The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust must serve as a global call to action to prevent future carnage, the President of the United Nations General Assembly said today.
"For the dignity of all humanity, we must strengthen our ability, our collective resolve, to prevent such atrocities, whenever and wherever they might occur," Srgjan Kerim told congregants at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan.
"Today, is therefore more than a commemoration; it is more that a remembrance; it must serve as a call to action in honour of the victims of the Holocaust."
The President pointed out that since the Holocaust, there have been genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia. "That these atrocities occurred is not necessarily the failure of the United Nations as an organization; but rather, represents the lack of collective will of its Member States to take the decision to act or intervene."
He pointed out that currently in places like Darfur, people are suffering from "the very crimes, which, time and time again, we have vowed would never again happen."
"Together, it is our common challenge to eliminate all distorted notions that deepen barriers and widen divides: for they all originate in the discriminatory practices of the mind," he declared, urging a "multi-faceted dialogue that promotes intercultural dialogue and cooperation for peace to replace misunderstanding with mutual understanding and acceptance."
He said the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps over 60 years ago "revealed one of the most evil crimes against humanity" and paid tribute to those who "survived and bravely carried on with their lives, and in doing so inspired others."
On a personal note, Mr. Kerim, who comes from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, recalled that during the Second World War, his father "bravely helped to save and protect the family of Isac Sion, his school friend, amidst the terror of occupation."
The elder Mr. Kerim and his friend subsequently joined the country's national liberation movement to fight for freedom alongside the Allies, and Mr. Sion eventually became Yugoslavia's trade representative to the United Kingdom, the Assembly President said.
Still, he noted, "more than 7,000 Macedonian Jews, representing nearly 95 per cent of the community, were murdered under Nazi occupation" and today, only 200 remain. The country is now constructing a Holocaust Memorial Centre "to bring back the memory of the victims from Treblinka to Skopje."
The Assembly President also called attention to the atrocities that accompanied the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. "Looking back at the turbulent history of the Balkan region there are some bitter lessons that we must learn: war begins when the perception and pain of others ends," he said.
"We can also turn this around to say that when the perception of the pain of others begins there is no room for war."
He appealed for tolerance of all religions and cultures. "On the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, as well as of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us embrace our diversity, and honor our interdependence, as the only path to peace and justice," he said.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue