Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks on the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, in New York today:
I am honoured to be with you today, on one of the most solemn occasions on the United Nations calendar.
It is less than a quarter century since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, when more than 800,000 people were systematically murdered, overwhelmingly Tutsi, but also including moderate Hutu, Twa and others who opposed the genocide. Today we remember all those who perished. We also honour those who survived. We recognize their pain and courage, and the struggles they face even today, a generation later.
It is of immense credit to the people and Government of Rwanda that the country has emerged from a period of such shocking cruelty with a strong spirit of reconciliation.
The best way to honour the memory of those who were murdered is to ensure that such events never occur again. History is filled with tragic chapters of hatred and persecution that have led to mass violence against persecuted minorities. That is why the world must be ever alert to the warning signs of genocide, and act quickly and early to avert it.
Preventing genocide and other monstrous crimes is a shared responsibility and a core duty of the United Nations. We are working hard to strengthen our capacities for preventive diplomacy, including through mediation and the peaceful settlement of disputes. My Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide monitors events and developments worldwide for risks of genocide and other atrocity crimes. And the Human Rights Up Front initiative aims to make the UN System more ready to mobilize and sound the alarm when threats exist.
Yet, the international community must recognize that, time and again, when faced with the facts, it has failed to act adequately. In the past few years alone, the Yazidi people have faced systematic persecution by Da’esh. In South Sudan, a whole population has been condemned by their leaders to appalling suffering. These examples illustrate how the values and principles of the United Nations Charter continue to be challenged on a daily basis.
Genocide and other forms of atrocious violence never occur in a vacuum. Nor are they committed by only a handful of individuals. They are planned and systematically carried out — often in plain sight — with the connivance and acquiescence of many actors.
The origins of such atrocities lie in the willingness of leaders and people to demonize and dehumanize individuals and communities because of their ethnicity, religion or the colour of their skin. That is why we must be especially alert today.
The poisonous intolerance, populism and nationalism we see around the world, even in established democracies, are the breeding ground of far more evil acts.
I have spent the past 10 years speaking out on behalf of refugees, and all my adult life standing up for the rights of the downtrodden. I have learned that, between individuals, compassion and respect are easy to find. But between larger groups, and between nations, the same values can be too easily lost.
So my hope, and my goal as Secretary-General, is to promote compassion and respect for human rights at the highest levels, so that all people everywhere may live free from fear. Let us learn the lessons of Rwanda and work together to build a future of dignity, tolerance and human rights for all.