Hannah Swirsky
Hannah Swirsky

Seventy years of Human Rights inspired by a Jewish pioneer

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It is a time for celebration, but also for remembrance.

Celebration, because the UDHR was the first expression of a global consensus that the rights of every human being were paramount and must be respected. But remembrance, too, because the Declaration was a response to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Known as ‘the Father of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, it was our namesake Monsieur René Cassin, a French Jewish lawyer who had lost many members of his family in the Holocaust, who set about drafting a document which would establish human rights for all humanity.

Our Jewish experience, and specifically the Holocaust, signified the need for a codified set of principles to underpin the international community’s shared understanding and commitment that the horrors that affected so many individuals, families and groups in the Second World War must never happen again.

For many of us, the resulting human rights framework has defined who we are and how we live our lives. So much so that many of us take for granted the rights and protections that come from this legal framework and close our eyes to the many abuses of these rights that happen in our society and abroad.

So, today, we should celebrate and remember. But, more importantly, we should look to the future – to ensure that we build on the precious legacy that Monsieur René Cassin created 70 years ago.

It is reassuring and important that other key figures in the Jewish community are echoing this sentiment, including Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

René Cassin

Fifty years ago, René Cassin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in drafting the UDHR. He always maintained that the concept of human rights emerged from the same roots as his Judaism.

As we today celebrate and benefit from this legacy of rights and freedoms, we must ask ourselves, what will our human rights legacy be for the future? How will we ensure that human rights are enjoyed by everyone?

As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70, there has never been a more important time to get involved in our work.

About the Author
Hannah Swirsky is the Campaigns Officer at René Cassin, a UK charity working to promote and protect universal human rights, drawing Jewish experience and values.