it, and have come out feeling enlightened, involved, and best of all, a part of the amazing team that is key to all of the work that René Cassin do.