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05 januari 2013

Jews and Human Rights In Europe

Seventy years ago, on December 17 1942, British Foreign Minister Sir Anthony Eden reported to the House of Commons that the Jews of Germany and German-occupied Eastern Europe were being systematically starved and murdered.  He read a declaration by the Allies (named by Franklin Delano Roosevelt the “United Nations”) condemning this “bestial policy.”  The declaration included a “solemn resolution to ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution.”  The Allies, declared Eden, would try to give asylum to as many refugees as possible.

After the Second World War, the General Assembly of the newly created United Nations, a body larger than the anti-Hitler coalition, accepted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.  Five months later, a group of European countries created a Council of Europe, agreed to a European Convention on Human Rights, and gradually accepted the jurisdiction of a European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg, a city which had switched several times between French and German sovereignty.  Today, the Council of Europe consists of 47 countries all of which accept the permanent jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Court as the final arbiter of cases brought under the very wide terms of the European Convention on Human Rights (a document broadly similar to the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention both emerged as responses to the Holocaust.  Jewish jurists such as Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, Raphael Lemkin, and René Cassin played prominent roles in their creation.  In front of the entrance to the Strasbourg headquarters of the Council of Europe, a memorial to those who died in Auschwitz makes clear the intention of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights to guarantee that the Holocaust could never recur.

It is worth asking whether these various human-rights declarations have protected Jewish safety and Jewish interests as intended.  The record has been mixed at best.  In much of Europe, Jews still feel distinctly uncomfortable.  Moreover, there is a risk that the European Court of Human Rights may in the next few years restrict such fundamental Jewish religious practices as circumcision.

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