Deputy Secretary-General Honours First Recipient of Raphael Lemkin International Award for Outstanding Contributions in Fight against War Crimes, Genocide

12 December 2013

Deputy Secretary-General Honours First Recipient of Raphael Lemkin International Award for Outstanding Contributions in Fight against War Crimes, Genocide

12 December 2013
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General Honours First Recipient of Raphael Lemkin International

Award for Outstanding Contributions in Fight against War Crimes, Genocide

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the Raphael Lemkin International Award Ceremony, in New York today:

Wonderful to be here.  I am, of course, honoured to be with you today on the occasion of the first Raphael Lemkin International Award, established by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski, which honours outstanding contributions to the prevention, detection and prosecution of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is indeed appropriate that such an award should bear the name of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish lawyer who lost many members of his family in the Holocaust.

Raphael Lemkin worked tirelessly to draft and to advocate for the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, as we know, in the face of personal sacrifices, numerous setbacks and diplomatic challenges.  His work shows how much can be achieved by one motivated individual when the cause is just, the target is clear and the effort is persistent.

I said “tirelessly” earlier, but I think that the word “passionately” fits Raphael Lemkin better. He had passion and he had compassion.  And my simple conclusion is that without passion nothing happens in life, but without compassion the wrong things happen.  And, Raphael Lemkin had this combination of passion and compassion.  And I know that you, Philippe [Kirsch], have both of these qualities.

The foundations of the normative and judicial architecture for prosecuting genocide were laid by the commitment of this one man.  This includes the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  I am glad that [ICC Prosecutor] Fatou Bensouda is here today.  You have one of the most difficult jobs in the world and you are to serve an extremely important mission.  You have many friends at your side.  It’s a very important cause for all of us.

Raphael Lemkin’s achievements prove that all of us can be an agent for change.  There can be no peace without justice.  Accountability is essential if we are to prevent genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  It serves as both a deterrent and a means of bringing justice to the victims.  Without processes that ensure accountability, we cannot expect nations to heal or to develop into peaceful, stable societies.

At this point I will make a personal observation.  I have spent most of my professional life in the Swedish diplomatic service.  One of the persons that inspired me most during my times in diplomacy was not only Dag Hammarskjöld, who is the obvious choice as a role-model for service in the United Nations, but also Raoul Wallenberg.  I say this particularly in the presence of David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, with whom I have cooperated on the mission of Wallenberg.

When I was President of the General Assembly 2005/06 I felt that one of the most important achievements of that presidency was the establishment of the Responsibility to Protect.  I see others here who were present at that time of negotiating this principle — this norm I would say — which I hope someday will be international law.  The most touching and moving moment during my time as President of the General Assembly was on the twenty-seventh of January 2006 when we established Holocaust Day as a United Nations Commemoration day.  It was extremely important that we achieved that resolution by consensus.  I remember speaking with many representatives from Latin America, Asia and Africa in order to convince them of the importance of accepting that date in that fashion:  Commemoration Day.

How important it was that we send a message that this must not happen again.  I must admit that having said “never again” three or four times since then has been frustrating.  It is important to remember genocide, remember the Holocaust, in itself.  But, also to remember the genocides in Cambodia, in Rwanda, in Srebrenica.  At the Security Council, around two weeks ago, we talked about what might happen in Central African Republic.  We are close to mass atrocities again.  It is extremely important that we now learn to react to the early signs of crisis.  And what are the early signs of conflict?  In most cases it is violations of human rights.  So, we have an obligation now, in the United Nations, to act on the early signs of conflict, yes, indeed, human rights violations, and take the appropriate steps.

In that spirit, I am very pleased and gratified that this first Raphael Lemkin International Award is being given to someone who embodies the commitment to the cause of international justice and the fight against those most serious of crimes.

Judge Philippe Kirsch brought his vast legal experience to the table as Chairman of the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court.  In this role, as we heard from the Professor, he guided the negotiations that led to the adoption of the Rome Statute, the legal basis for the establishment of the ICC (International Criminal Court).  As the first President of the Court 2003 to 2009, he made seminal contributions to developing its jurisprudence, and established its place as the centerpiece of today’s system of international criminal justice.

Beyond this remarkable achievement, Philippe Kirsch’s experience includes multiple responsibilities in the promotion of international justice, the protection of victims and witnesses, and the training and development of legal professionals.  He already has a monument in his hands.  Did you know he already has an institute established in his honour, the Philippe Kirsch Institute?

In short, like Raphael Lemkin, Judge Kirsch is an individual who has, through his personal commitment and expertise, made a difference to the people of the world.  I am delighted to be here — also as an old friend and colleague from serving together in the nineties in the United Nations — as he is honoured with the first Raphael Lemkin International Award.

In closing, I would like to reiterate the strong commitment of the United Nations to the vital work of preventing genocide, upholding the responsibility to protect, defending human rights and combating prejudice.

We will use all the tools at our disposal and spare no effort to build a world of tolerance and a life of dignity for all.  Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.