On Holocaust Memorial Day, Aidan Shipman of Jewish human rights organisation René Cassin reflects on where our modern human rights protections come from, and what the future of human rights in the UK may hold...

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Holocaust Memorial Day is a day to take stock and reflect. We remember those murdered by the Nazi regime: the Jews, the Roma, the disabled and gay people who all perished. Memorialisation of the Holocaust has been and must remain a double faced process of remembrance and of learning to prevent these atrocities from ever happening again. As a Jewish human rights organisation, René Cassin draws on Jewish experience to promote and protect the universal rights of all people.

One of the legacies of the Holocaust is our universal human rights system. After the atrocities of the first half of the 20th Century, countries from all over the world came together to form the United Nations. One of its first acts was to unanimously adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, a document co-authored by the man our organisation is named in honour of – Monsieur René Cassin. The Holocaust informed Monsieur Cassin’s own strong commitment to human rights.

Born out of the UDHR was the European Convention on Human Rights, Europe’s attempt to ensure the Holocaust was never repeated. Since then, numerous other human rights treaties have emerged, from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. These treaties have set universal standards for the protection of human rights and have paved the way for their enforcement throughout the world. By accepting checks on our own actions, we reap the benefit of knowing that other countries are bound by the very same rules. It is precisely this principle which motivated the development of human rights law after 1945.  Our human rights are our safeguards and bulwarks against violations both big and small. It was relevant then and it is still relevant now.

Yet today, the human rights debate in the UK is polarised. Human rights are wilfully castigated in our media, wrongly portrayed as the preserve of foreign criminals, terrorists and their cats.  The current Government’s attempt to repeal our Human Rights Act and diminish the link to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg will not bring ‘common sense’ back to human rights rulings. Repealing the Human Rights Act will most likely serve to make it harder for individuals in seek justice when their rights have been violated.

When considering Government plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, we are motivated by what Monsieur René Cassin said in 1968:

"Now that we possess an instrument capable of lifting or easing the burden of oppression and injustice in the world, we must learn to use it."

As a Jewish human rights organisation, we believe today is the right time to highlight the link between the Holocaust and its human rights legacy, and acknowledge that remembrance must always be connected to learning.

Aidan Shipman
René Cassin