Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on the International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust

By | 27 January 2009

“Sixty-four years ago, on 27 January 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps. The images from Auschwitz and the other camps, and the incontrovertible evidence that subsequently emerged to reveal the full scale and horror of the Holocaust is no less shocking with the passing of time.

On this day, which marks the fourth International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, we must not forget the lives of those millions of children, women and men that were brutally cut short by an ideology of hatred which was embraced so ruthlessly by the Nazis and their allies.

This day of remembrance is about the past, but it is also about present and future challenges. The threat of genocide still remains. It is the ultimate and most terrible expression of intolerance, xenophobia and racism – and of the cynical politics that seek to exploit those darker sides of human nature. The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is an annual reminder that in the future we must act more decisively at the first signs that a climate conducive to genocide is starting to develop.

The world has witnessed other acts of genocide since the end of World War II. As a former judge and president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, I will remember for the rest of my life the ghastly testimonies of survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and the terrible ability of human beings to inflict vast suffering on one another.

The international tribunals set up to deal with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia owe a debt to the precedents set by the Nuremberg trials, and several subsequent tribunals, which resulted in successful prosecutions of individuals who took part in the Holocaust.

With the International Criminal Court (ICC), we now have an international judicial mechanism, ratified by 108 States, that is built on a clear commitment to put an end to impunity for crimes of this gravity, and in so doing provide a measure of deterrence. For the ICC to reach its full potential, its Statute needs to be ratified by all States.

But justice for crimes already committed is only one aspect of deterrence. It is only by understanding how acts of genocide develop that we can learn to read the warning signs and take decisive preventive action. As long as there are manifestations of racism, xenophobia, intolerance and discrimination against any group – including contemporary acts of anti-Semitism – the insidious cancer that leads to hate-fuelled violence will never be definitively defeated.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is actively engaged in helping governments and civil society to use the full force of the law to confront intolerance, bigotry, prejudice, ignorance and hatred. Ultimately, the only way to truly honour the victims of the Holocaust is to ensure effective protection for all those who are still, in the 21st Century, threatened by the same currents of hatred that coalesced during World War II into one of the single greatest premeditated crimes this planet has ever witnessed.”

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