Cassin, René

born 1887, Bayonne, France died 1976, Paris

Facts René Cassin (1887-1976) was one of the predominant figures involved in the drafting procedure. Cassin had been the French representative in both the League of Nations and the Geneva Disarmament Convention and was a jurist by profession. He was vice chair of the Nuclear Committee, and the chief delegate to France in all three sessions. In 1949, Cassin was elected vice chair of the Commission of Human Rights and later on,in 1955, became chair. He also served as a judge on the European Court of Human Rights from 1959 to 1970. During this time Cassin was President of the Court during two periods. He recieved the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968, as a recognition for his work in the drafting of the Declaration of Human Rights Additionally, he was a Zionist.


Réne Cassin of France was one of the most influential members of the Commission on Human Rights. Having been a professor of civil law at the University of Paris, Cassin was an expert in international law with an impassioned concern for human rights. For these reasons, the delegates to the Commission on Human Rights selected Cassin to compose the first full draft of the Universal Declaration. This early draft would contain most of the rights and much of the language that would later be set forth in the final document.

René Cassin spent his life defending the rights of men, women, and children. His dedication to bettering the lives of others and his contribution to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were eventually recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize.

Cassin’s interest in human rights was borne of his experience in World War I. Having fought and been wounded, Cassin developed a great concern for the welfare of other wounded veterans. His dedication to helping people knew no national boundary. He encouraged veterans to disregard their former national allegiances and focus their energies upon creating a world free from war. Cassin worked to help these men and women recognize the similarity of their circumstances rather than dwell on their cultural differences. His advocacy of veterans' rights led to the formation of first a national and later an International Confederation of Associations of Wounded and Former Combatants.

As he worked to bring former enemies together around a common cause, so too he advocated human rights that must be enjoyed by all, regardless of nationality, culture, or religion. Cassin was one of the first diplomats of international prominence to voice concern for universal human rights. He also championed the cause of unilateral disarmament in the hope of preventing any future armed conflicts. By the 1920’s, his commitment to peace and human rights was famous throughout France, where he was lauded as "The Father of France’s Orphans." In 1924 Cassin was appointed to the French Delegation to the League of Nations.

The failure of the League of Nations to address the human rights situation in Germany prior to World War II was a great disappointment to Cassin. As the Nazis launched their campaign of murder and terror unimpeded by the international community, Cassin became determined that any future organization of nations would have greater strength and courage to fight against violations of human rights. Horrified by emerging news of Nazi atrocities, Cassin spent World War II as a member of the resistance in London, serving as the legal advisor to Charles de Gaulle.

Once the war ended, Cassin used his diplomatic influence to press for specific recognition of human rights and freedoms. A French representative to the Conference on International Organization which drafted the United Nations Charter, he was adamant that respect for human rights and dignity be addressed strongly and clearly in that Charter.

Appointed to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Cassin lent his expert knowledge of international law, his passion for human rights, and his now well-practiced diplomacy to the proceedings. Not only was he responsible for the first draft of the Universal Declaration, he was an effective mediator between those on the Commission with different conceptions of human rights.

René Cassin was a leading proponent of the idea that the Declaration had not just moral, but legal weight. In a speech before the UN General Assembly Cassin said that:

"while [the Declaration] was less powerful and binding than a convention, it had no less legal value, for it was contained in a resolution of the [UN General] Assembly which was empowered to make recommendations. It was the development of the [UN] Charter which had brought human rights within the scope of positive international law. That being so, it could not be said that the Declaration was a purely theoretical instrument. It was only a potential instrument; but that fact in no way detracted from the binding force of the provisions of the [UN] Charter."

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