In our latest blog for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015, Shami Chakrabarti CBE looks at the Human Rights laws that came as a direct result of what happened in the Holocaust.
In 2015, we mark 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, and 20 since the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Sadly, 2015 also finds our human rights framework – enduring and vital legacy of the Holocaust – in unprecedented jeopardy.
In recent years, human rights have become a political punch bag and, among the hysterical headlines and rhetoric, it’s too easy to forget where the European Convention on Human Rights came from. It was our continent’s answer to the horrors of the Holocaust, our pledge that such inhumanity would never happen again.
Reeling from the atrocities of the Nazi camps, the international community came to the realisation that, without hard-edged formal protections, the concept of human rights was of little use to those facing persecution. They set out to define the rights and freedoms needed to secure every individual’s dignity and worth – the result, in 1948, was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the most important agreements in world history.
Shortly afterwards came the European Convention, ratified by the UK in 1951. It enshrined our most precious values – respect for private and family life and equality under the law; freedom from slavery, torture and arbitrary imprisonment, and of speech, association and belief. Values for which millions have died, and for which many still fight.
British lawyers were instrumental in developing the Convention, and the UK has spent six decades at the forefront of the fight for rights and freedoms – which makes efforts to dismantle the framework all the more distressing.
The Convention remains a beacon, not only in the UK but for those in newer democracies. It’s proved an essential check on oppressive and arbitrary government throughout Europe. It’s given us our very own bill of rights – the Human Rights Act. It’s impossible to say how many lives have been saved because of it, and how many vulnerable people it’s protected.
What more fitting memorial to the Holocaust could we have? What better way to keep its memory alive than to ensure its lessons remain firmly entrenched in British law?
The mentalities that made the evils of the Holocaust possible will never completely disappear – so we must never become complacent, stop the fight or lose sight of the potential consequences of doing so.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Anyone who believes the Holocaust should never happen again must resolve to resist political cynicism and protect the Convention for generations to come.