As far back as 1950, the Rabbinical Assembly called upon the United States to ratify the UN Genocide Convention. The Convention was not ratified by the US until 1988. The RA reiterated this position in resolutions in 1954, 1963, 1965, and 1966, expressing its disappointment that the US had not yet ratified the convention.
In 1993, the Rabbinical Assembly called for the United Nations and the US to send in human rights observers to Haiti to lessen the wanton violence in that country and for the US to give temporary haven to Haitians determined to be in danger of persecution.
In 2005 and 2006, the Rabbinical Assembly passed resolutions on torture. In its resolution entitled “On Freedom, Democracy and the Humane Treatment Of Prisoners” (2005), the Rabbinical Assembly, in responding to the question of the ethics of torture during the Iraq War, affirmed its support of the United States military and coalition forces while also asserting that preserving the rule of law and the rights of the individual is paramount to the place of any nation as a moral leader in the world. In 2006, in its resolution entitled “Responding to the Ongoing War in Iraq,” the Rabbinical Assembly reiterated its support for the troops serving in the military while calling for its members to speak out against torture as a tool of war, to maintain support of civil liberties, and to create programs and educational forums on this issue teaching Jewish texts on war.
The RA has spoken out on human rights in a variety of historical contexts. As discussed above, the RA urged the US to ratify the UN Genocide Convention throughout the 1950s and 1960s partly as a reaction to what our people suffered in the Holocaust. Its major focus on human rights in the 1970s was on the rights of Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union. In 1976, the RA called on the US Congress to monitor the Helsinki Accord and in 1977 commended President Jimmy Carter for the efforts of his administration on behalf of global human rights. In 1984, the Rabbinical Assembly called on its colleagues to support its colleagues in Central and South America who speak out against the abuses of human rights in those countries.
The Rabbinical Assembly passed several resolutions in the 1980s and 1990s opposed to the Apartheid regime in South Africa (1985, 1987, and reaffirmed in 1990). These resolutions called for the use of economic sanctions and other methods of political pressure on the racist government of South Africa, expressed solidarity with the struggle of Black Africans, and encouraged its institutions to hold public programs on Apartheid including using the pulpit to bring this message. In 1991, the RA passed a resolution calling for greater awareness and sensitivity to the effects of the suspension of civil liberties in connection with the Apartheid Regime in South Africa and applauded the return of democracy in Central and South America, the loosening of the bonds of Apartheid, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In 1989 the Rabbinical Assembly passed a resolution endorsing the formation of what is now known as Rabbis for Human Rights (then known as Rabbinic Human Rights Watch), and in 1994 it reiterated its endorsement of RHR and called upon all rabbis to support this organization.
In 2001, the RA passed a resolution supporting the establishment of the International Criminal Court. It passed the resolution with the support of the Israel Region of the RA, knowing full well that Israel could be unfairly targeted by the court. In that year the RA convention was held in Toronto, where the Hon. Irwin Cotler (MP), an architect of international human rights policy and a strong Zionist, also praised the RA’s support of establishing the ICC. As seen below, the RA called on this court to indict the perpetrators in the genocide in Darfur.
The RA has passed several resolutions on the treatment of Jews in Arab lands. The most recent resolution was passed in 2003 and called upon the international community—especially the United Nations, the United States government, and the European Union—to devote attention to the issue of compensation for Jews from Arab lands. It also encouraged members of the RA to promote efforts to document the loss of property, both communal and private, of Jews from Arab lands as a result of their oppression.
In 2004, the RA became a founder of the Save Darfur Coalition speaking out against the torture of the Darfuri people and other Africans in the Sudan and Chad. The RA, in concert with other arms of the Conservative Movement, has encouraged its members to rally, protest, write letters, and participate in local coalitions as part of the Save Darfur Coalition. The Save Darfur Coalition has acknowledged the work of the RA on several occasions (most prominently in a conference call with Mia Farrow) on this issue. In 2005 and 2007, the RA passed resolutions on this issue. In addition to being active in the work of the Coalition, the RA called on its members to support bringing the actions in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation and prosecution (in March of 2009, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan was indicted by the ICC and the RA wrote several letters to US and UN leaders urging this action); encourage donations to the American Jewish World Service earmarked for Darfur; express its thanks to President George W. Bush for his outspokenness on this issue; urge the US to appoint a special envoy to Darfur (both the Bush and Obama administrations have done so); demand that the UN fund and provide peacekeeping forces in the region; and increase humanitarian aid and ensure access for delivery to those suffering in Darfur (Bashir expelled human rights and aid groups after the indictment, the RA has written letters urging these groups be reinstated). Most recently, in 2011, the RA passed a resolution supporting Darfur and South Sudanese independence.