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Genocide Remains A Threat and Reality in the Twenty-First Century: UN Human Rights Commissioner

September 14, 2018 | By

Geneva: The Human Rights Council on Thursday (Sept. 13) held a high-level panel on the seventieth anniversary on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Vojislav Šuc, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the seventieth anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted on 9 December 1948 and succeeded by the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the next day, was an important opportunity for Member States and the international community to reaffirm the significance of the Convention and continue their efforts to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. In its resolution 37/26, the Council had decided to hold a high-level panel discussion to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Convention.

In her opening statement, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reminded the Council that the odious scourge of genocide, as described by the Convention, remained a threat and reality in the twenty-first century. Accountability included impartial investigations, access to justice and effective remedies for victims. Ms. Bachelet said that in addition to the important work of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations Human Rights Office, the International Criminal Court formed a central pillar of the work to punish, and therefore help prevent, these gravest of international crimes. The primary responsibility for prosecuting perpetrators remained with the States, but the Court’s use was appropriate where States were unwilling or unable to deliver justice. She urged all States to sign or ratify the Rome Statute to support the Court and its work.


Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Armenia, recalled that since the adoption of the Convention, “never again” had been uttered so many times, yet genocides had not been fenced off. Statistics about the status of ratifications and accessions to the Convention were upsetting. Nearly a quarter of the United Nation members had delayed accession to this core international instrument. Prevention was a responsibility, which had to be delivered first at the national level. At the international level, prevention required a continued integrated approach and action.

Adama Dieng, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, and former Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, reminded that throughout history there had been many events that could have been qualified as genocide as defined in the Convention. Genocide was not an accident, nor was it inevitable. It was the inaction of the international community in addressing the warning signs that allowed it to become a reality. Ratifying the Genocide Convention demonstrated commitment to the fundamental principles of the United Nations.

Kimberly Prost, Judge of the International Criminal Court and former Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, shared her personal experience as an international criminal law practitioner and as a judge of the International Crime Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. She stressed that the lesson learned from those centuries of cyclical violence was that the only way of preventing genocide was to address the underlying issues, end the cycle of violence and replace vengeance by justice.
William Schabas, Professor of international law at Middlesex University and Professor of international criminal law and human rights at Leiden University, reminded that Raphael Lemkin had a vision of genocide that was much broader than the wording found in the Convention itself. However, in 1948, many United Nations members had been reluctant to go that far because of their own use of genocide within their borders.

Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, noted that the Council was the right forum to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Genocide Convention, and the best way to commemorate it was by showing solidarity with the past as well as current victims who were paying the price of genocidal practices and crimes against humanity. Such crimes were a call for action and all had to shoulder the responsibility.

Noting that the international community had failed to prevent the most serious atrocities too many times, speakers in the discussion called for more robust accountability mechanisms and focus on prevention. Genocide prevention went far beyond criminal sanctions. It should be mostly about fostering structural policies that contributed to a world free of genocide, including human rights education, and measures against xenophobia and racial discrimination. A genuine culture of prevention should prevail as the only effective way to avoid the loss of human lives. States needed to put an end to impunity, prosecute perpetrators, and identify the underlying causes and precursors of genocide.

Speaking were Tunisia on behalf of the Arab Group, Costa Rica on behalf of a group of countries, Switzerland on behalf of a group of countries, Togo on behalf of the African Group, Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Lithuania on behalf of a group of countries, Czechia, Montenegro, Liechtenstein, Venezuela, Australia, Ecuador, Cuba, Greece, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Senegal, Brazil, Turkey, Italy, Sudan, Iraq, and Rwanda.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: World Jewish Congress, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia, Center for Global Nonkilling, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, Human Rights Watch, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik.

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