Jan Eliasson (UN Deputy Secretary-General) - 2nd International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime
New York, 9 December 2016
It is an honour for me to join you today to mark the 68th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as well as to mark the second observance of the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of This Crime.
The Convention is unequivocal: preventing the crime of genocide is a legal obligation. Yet, we continue to witness extensive suffering of individuals and communities targeted because of who they are and the circumstances into which they are born. These are serious warning signals of mass atrocities to come.
We have seen such situations in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and elsewhere. The physical and emotional consequences are felt for generations – by the survivors and their families, and by society at large.
Genocide does not happen in a vacuum. It does not happen from one day to the next. It is a process that unfolds over time, with gradual deterioration and escalation. That is why we must always be alert to early warning signs. I think of human rights abuses, and programmes such as Human Rights up Front. I think of conflicts taking on an increasingly racial or ethnic dimension.
The world has a range of tools in order to prevent genocide. Our shared duty is to act early, to build capacity, to be vigilant and to heed the lessons of our failures.
An additional factor is that in far too many places, we have seen atrocity crimes recur to strike again. This underlines the importance of peacebuilding, and the sustaining peace concept which was adopted in identical resolutions by the General Assembly and Security Council in April this year.
It also underlines that a key part of prevention must be transitional justice in post-conflict situations. We must examine what happened, hold perpetrators accountable and choose the road of healing, reconciliation and, where appropriate, reparations.
The pursuit of justice gives victims the opportunity to obtain redress for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The confidence that justice has been served can also help prevent acts of revenge. Keeping the memory of victims alive is an important element in recognizing their suffering and restoring their dignity.
Sadly, today, we are seeing instances in which perpetrators are protected, even glorified. This only further victimizes the victims. We are also seeing a regrettable retreat from commitments and respect of international justice. This will only heighten impunity and hinder prevention.
Today, we commemorate the victims of genocide. We also commit to working towards full genocide eradication in the future. We must be serious about saying “never again”. Let us recall that prevention is a Charter obligation.
I call on governments and people everywhere to make a solemn pledge to break cycles of violence and build a future free of genocide and full of equality and dignity for all. That is what the authors of the Convention and the UN Charter expected. That is what our common humanity demands.