Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Stéphane Hessel

Stéphane Hessel in the Nuremberg courtroom, November 2008.
Stéphane Hessel died early today at the age of 95. He was one of France’s great human rights advocates. Amongst his contributions was work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Very recently, he published a book, Indignez-vous!, which has been extraordinarily influential.
I first met Stéphane Hessel when he was a member of the French Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, perhaps 15 years ago. We were panellists at a conference on genocide held in Nuremberg in 2008 (see photo). And we met again some months ago in New York where he was a member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
Hessel was born in Berlin. His family moved to France in 1925 and he subsequently became a French citizen. The rather unconventional family arrangement of his parents was the basis of Truffault’s great film Jules et Jim.
He was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camps, but somehow managed to escape and was rescued by American troops at the end of the war. Hessel became a diplomat and participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
He was a tremendously inspiring person. There will be many obituaries with more details on his life than I can provide. He always seemed incredibly youthful and energetic, even at 95. I remember him taking time at the 2008 conference to meet with Germany schoolchildren and talk to them (in German) about the importance of the Nuremberg trial.

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