New York

21 January 2015

Deputy Secretary-General's opening remarks at event organized by the Permanent Mission of Poland to the UN: "Why have we failed in preventing genocide and how to change that?" [as delivered]

Thank you very much, Ambassador Winid. And thank you for reminding us of the millions of lives lost stemming from the Second World War and the horror of the Holocaust. Thank you also for using this occasion to look forward to do what we can to stop atrocities and to do more in terms of prevention. And thank you for underlining the importance of leadership, which is crucial if we are to succeed in going in the right direction.
Today let us reflect – ladies and gentlemen, distinguished colleagues and friends – on how we can better prevent and protect our world from becoming, once again, the setting for the kinds of horrific crimes we witnessed during the Holocaust, in the killing fields of Cambodia, and during the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica.
It is important that we examine why – why – we continue to fail to prevent mass atrocities, despite lessons learned, despite knowledge of causes and drivers and despite our assurances of “never again”.  We as individuals, we as representatives of the United Nations, we as Member States, we as representatives of regional organizations and civil society, must ask ourselves what more we can do. And we must consider what we must do differently to protect people – and build societies where tolerance trumps hatred.

Genocide can only happen when we ignore the warning signs – and are unwilling to take action.
In an era of pervasive instant communication and of deepening inter-relationships in this world, we cannot say or pretend that we do not know what is happening.
This is especially so, as we know that genocide doesn’t arise overnight.  Genocide is the result of creeping processes unfolding over time, and of conditions that make them thrive. Our challenge is to stop these processes and their enabling conditions at an early stage. 
Armed conflicts often create the kind of disrupting environment that can lead to mass atrocities.  We’ve seen that recently in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Iraq and elsewhere. Thus, when we prevent or resolve conflicts, we are also reducing the risk of atrocity crimes and genocide.
But preventing genocide must mean doing far more than that.  Genocide is an extreme form of perverted identity-based conflict that can happen also in peace time.  It results from divisions within society that serve, in the eyes of the perpetrators, as both the cause and the justification of group violence.
Preventing genocide requires a specific lens that should guide policy development and Member States’ efforts to support diversity, tolerance and inclusion. Member States need to do more to pre-empt or address risk factors. 
Education is one of our best defences against prejudices that can lead to extreme violence.  We must instill in our youth a spirit that embraces pluralism and rejects all forms of discrimination or racism.  All generations must be engaged in breaking down the mind-set of “us” versus “them”.  All of us must join in the task of building societies that embrace our common humanity. And let the 70th anniversary of this organisation be a reminder of this objective, this work.
Central to this education task is the core message of the United Nations that we are all equal and we all share the basic human aspiration to live in peace, security and dignity – irrespective of religious beliefs, ethnic background or political opinions. Especially these days when there are so many forces using these differences to increase the intensity of conflicts, leading to polarisation and further divisions. We have to watch out, these days. We have to be vigilant.
The world has just witnessed brutal attacks in Nigeria and France by assailants who used religion as their justification for violence. We continue to witness terrible atrocities committed in the name of religion, or against individuals targeted simply because of their ethnic or religious background.  These abhorrent crimes are intended to cause fear, hatred and deepening divisions.  These events and tendencies compel us to work even harder in defence of human rights and social and cultural diversity. 
The international community must also stand ready to protect populations from genocide and other atrocity crimes by assisting States to meet their responsibilities or by reacting when States fail to do so.  This sense of what we owe to each other as a matter of human solidarity was reinforced by the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect at the 2005 World Summit.  At that time, all States committed to this principle, this norm, and nearly a decade later, we should do more to operationalize that commitment.  We need political will and political courage to move forward.
And through the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative, presented in 2013, we at the United Nations are now engaged in a process of increasing our capacity to act early in cases of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law - violations that can lead to mass atrocities. Through better coordination and decision-making, a greater focus on early warning, and increased efforts to embed human rights within the culture of the Organization, we are strengthening the UN’s ability to respond more effectively as we seek to protect human rights and prevent conflict.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In closing, dear friends, we have failed vulnerable populations too many times.  These days of commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust offer an important opportunity to collectively see how we can, with greater resolve, transform the lessons we should have learned into concrete acts of prevention. And I particularly want to thank the Polish Mission and the Polish Government for this initiative today, in connection with the very important date coming next week.
The Secretary-General and I count on your commitment to keep the promise of “never again.” I suppose you’ll have the reflection that saying “never again” constantly is an admission of defeat, that we have failed. In this critical time, we must stand up, unfailingly, for human dignity and for the principles and purposes of the United Nations, laid down so powerfully, in the United Nations Charter 70 years ago.  We have work to do.
I thank you.