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Heed Early Warning Signs of Genocide, Secretary-General Stresses on International Day for Victims, Urging Cooperation in Rejecting Hate Speech, Discrimination

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, as delivered, on the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, observed today:

Please join me in a moment of silence in memory of the victims of genocide and other atrocity crimes.


Genocide is the most heinous of crimes, encompassing all it touches in a tsunami of hate and destruction.  It is an assault on our most fundamental shared values.  And today, as we remember and honour the victims of the crime of genocide, we must not forget that the imperative to prevent genocide lies at the core of our organization’s purpose.

This is evidenced by the adoption of the Genocide Convention in December 1948 in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the Second World War.  It was the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly.  And it remains as relevant as ever as we work to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes — crimes which are sadly still being perpetrated with impunity and no regard for the sanctity of human life.

This year the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our societies’ deep fragilities and exacerbated already formidable peace and security challenges.  That is why I continue to appeal for a global ceasefire, and I have called on the Security Council to work towards that goal by the end of this year.

Genocide never fails to shock the world when it occurs.  But, it is never committed without clear, multiple warning signs.  The victims are often early targets of hate speech, discrimination and violence.  One of our remaining challenges, 72 years after the Genocide Convention’s adoption, is to promptly recognize and act on these warning signs.

We need to remain constantly vigilant of key political, human rights, humanitarian, social and economic developments worldwide to identify early the risks of genocide and other atrocity crimes.  Hate speech is one of these warning signs, and we need to do better in rejecting it in all its forms.  This includes ensuring that technology companies and social media platforms play their part.  The power of social media in disseminating hate speech and polarizing communities cannot be underestimated.

I urge a renewed focus on national, regional and international prevention strategies that address, in particular, the incitement of violence against groups or individuals.  Religious leaders and civil society also have a key role to play in preventing and mitigating its risk.  Governments need to guarantee civic space for human rights institutions and defenders to do their essential work and they need to protect the rights of those at risk.

To prevent genocide, it is also essential that we pursue credible and effective accountability.  The link between systemic impunity and atrocity crimes is clear.  The answer lies in impartial investigations backed up by prosecutions.

It also means access to justice and effective remedies for victims.  Because, although accountability processes acknowledge the suffering and courage of victims, they rarely address their psychological and material needs.  Victims have rights to truth, justice, reparation and a comprehensive package of guarantees of non-recurrence.

Today, I want to acknowledge the contribution of national mechanisms, as well as relevant international tribunals and investigative bodies, in ensuring accountability for atrocity crimes.  The Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council investigative bodies — fact-finding missions, groups of experts, high-level missions and commissions of inquiry — also play a fundamental role.

We will listen today to the experiences of victims and reflect on what we can do better to prevent further crimes and to protect victims’ human rights, including their right to reparation.

I also want to pay tribute to the pivotal role of civil society organizations in raising the voices of victims and calling for accountability and reparations.  It often takes decades and generations for a community destroyed by genocide to recover.

Preventing genocide ultimately involves all of society, which must always remain committed and vigilant.  It is crucial that we all join hands to defend the principles of equality and human dignity.

We must work harder to repair the fissures and polarization that are so prevalent in our societies today.  On this international day to commemorate the victims of genocide and affirm their dignity, let us invest in prevention and commit to upholding the responsibilities established in the Genocide Convention.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.