IN MESSAGE HONOURING RAPHAEL LEMKIN, SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS HIS LIFEWORK ‘AN INSPIRING EXAMPLE OF MORAL ENGAGEMENT’

13 June 2001
SG/SM/7842

IN MESSAGE HONOURING RAPHAEL LEMKIN, SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS HIS LIFEWORK ‘AN INSPIRING EXAMPLE OF MORAL ENGAGEMENT’

13/06/2001
Press ReleaseSG/SM/7842

IN MESSAGE HONOURING RAPHAEL LEMKIN, SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS HIS LIFEWORK

‘AN INSPIRING EXAMPLE OF MORAL ENGAGEMENT’

Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the ceremony honouring Raphael Lemkin, delivered by Mrs. Nane Annan:

It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to all who have gathered for this ceremony honouring the legacy of Raphael Lemkin.

His was a lifelong campaign for every human being’s right to live in dignity.

As a young man, he petitioned the League of Nations to outlaw "acts of barbarism and vandalism".

As a Jew in occupied Poland, he became a guerrilla fighter against the Nazis.

As a lawyer, he rendered advice that played a crucial role at the Nuremberg trials.

And most of all, as a human being appalled by the extermination of millions of Jews and others in the Holocaust, he coined the term "genocide", giving a new name to an old crime.  He infused the battle against genocide with new insights and passion, almost single-handedly drafted an international multilateral treaty declaring genocide an international crime, and then turned to the United Nations in its earliest days and implored Member States to adopt it.

Lemkin’s success in this endeavour was a milestone in United Nations history.  The Genocide Convention showed that after the cataclysm of the Second World War, the United Nations could begin to pick up the pieces.  The Convention also created momentum for an array of work aimed at promoting and protecting human rights.

However, article VI of the Convention, which binds the Parties to try persons charged with genocide before a national or international tribunal, has for all practical purposes remained a dead letter.

Recent developments suggest this may be changing.  The crime of genocide is included in the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, as well as in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Tribunal for Rwanda expanded the definition of genocide to include rape and sexual violence.

And with recent convictions for the crime of genocide, the principle of individual criminal responsibility -- the idea that all individuals in a government hierarchy or military chain of command, without exception, from rulers to private soldiers, must answer for their actions -- has been given legal and practical effect.

Lemkin's lifework offers an inspiring example of moral engagement.  It falls now to us -- not just governments but also the non-governmental organizations that have been so active in this cause -- to carry on in his spirit.  In recent decades, we have seen -- in Europe, Africa and elsewhere -- a ghastly procession of massacres and killings of national, ethnic, racial and religious groups.

We must, together, work harder to create the culture of peace, law and respect among all human beings that will strengthen our defences against genocide and the impunity with which destruction is inflicted on others.  In that spirit, I am delighted to join in this tribute to one of the unsung heroes of the international human rights movement, and I offer you my best wishes for a memorable event.

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For information media. Not an official record.