by Stephanie Brodkin, René Cassin intern
The High Holy Days are an opportunity to reflect on our values and protect human rights, which are threatened by withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.
The High Holy Days
The High Holy Days are a time for celebration and a time for introspection. Rosh Hashana is a festival where we reflect on the past year and look towards the future. It is known as the ‘Day of Judgement’, marking the start of the Ten Days of Repentance, which end with Yom Kippur, the ‘Day of Atonement’. This time in the Jewish calendar is reserved for us to reflect on our behaviour and actions over the past year and the impact they have had on others. It is customary to do Tashlich, which involves gathering at a body of water and symbolically casting away our sins. On Yom Kippur, we fast, declare our sins and ask for forgiveness, hoping our repentance will be accepted and God will grant us a happy, healthy life for another year.
Equally, the High Holy Days encourage us to commit to self-improvement, where we look towards the future and reflect on how we can improve our actions. Our commitment to improvement goes beyond an individual level, involving the whole community. On Yom Kippur, an important confessional prayer is Al Cheit (‘For the Sin’). We repent as a community by declaring our communal sins. We request to be forgiven as a community, saying ‘for all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us’. This tradition allows us to come together as a community to reflect on the behaviours we consider unacceptable. Inherent to our Yom Kippur customs is a recognition that we want a just and fair society, and we must take a stand together to protect our values.
Human rights legislation protects our values
Today, human rights legislation protects us from unacceptable behaviour. Human rights legislation emerged as a response to the atrocities of the Holocaust to prevent them being repeated. In 1948, Monsieur René Cassin – our namesake – co-drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets out fundamental values to be universally protected.
The European Convention on Human Rights (1953) was drawn up by the Council of Europe, based on the Universal Declaration. It outlines the rights of people that must be respected by the state. States that sign up to it agree to protect the rights of their citizens and other people within their borders. The European Convention protects the right to life, right to freedom of religion, right to marry, right to a fair trial, freedom from torture and slavery among many others. The UK was one of the first countries to sign it, in 1951, and it was later brought into UK law as part of the Human Rights Act (1998). Public authorities have a ‘positive obligation’ to respect our rights, and we can challenge them in court if they do not. The European Convention on Human Rights protects the rights of every single one of us.
Now our human rights are under threat. Some Conservative MPs are calling for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention, resentful that it has blocked the Government’s immigration policy. The UK’s Court of Appeal ruled that removing asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda is unlawful because it breaches the Convention, violating Article 3: ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment’. Withdrawing from the European Conventions puts not just migrants’ rights at risk; it puts all our rights at risk.
Protect our rights
As we gather as a community over the High Holy Days, we stand together to celebrate and repent, committing to achieve a just society. We have space to celebrate the rights inspired by our peoplehood experience, protected by our legislation. It is a time to reflect on the values we hold as individuals and as a community. Let us celebrate the rights protected by human rights legislation. Let us commit to a future that is just. Let us stay signed into the European Convention on Human Rights.