The Holocaust and human rights

25 January 2011
Communications Officer

Trying to understand the scale of suffering and the millions of lives destroyed under the Nazi regime can be overwhelming. But on Holocaust Memorial Day it is up to all of us to turn and face it, so that the pledge of ‘never again’ can truly become a reality.

It is also an opportunity to remember the origins of the international human rights framework and recognise what is still to be done to protect the values of individual human dignity and equal treatment in the UK and elsewhere.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Thursday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day 2011. It is a day to remember the victims and those who survived the Holocaust and Nazi persecution - but also those from subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and the ongoing atrocities in Darfur.

The theme for HMD 2011 is Untold Stories:

“It’s easy to talk about the numbers murdered and persecuted during the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.  It’s less easy to truly appreciate what these figures mean.  The 11 million people murdered by the Nazis were not a statistic.  They were individuals.  Somebody’s friend.  A mother.  A father.  A child.  A colleague.  A neighbour.”

There are countless stories that we will never know because the victims of genocide cannot tell us. But we can honour their memory by recognising  the dangers of exclusion and persecution

An international human rights framework

The years immediately after the Second World War marked a turning point in the history of human rights.  As the world reeled from the horror of the Nazi concentration camps there came an important realization that although fundamental rights should be respected as a matter of course, without formal protection human rights concepts are of little use to those facing persecution.

In response to the atrocities committed during the War the international community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual.  In 1948 the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the most important agreements in world history.

Shortly afterward another newly formed international body, the Council of Europe, set about giving effect to the UDHR in a European context. The resulting European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950 and ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951. At the time there were only ten members of the Council of Europe. Now 47 member countries subscribe to the European Convention, and in 1998 the Human Rights Act was passed in order to “give further effect” to the European Convention in British law.

What you can do?

It is impossible to know how many people have been protected by these laws, or how many lives have been saved. But Holocaust Memorial Day isn’t just about the past; it’s also about ending current human rights violations and building a better, safer future for everyone.

Please visit to light a virtual candle in memory of the victims of genocide, and find out how you can support HMD and all it is seeking to achieve.

>> What are human rights?

Find out more about our fundamental rights and freedoms

>> Common Values

Liberty’s campaign to increase awareness and understanding of human rights values