Memory of Holocaust must spur action to combat genocide, stresses UN rights chief

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay

26 January 2009 – Cautioning that the threat of genocide still remains over half a century after millions of lives were brutally cut short by the Holocaust, the United Nations human rights chief said the memory of its victims should serve as a reminder of the need to act quickly and decisively at the first signs of such crimes.

“Ultimately, the only way to truly honour the victims of the Holocaust is to ensure effective protection for all those who are still, in the 21st century, threatened by the same currents of hatred that coalesced during World War II into one of the single greatest premeditated crimes this planet has ever witnessed,” stated It is the ultimate and most terrible expression of intolerance, xenophobia and racism>High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

In a statement on the occasion of the International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, observed on 27 December, Ms. Pillay noted that while the day of remembrance is about the past, it is also about present and future challenges.

“The threat of genocide still remains,” she warned. “It is the ultimate and most terrible expression of intolerance, xenophobia and racism – and of the cynical politics that seek to exploit those darker sides of human nature.

“The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is an annual reminder that in the future we must act more decisively at the first signs that a climate conducive to genocide is starting to develop,” she added.

“The world must not forget the lives of those millions of children, women and men that were brutally cut short by an ideology of hatred which was embraced so ruthlessly by the Nazis and their allies,” the High Commissioner exhorted.

Unfortunately, the world has witnessed other acts of genocide since the end of the Second World War, noted Ms. Pillay who, as a former judge and president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, heard the testimonies of survivors of the 1994 genocide in that country.

She called on all States to ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent tribunal set up to try those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“But justice for crimes already committed is only one aspect of deterrence,” she stated. “It is only by understanding how acts of genocide develop that we can learn to read the warning signs and take decisive preventive action. As long as there are manifestations of racism, xenophobia, intolerance and discrimination against any group – including contemporary acts of anti-Semitism – the insidious cancer that leads to hate-fuelled violence will never be definitively defeated.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed similar comments when he addressed a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at New York synagogue on Saturday, stressing the need for frankness and for the recognition of the limits of power and goodwill.

“We here know that we can never entirely rid the world of its tyrants and its intolerance. We cannot turn all extremists to the path of reason and light,” he said. “We can only stand against them and raise our voices in the name of our common humanity.”

The General Assembly designated 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, as the International Day in 2005.


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