UN Marks Landmark Treaty on Preventing Genocide
    2013-12-10 05:21:09     Xinhua       Web Editor: Luo Dan
Top UN officials on Monday joined international experts at UN Headquarters in New York to mark the 65th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, referred to as a living symbol of the enduring commitment to "never again."

"The Genocide Convention has at its heart the commitment to protect vulnerable populations from mass violence. We have made significant advances since it was adopted but we have also seen some significant failures," said UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson while addressing the UN event on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is in South Africa to attend the official memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who died on Thursday at the age of 95.

"We must be vigilant, courageous and persistent," Eliasson said. "We live in a troubled world, but it is within the power of all of us to make a difference. We must not be passive bystanders. We must always stand up for human rights, the rule of law and a life of dignity for all."

Adopted on Dec. 9, 1948 during the first session of the UN General Assembly, the Convention is largely an outcome of the world's response to the crimes committed by the Nazis against Jews and other minority groups during the Second World War.

The Convention defines genocide as any act committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

Today, more than 140 countries have become parties to the Convention, which declares genocide a crime under international law. Those who commit, conspire to commit, or incite others to commit genocide would be found guilty of the crime.

"Genocide does not happen overnight," Eliasson added. "There are almost always many warning signs, usually over a period of years. Very often these are violations of human rights against one particular group or entity within a population."

"That means genocide is enabled when we remain silent or are unwilling to act. But -- and this is crucial -- it also means we can prevent it."

Adama Dieng, special adviser to the UN secretary-general on the prevention of genocide, noted that while the Convention makes it clear that the prime duty of the international community is to prevent, too often it has failed in this duty, with devastating consequences for innocent civilians.

"Today we have to move beyond early warning to early action. We have to strengthen the capacity of our institutions to respond in a timely and effective way to potential conflicts and to the threat of grave and massive human rights violations. Even the best system of early warning will be less helpful unless States are able and willing to take action when the warning is received," he said.

The ongoing carnage in Syria and unfolding tragedy in the Central African Republic are "stark reminders of our limitations and our inability to undertake robust, timely action to protect populations from atrocity crimes," he said, adding "any inaction is unacceptable, especially for those who endure the suffering resulting from these conflicts."

Dieng noted that whenever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community or ethnic group, it is evident that the international community is confronting potential or indeed actual genocide.

"We can no longer afford to be blind to this grim dynamic, nor should we imagine that appeals to morality, without credible threat of action, will have much effect on people who have adopted a deliberate strategy of killing and forcible expulsion," he said.

"Anyone who embarks on genocide commits a crime against humanity... It is our collective obligation to stand firm and provide a shield to the defenseless," he said.
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