New York, 24 January 2005 - Secretary-General's statement to the Special Session of the General AssemblyThank you, Mr. President, and thank you for your inspiring words.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, and dear friends,
The date for this session was chosen to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. But, as you know, there were many other camps, which fell one by one to the allied forces in the winter and spring of 1945.
Only gradually did the world come to know the full dimensions of the evil that those camps contained. The discovery was fresh in the minds of the delegates at San Francisco, when this Organization was founded. The United Nations must never forget that it was created as a response to the evil of Nazism, or that the horror of the Holocaust helped to shape its mission. That response is enshrined in our Charter, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The camps, Mr. President, were not mere “concentration camps”. Let us not use the euphemism of those who built them. Their purpose was not to “concentrate” a group in one place, so as to keep an eye on them. It was to exterminate an entire people.
There were other victims, too. The Roma, or Gypsies, were treated with the same utter disregard for their humanity as the Jews. Nearly a quarter of the one million Roma living in Europe were killed.
Poles and other Slavs, Soviet prisoners of war, and mentally or physically handicapped people were likewise massacred in cold blood. Groups as disparate as Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals, as well as political opponents and many writers and artists, were treated with appalling brutality.
To all these we owe respect, which we can show by making special efforts to protect all communities that are similarly threatened and vulnerable, now and in the future.
But the tragedy of the Jewish people was unique. Two thirds of all Europe's Jews, including one and a half million children, were murdered. An entire civilisation, which had contributed far beyond its numbers to the cultural and intellectual riches of Europe and the world, was uprooted; destroyed; laid waste.
In a moment, you will have the honour of hearing from one of the survivors, my dear friend Elie Wiesel. As Elie has written, “not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims”. It is fitting, therefore, that the first state to speak today will be the state of Israel – which rose, like the United Nations itself, from the ashes of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust came as the climax of a long, disgraceful history of anti-Semitic persecution, pogroms, institutionalised discrimination and other degradation. The purveyors of hatred were not always, and may not be in the future, only marginalised extremists.
How could such evil happen in a cultured and highly sophisticated nation-state, in the heart of a Europe whose artists and thinkers had given the world so much? Truly it has been said: “all that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing”.
There were good men – and women – who did do something: Germans like Gertrude Luckner and Oskar Schindler; foreigners like Meip Geis, Chiune Sugihara, Selahattin Ülkümen, and Raoul Wallenberg. But not enough. Not nearly enough.
Such an evil must never be allowed to happen again. We must be on the watch out for any revival of anti-Semitism, and ready to act against the new forms of it that are happening today.
That obligation binds us not only to the Jewish people, but to all others that have been, or may be, threatened with a similar fate. We must be vigilant against all ideologies based on hatred and exclusion, whenever and wherever they may appear.
On occasions such as this, rhetoric comes easily. We rightly say, “never again”. But action is much harder. Since the Holocaust the world has, to its shame, failed more than once to prevent or halt genocide – for instance in Cambodia, in Rwanda, and in the former Yugoslavia.
Even today we see many horrific examples of inhumanity around the world. To decide which deserves priority, or precisely what action will be effective in protecting victims and giving them a secure future, is not simple. It is easy to say that “something must be done”. To say exactly what, and when, and how, and to do it, is much more difficult.
But what we must not do is deny what is happening, or remain indifferent, as so many did when the Nazi factories of death were doing their ghastly work.
Terrible things are happening today in Darfur, Sudan. Tomorrow I expect to receive the report of the international commission of inquiry, which I established at the request of the Security Council.
That report will determine whether or not acts of genocide have occurred in Darfur. But also, and no less important, it will identify the gross violations of international humanitarian law and human rights which undoubtedly have occurred.
The Security Council, once it has that report in its hands, will have to decide what action to take, with a view to ensuring that the perpetrators are held accountable. It is a very solemn responsibility.
Today is a day to honour the victims of the Holocaust – to whom, alas, no reparation can ever be made, at least in this world.
It is a day to honour our founders – the allied nations whose troops fought and died to defeat Nazism. Those troops are represented here today by veteran liberators of the camps, including my dear friend and colleague, Sir Brian Urquhart.
It is a day to honour the brave people who risked, and sometimes sacrificed, their own lives to save fellow human beings. Their examples redeem our humanity, and must inspire our conduct.
It is a day to honour the survivors, who heroically thwarted the designs of their oppressors, bringing to the world and to the Jewish people a message of hope. As time passes, their numbers dwindle. It falls to us, the successor generations, to lift high the torch of remembrance, and to live our own lives by its light.
It is, above all, a day to remember not only the victims of past horrors, whom the world abandoned, but also the potential victims of present and future ones. A day to look them in the eye, and say: “you, at least, we must not fail”.
Thank you very much.
Statements on 24 January 2005
- New York, 24 January 2005 - Secretary-General's remarks at opening of the exhibition "Auschwitz-The Depth of the Abyss"
- New York, 24 January 2005 - Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the meeting between senior officials from the United Nations and the Government of Colombia
- Paris, France, 24 January 2005 - Secretary-General's message to "Biodiversity 2005" [delivered by Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, Director General of UNESCO]