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Preventing genocide: UN calls on countries to stand against atrocities

August - November 2019

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Preventing genocide: UN calls on countries to stand against atrocities

Sharon Birch-Jeffrey
From Africa Renewal: 
Adama Dieng.     
Adama Dieng.  

With only a few months before the 70th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the United Nations has renewed its appeal for the universal ratification of the Convention. This is meant to encourage states that are still not party to the convention to ratify or sign on to it before the anniversary of its adoption on December 9.

The current UN appeal is part of a yearlong campaign launched at the end of 2017 to achieve universal ratification of the convention. As of today, a total of 149 states (including one non-member observer state) have ratified or acceded to the Genocide Convention. Another 45 UN member states have yet to do so, among them 20 countries in Africa.

The convention describes genocide as a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part. It does not include political groups or so-called cultural genocide.

This definition was the result of a negotiating process and reflects the compromise United Nations member states reached while drafting the convention in 1948.

Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York in June, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reminded member countries that “all atrocity crimes are preventable and can never be justified.”

Responsibility to prevent and stop genocide rests with the state in which this crime is being threatened or committed, he said, adding, “At this time of extreme challenges, we must not abandon the responsibility to protect or leave it in a state of suspended animation, finely articulated in words but breached time and again in practice.”

“Ratifying the Genocide Convention is a matter of moral obligation towards humanity,” Adama Dieng, the UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, declared at the launch of the campaign last December. “It represents a recognition of the responsibility of states toward their populations and shows respect for those who have perished as a result of this crime.”

“But genocide should not be part of our present or our future,” continued Mr. Dieng. “It is not an accident, nor is it inevitable. It is our inaction, or our ineffectiveness in addressing the warning signs, that allows it to become a reality. A reality where people are dehumanized and persecuted for who they are, or who they represent. A reality of great suffering, cruelty, and of inhumane acts that have at the basis unacceptable motivations—the thirst for power or resources, distorted views of identity supremacy, extremist ideologies, selfish interests.”

He added, “Remembering the victims, the tragic events of the past, and witnessing the suffering of populations around the world today should prompt us to take action.”

The Convention on Genocide was among the first United Nations conventions addressing humanitarian issues and was adopted in 1948 in response to the atrocities committed during World War II.

Recognized as a serious crime under international law, genocide has resurfaced several times since the adoption of the Convention, including in Rwanda (1994), and Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995).   

45 UN member states that have not yet ratified the Genocide Convention as of Feb. 2018

45 UN member states that have not yet ratified the Genocide Convention as of Feb. 2018

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