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Deputy Secretary-General Stresses Need for Collective Efforts to ‘Breathe Life’ into Geneva Convention, in Message Marking Commemoration of Genocide Victims

Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s video message to the United Nations Columbia event to highlight the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, in New York today:

Your Excellency, Ambassador [Claver] Gatete [Permanent Representative of the Republic of Rwanda to the United Nations], Professor Daniel Naujoks, Director of International Organizations and UN Studies Specialization and Lecturer at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, ladies and gentlemen, dear students and faculty,

I am honoured to join you today.  I would like to thank the African Development Group and United Nations Columbia for co-sponsoring this event.

On this day of commemoration, we honour the over 800,000 people, women, men and children, mostly Tutsi, but also moderate Hutu and others who were systematically eliminated in 100 days in 1994, all victims of the genocide in Rwanda, and we renew our commitment to preserve their memory.  Twenty-eight years on, the silence of the victims continues resonating strongly.  Their suffering remains ingrained in our memory, which is a memory of collective failure to protect them.

For this reason alone, today, more than ever, we rededicate ourselves to preventing the commission of this most horrendous crime.  Today, more than ever, we resolve to take action when we see early signs of a heightened risk of genocide.  Today, more than ever, we commit to supporting all efforts towards accountability when there are serious allegations that the crime has been committed.

The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide provides a legal framework for combating genocide.  Yet, 74 years later, the risk of genocide continues to stare us in the face.  Despite commitments of “never again”, the international community has not always responded with the level of urgency that is required to effectively prevent genocide and atrocity crimes.  The Genocide Convention is not a self-implementing pact; it requires our collective efforts to breathe life into it.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We currently face the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945.  They last longer and are increasingly complex and intractable.  Conflicts might be different in nature, but the level of suffering they generate remains equally intolerable.  The victims of today stare us in the eyes as the victims of yesterday did.

They are telling us that human rights and the rule of law are regularly ignored.  They know all too well that identity-based hate speech, incitement and discrimination continue to spread and are increasingly used for political manipulation.  These are all crimes in themselves — and they are also alarming warning signs that should prompt action.

We must respond to their plight.  Action should not be left until a crisis is already advanced.  Much can and must be done in response to early warning signs.  We must work to eliminate identity-based discrimination and recognize diversity as a strength.  We must promote respect for human rights and the rule of law.  We must work for accountability and redress past atrocity crimes.  And we must support healing and trust-building efforts, particularly in societies that have experienced such crimes.

This is not a task for government officials or international organizations alone.  We all have a role to play and a responsibility to engage.  Academia has a central part in remembrance and reconciliation, and in promoting diversity and building mutual respect.  At the UN we are committed to preventing genocide and addressing manifestations of genocide denial, and glorification of genocidaires and criminals.

Only by working together can we strengthen our collective ability to prevent the most heinous crime of genocide.  The enormity of the crime should not benumb us; its magnitude should not silence us.  We must combat it with the ferocity it deserves and blunt its destructive path.  That is the only way to honour the spirit of the victims.  Never again.  Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.