Sunday 10 December was the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Declaration was revolutionary. Back in 1948, its co-author and our namesake Monsieur René Cassin introduced the Declaration to the UN General Assembly by telling delegates:
“Something new has entered the world … the first document about moral value adopted by an assembly of the human community”.
To mark the anniversary of this ground-breaking document, we invited leading experts Helena Kennedy and Philippe Sands to discuss its significance. Helena began the conversation by evoking the first meeting of the Declaration’s drafters – a dinner-party given by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1945 at which she asked “How can we have world law to prevent the horrors of the Holocaust ever happening again?” In response, the guests – eminent jurists from around the world – set themselves the task of creating, in Helena’s words, “a template of values that should inform every legal system in the world”.
After a lively and wide-ranging discussion, Philippe book-ended the evening by warning that, here in the UK, “we are slowly withdrawing from the world that we helped to create in 1945 … It starts at home, there’s a real problem at home”.
Philippe was referring to growing calls for the UK to withdraw from one of the key successors of the Universal Declaration, the European Convention on Human Rights. His warning was also a call to action to which René Cassin had already responded. Earlier this autumn, we created an online ‘family tree’ showing how our human rights protections developed from the Universal Declaration to the European Convention and beyond, and how Jewish lawyers were central to that development.
As reported in Jewish News, we also wrote to the Chairman of the Conservative party reminding him and his colleagues of the particular importance of the European Convention to minority communities, and urging the government to #StaySignedIn.
Calls for withdrawal from the Convention reached a crescendo after the Supreme Court blocked a government scheme to send people seeking asylum in the UK to Rwanda. We joined more than 130 organisations in welcoming the court’s decision and calling for an asylum policy rooted in “… care, compassion, and respect for human rights”.
Care, compassion and respect for human rights are sorely lacking in China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslims. Women are particularly harshly treated, as UK-based Uyghur exile Rahima Mahmut testified as part of our campaign to mark ’16 Days of Activism’ on violence against women and girls:
“Millions of Uyghur women are held in concentration camps where they face brainwashing, starvation, torture, forced labour, and systematic rape”
We invited Rahima to light a Hanukkah candle to mark the anniversary of the Declaration. In these dark days, we echo her wishes for a brighter future:
“Let these flames renew within us the spirit of kinship and hope, and inspire us to commit to the vision set out in the Declaration of freedom and peace for all”.
With very best wishes from
all at René Cassin