Human Rights are the product of the human imagination being put to good use to keep humanity safe.
Helena Kennedy describes them as ‘a beautifully hybrid thing, legal, political, philosophical which draw their authority from and in turn make manifest certain threads found across vast distances in space and time..It’s the deeper sense of the human that these rights are striving for ’
However, Theodore Zeldin wrote: ‘Our imaginations are inhabited by ghosts, familiar ghosts which reassure, the lazy ones which make us obstinate and, above all, the frightening ones which discourage. The past haunts us.’
Ours is a ghost story.
It is hard to imagine a place more haunted than Nuremberg in October 1945. The bombed streets stank of dead corpses: and the Germans who survived starved. The ghosts of those who attended the early Nazi rallies, whose salute to victory must have still echoed through the city, confronted by the ghosts of the victims of the war and the holocaust, who had come to the Courthouse to demand justice at the War Crimes Trials that were soon to open.
“All of the world seemed to have arranged a rendezvous at Nuremberg,”
wrote one observer of the stream of visitors to the trials. It does not require a huge leap of imagination to perceive that all the after-world may have arranged a similar rendezvous.
At that time those on trial were spectres, wraiths ripped of their powers. Except that they were still in some part men, answerable for their actions.
And now the whole business of trials, the judges, the military and other lawyers are captured in ghostly black and white film, and the jumble of sound spat from the first use of simultaneous translation.
And yet, after evidence had been digested and cross-examination completed by the summer of 1946, there was time to consider how the lessons of Nuremberg could make people in Europe safe in the future. After the barbarism of war boundless imagination was available for the exorcism of the ghosts.
Human rights are one thread identified, and amongst those at Nuremberg it found champions.
‘Yet I am haunted by some words from a song to which we used to listen in more carefree days:
"On fait des serments
On les oublie"
Having propounded high ideals in defeated Germany I feel the responsibility for doing my part to see that they are not forgotten by the victors.’
These are the words of David Maxwell Fyfe speaking in Brussels in December 1947, in the period after his return from successfully prosecuting at Nuremberg and before the Congress of Europe at The Hague where he began his work that would result in the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights in Rome in 1950.
It is his story that we tell.
The protection of these rights is now itself questioned. The cold reality of the world at war, and the imaginative response of peace in the late 1940s is now a flickering memory. Since we are unable to remember, we cannot contemplate repetition, and we resort to questioning the intent of those who codified freedom. Those writers themselves become ‘shadows, who are totally unremembered.’
And so, our story is a ghost story, told to prick the memory and loosen the chains of imagination.
It is relayed in the words of David Maxwell Fyfe, and the words that inspired him, set to music by Sue Casson.
These words are set in a spectral landscape, for in the miraculous world of today’s peace, these words are embedded in every brick, written unseen on every wall, in the air itself, longing to be remembered.
Words selected by Tom Blackmore Music by Sue Casson
Narrator – Robert Blackmore
Singers – Lily Blackmore, Jessica Holgate and Sue Casson at the piano....
Copyright Kilmuir Papers 2017, Copyright Sue Casson 2017