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Remarks at Event marking the 65th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

 

Mr. Adama Dieng, United Nations Secretary-General Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

 

Mr. Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

Today as we celebrate the sixty fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Genocide Convention, we pay special tribute to the millions of our fellow men and women who have perished in genocide over the years. We also remember with appreciation, those who through their tireless efforts and exceptional courage contributed in making the Convention a living reality. Despite the challenges we encounter in realizing the ideals underlying the Convention, we are always inspired by the sacrifice and suffering of these men and women. We owe it to these people, ourselves and the future generations, to realize a world free of genocide and atrocity crimes.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The Genocide Convention, whose anniversary we mark today, was adopted in 1948 and came into force in 1951. Indeed today, more than 140 countries have become parties to the Convention. While it is befitting to celebrate this occasion, it is also pertinent to remember that, the Convention was inspired by the tragic events of the WWI that had led to one of the most devastating human tragedy of the 20th Century. It is in the ashes of this dark chapter in human history that the world came together to adopt this Convention. Today therefore, we are not simply celebrating years for the sake of numbers. This anniversary is a period of reflection. How far have we walked to realize the promise made Sixty five years ago, of ‘never again’? 

While, we agree that this Convention is a living symbol of our enduring commitment to ‘never again’, it is unfortunate that we still live in a world of genocide. Less than two decades ago, we have witnessed tragic events in Rwanda, the Balkans and Darfur. Millions of people around the world have perished while others have been condemned to leave their homes to seek sanctuary in far away land. No society or region has been immune to these tragic events. It is this reality that we must reflect upon and confront if we are to make good our promise to prevent genocide as conceived by the drafters of the Convention.   

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

While the Genocide Convention makes it clear that the prime duty of the international community is to prevent, too often, we have failed to fulfill this duty with devastating consequences to innocent civilians.
As underscored by the Secretary-General, provisions of paragraph 138-39 of the Summit Outcome Document are firmly anchored in well established principles of international law. Under treaty and customary international law, States have an inherent obligation to prevent and punish genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yet, we agree that while the initiative is laudable, we still need to walk the talk. We still need to put practical meaning to this commitment.  

Whenever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community or ethnic group, it is evident that we are confronting potential or indeed actual genocide. We can no longer afford to be blind to this grim dynamic nor should we imagine that appeals to morality, without credible threat of action will have much effect on people who have adopted a deliberate strategy of killing and forcible expulsion. Anyone who embarks on genocide commits a crime against humanity. It is therefore important that humanity must respond by taking action in its own defence. It is our collective obligation to stand firm and provide a shield to the defenseless.     

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Today we have to move beyond early warning to early action. We have to strengthen our institutions to timely and effectively respond to potential conflicts and general threats to peace and security of our people. Even the best system of early warning will be less helpful unless states are able and willing to take action when the warning is received.

The ongoing carnage in Syria and unfolding tragedy in the Central African Republic is a stark reminder of our limitations and ability to undertake robust action to protect population from atrocity crimes.  Yet, this inaction is unacceptable especially for those who endure the suffering resulting from these conflicts. We need to do more and we can do more.

I am extremely pleased and grateful with the continued leadership and personal commitment of the Secretary General to the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes. Since he assumed Office in 2007, he has consistently been at the fore front to remind member states of their obligations to protect their own people from atrocity crimes. Where, states have sought his assistance, he has never failed to use the institutional and technical resources at the disposal of the United Nations to provide assistance. His personal support to my mandate has been tremendous and extremely helpful.  I look forward for his continued bold leadership and cooperation to achieve a world free of genocide and atrocity crimes.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
As I conclude, let me reiterate my belief that as we celebrate this anniversary, we should seize this moment to call for a universal ratification of the Genocide Convention. Two days ago I was with the students of the University of Shenandoah and they were wondering why until today there are states which have not ratified the Convention. We will need political leadership from member states. Ultimately, without political will and courage to make good of our commitment, our promise to ‘never again’ will remain hollow.

Thank you.