STANDING UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS – THIS MONTH, December 2016
This year Human Rights Day on 10 December coincides with Shabbat – a Shabbat that will be doubly special for us here at BHPS because we will be celebrating the Bat Mitzvah of one of our young people, Eve Murphy. Human Rights Day commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V), inviting all States and interested organisations to observe 10 December each year as Human Rights Day. (See: http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/ ). In recent years, across the Jewish community, the Shabbat nearest to Human Rights Day has been designated as ‘Human Rights Shabbat.’
Human Rights Day 2016 ‘calls on everyone to stand up for someone’s rights!’ The UN.org page on Human Rights continues: ‘Many of us are fearful about the way the world is heading. Disrespect for basic human rights continues to be wide-spread in all parts of the globe. Extremist movements subject people to horrific violence. Messages of intolerance and hatred prey on our fears. Humane values are under attack. We must reaffirm our common humanity. Wherever we are, we can make a real difference. In the street, in school, at work, in public transport; in the voting booth, on social media… It starts with each of us. Step forward and defend the rights of a refugee or migrant, a person with disabilities, an LGBT person, a woman, a child, indigenous peoples, a minority group, or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence.’ If you use Twitter, follow: #Standup4Rights #HumanRightsDay
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a call to humanity. Drafted and ratified in response to the horrors of the Sho’ah, and the violent conflict unleashed during the Second World War, significantly, Jews played a major part in its formulation. The Jewish charity, René Cassin (http://www.renecassin.org/) which ‘works to promote and protect universal human rights, drawing on Jewish experience and values’, takes its inspiration from René Cassin, the French-Jewish jurist, law professor and judge, who co-drafted the Universal Declaration. A French delegate to the League of Nations from 1924 to 1938, during the war, René Cassin was delegate to the UN Commission on Inquiry into War Crimes (1943-1945). After the UN declaration was adopted, he helped to establish the Consultative Council of Jewish Organisations – dedicated to providing encouragement from a Jewish perspective to the newly founded UN human rights system. He was also president of the Hague Court of Arbitration from 1950-1960. On being informed that he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968, René Cassin replied: “I am very happy…. I would be happier if there were a little more justice in the world”. The René Cassin charity declares: ‘Our mission is to bring “a little more justice” to the world in René Cassin’s name’ (http://www.renecassin.org/who-we-are/history/)
For a fascinating in-depth exploration of the development of human rights legislation, and the challenges to human rights today, I recommend everyone reads a book published in 2015 to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta: A Magna Carta for all humanity: homing in on human rights (Routledge, Abingdon – ISBN 9780415423748). The author is Professor Francesca Klug, one of the principal architects of the UK Human Rights Act – and, incidentally, my dear cousin.
Towards the end of December we will celebrate the festival of Chanukkah. When we recall the struggle of the Maccabees against oppression and tyranny in the second century BCE, let us remember all those subjected to oppression and tyranny across the world today. As we light the Chanukkiyyah each night, and watch the flames accumulate, may we resolve ‘to stand up for someone’s rights!’ and to do what we can to kindle the light of hope in the hearts of those suffering discrimination, persecution and violence. Chanukkah Samei’ach! Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah