Human rights is an optimist’s creed – the belief that humanity can learn from the mistakes and horrors of the past; that, together, we can make a better tomorrow. That was the view of our namesake, Monsieur René Cassin, when he drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a ‘beacon of hope’ (to quote Nelson Mandela) after the darkness of Nazism.
In our response to the health emergency, we have tried to encourage positive and communal action – hence our call to ‘stay Hopeful, stay Helpful, stay Human’.
Much of this newsletter concerns genocide and crimes against humanity – the unimaginable suffering of millions of people. Faced with such pain, hope can be in short supply. We can feel helpless, and our belief in humanity is sorely tested. But history has taught us that this is precisely the time we should remain true to the values of human rights and be determined to act.
The Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang province are helpless – they are being crushed by the Chinese state. But perhaps there is a small ray of hope for them in the growing international response, not least in the UK, and particularly from the Jewish community. Last month the Jewish News asked me to comment on the sickening news that a shipment of 13 tonnes of Uyghur hair had been intercepted.
Barely a week later, we co-hosted (with Jewish News) ‘Chilling Echoes’ – a livestream discussion on the issue, with Rahima Mahmut of the World Uyghur Congress, broadcaster Maajid Nawaz, Olivia Marks-Woldman of the Holocaust Day Memorial Trust, MP Nusrat Ghani, Jewish News editor Richard Ferrer and myself.
The livestream is well worth watching – both to appreciate the full horror of the genocide now unfolding in Xinjiang, but also, crucially, for ideas of what we can do about it.
There are a number of simple things you can do to help the Uyghurs. Some of these are outlined on our website – www.renecassin.org/jewish-action-to-stop-uyghur-persecution
Since introducing her and the plight of the Uyghurs to the Jewish community at a public meeting in May 2019, I have been working with Rahima Mahmut, the UK representative of the World Uyghur Congress. Rahima has recently launched an appeal to crowd-fund the comprehensive strategy we have formulated – you can support Rahima and her fellow Uyghurs by making a donation via www.gofundme.com/f/stop-uyghur-genocide
Our determination to speak out against the Chinese government’s persecution of its Muslim minorities is driven by our revulsion at the horrors of the past.
On 11 July we marked the 25th anniversary of the massacre of more than eight thousand Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica with the words: “After the atrocities of the Second World War, we said ‘Never again!’ We failed those poor men and boys in Srebrenica. Let’s not fail again”.
Similarly, marking the 76th anniversary of the murder of nearly three thousand Roma men, women and children at Auschwitz on 2 August we said “The greatest memorial we can make to all the victims of genocide is to ensure that it never happens again”.
Calling all young Jewish activists – sign up to become a Human Rights Ambassador! If you’re a student or sixth-former, the programme will give you the knowledge and skills to advocate for marginalised communities and to campaign for change on issues that resonate with Jewish values and experience.
Applications close on 31 August – sign up now via our website at www.renecassin.org/rene-cassin-human-rights-ambassador-programme
Other news in brief
Get in touch!
A reminder that we have temporarily closed our office in Golders Green, and the team is working from home. If you need to contact us, please email [email protected] – which is constantly monitored – rather than phoning or calling in person.
If you have any comments or questions about any aspect of René Cassin’s work, I would love to hear from you – please email me via [email protected]
With very best wishes
PS If you would like to make a one-off or regular donation to help our work, you can do so via our website at www.renecassin.org/donate