New York

30 April 2007

Secretary-General's remarks at the opening of the exhibition, "Lessons from the Rwanda Genocide"


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank everyone who made this important exhibition possible.

Last year, before being appointed Secretary-General, in my capacity as Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, I visited Rwanda to pay my respects to victims and survivors of the genocide there. I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with those who had endured one of humankind's darkest chapters. The experience had a profound and personal impact on me. I carry it with me every day I serve as the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

This month, as we mark the thirteenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, two messages should be paramount.

First, never forget.

Second, never stop working to prevent another genocide.

As we open this exhibition, our thoughts go to the victims -- the more than 800,000 innocent people who lost their lives with terrifying speed. May they continue to rest in peace.

Our thoughts go to the survivors. Their resilience continues to inspire us.

In fact, since my own visit to the genocide memorial site, I have been talking to many colleagues at the United Nations. How different it would have been, had we, the international community, acted properly at the proper time.

This is a single message I have learned personally, and I felt very humbled by all these documents and materials I have seen. Anybody who visits the Rwanda memorial site cannot come out without crying, without being very humbled about what happened and by the fact that the international community failed to react.

And our thoughts go to fallen colleagues of the UN family: peacekeepers and civilians who lost their lives in the line of duty as the genocide unfolded. They saved as many lives as they could, and should be remembered for their courage and commitment.

This exhibition is about lessons learnt from the Rwanda genocide, and does not attempt to make historical judgments on other issues. The United Nations has taken no position on events that took place before the World War that led to the birth of the Organization.

Rather, today's commemoration compels us to look forward.

Since those horrendous weeks 13 years ago, the UN has learnt profound lessons. We have created the position of Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide. We have established an Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention, which has submitted an ambitious and important report.

But we must do more -- much more. I intend to strengthen our mechanisms, including by upgrading the post of Special Adviser to a full-time position.

Africa, too, has taken action. The historic Pact on Security, Stability and Development for the Great Lakes Region contains a protocol on prevention and punishment of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is encouraging that the countries of the Great Lakes have come together to reflect on the terrible conflicts that have afflicted the region, and are striving to ensure that future generations can live together not only within their own countries, but also with their neighbours. I profoundly hope the Pact will be ratified soon.

All the world's Governments have agreed in principle to the responsibility to protect. Our challenge now is to give real meaning to the concept, by taking steps to make it operational. Only then will it truly give hope to those facing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Preventing genocide is a collective and individual responsibility. Everyone has a role to play: Governments, the media, civil society organizations, religious groups and each and every one of us. Let us build a global partnership against genocide. Let us protect populations from genocide when their own Governments cannot or will not.

This exhibition is an important contribution to that effort. I am pleased to declare it officially open.