Remarks at Event marking the 65th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
H. E. Mrs. María Cristina Perceval, Permanent Representative of Argentina to the United Nations
Good morning dear friends and thank you for inviting me to participate in this honorable panel.
The authentic reason why we are here today is to remember those who have been victims of genocide.
To remember them in the most meaningful way: not only by honoring the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Genocide Convention, but more importantly, to reflect about what we failed in, what we did not accomplish yet, what lays ahead of us.
The Convention was an ambivalent triumph of the international community: it achieved much; it left almost as much unaccomplished.The fact that, since then, we have had to face different forms of genocide, testifies for our shortcomings.
It also urges us to think if these experiences are simply the atrocious products of an unintelligible evil, or more likely, the consequence of conceiving “the extermination of the other” as an acceptable understanding of the idea of living in society.
A sort of vision that even today, in many situations, locates human diversity as a potential threat and differences based on sex, gender, race, ethnic identity, culture, religion, political ideas, etcetera, as dangerous and violent antagonisms.
Among many brave women and men, we owe the adoption of the Convention in 1948 to the efforts of Raphael Lemkin, its single-man most effective advocate.
For him, as for many since then, the Convention was not a general declaration about an abstract concept.
Lemkin coined the term “genocide” in order to convey the destruction of national or ethnic groups, a “composite” of many acts of annihilation in the hands of a modern administration.
It was not, and it is not today, a reference to just a form of military extermination; it is an observation of daily forms of destruction: The Nazis had perpetrated those acts in a massive scale, but as part of that form of totalitarianism, Lemkin listed not only the gas chambers and concentration camps, but also how Nazis in his native Poland had kept prices of alcohol low and promoted abortion as a way to “naturally” diminish the Slavic population.
Seven decades and a Genocide Convention later, we can still gather contemporary examples of similar acts.
The crime of genocide is so vast that it required an extraordinary dose of imagination and political will in order to create consistent ways of preventing it from happening again.
The Convention that we honor today, no doubts, is a product of that effort.
But if we celebrate this advance, we also have to recognize its shortcomings. The lack of a body in charge of enforcing the Convention, the vague set of rules for international law, and the removal of the expression “cultural genocide” were the most important sacrifices that the United Nations made at that time in order to reach a wide international consensus.
Since then, we have failed.
Many and unforgivable times, we failed to understand the causes and the diverse forms of genocides.
Minorities, women, refugees, activists in exile, migrants, people challenging existing hierarchies—they all have been at some point the target of the brutal reaction of those who perceived their actions or their existence as a threat.
Most of the times, it has happened over long periods of systematic accusations, of indolent neglect of their demands, of the growing fear to uncertainty.
So many times, genocides have not started as a project, but as the trickling effect of fear.
We have been able to act in Argentina. We used again political imagination and ethical beliefs to pursue truth, justice, memory and reparation for the victims of the State Terrorism during the last civil-military Dictatorship (1976-1983).
Bringing international standards of human rights at a local level has been our way to pursue the spirit of the Genocide Convention, and to honor the ideals of those who fought for it 65 years ago: the chance of turning the Convention’s principles into actual legal instruments and political institutions that prevent it from happening again, and pursue justice for the crimes already committed. It has helped us to build a promising future.
We did all this during the last years, but only after we failed.
Indeed, today and by our experience, in my country, we are able to understand that genocides do not grow only out of evil intentions.
They also grow out of the inaction of the institutions or the lack of courage of those who are part of them. How many times we have seen derogatory sentiments about migrant people, races or religions going hand-by-hand with the inaction of those of us who simply can’t figure out how to stop what we see as coming.
Genocides also grow out not facing social problems, like poverty, inequality, discrimination and oppression when they arise, in our own nations and in the international community at large.
We, as members of the United Nations, face today many of these scenarios throughout the world.
We must avoid the temptation to believe that we are unable to prevent new genocides, as the Brecht´s note on Mr. Keuner described: “What are you working on? ´ Mr. Keuner was asked. And Mr. Keuner replied: ´ I´m having a hard time; I´m preparing my next mistake.”
This answer must not be our answer.
So, dear girls, Lemki’s family and friends, let’s go together for a new “Never Again”.
Let us hope, that the legacy of the Genocide Convention be the memory of where the genocides came from.
Shall that memory give us the strength to act today and for the future of a better world.