Saving Succeeding Generations

Coinciding with the sixty-third anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter, an engaging and educative panel discussion on genocide prevention, with its theme titled "Saving Succeeding Generations", was held on 26 June 2008 at UN Headquarters, in collaboration with the Outreach Division of the UN Department of Public Information and the United Nations University.

In his opening remarks at the panel discussion, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka stated that 63 years ago, in the aftermath of two world wars and the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, world leaders signed the Charter of the United Nations in San Francisco on 26 June 1945. The UN Charter signing represented the hopes of "saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war".

Mr Akasaka stated that "the basic values enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remain the guiding principles for our work in the areas of Holocaust remembrance and genocide prevention today". He pointed out that fundamental human rights were denied to millions of innocent people killed in the Second World War and the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Moderating the panel discussion, Eric Falt, Director of the Outreach Division, thanked the panelists for participating and sharing their perspectives on genocide prevention. They included Edward C. Luck, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General; Robert Rozett, Director of Libraries; Yad Vashem the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority; Bridget Conley-Zilkic, Project Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Committee on Conscience; Lawrence Swaider, Chief Information Officer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Daphna Shraga, Principal Legal Officer at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs; and Joseph Rubagumya of the School of International Public Affairs at Columbia University.

In the wake of the Holocaust, a new word, "genocide", was coined to describe acts committed with intent to destroy -- in whole or in part -- a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. On 9 December 1948, one day before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Mr Akasaka also read Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's message for the occasion, stating that "preventing genocide is a collective and individual responsibility, and I call upon the entire UN system to be empowered to shoulder the responsibility of preventing mass atrocities". Mr Ban also underlined that Governments, the media, religious organizations, civil society groups and individuals have an important role to play.

While sharing his thoughts about the responsibility of a State to protect its population from genocide and the role played by international organizations, Mr Luck stated that the Holocaust was being commemorated to remember victims, their families and friends, and also to think about relevant UN policies and tools that could be utilized to make a difference. He observed that incidences of genocide had gone down in the last 15 years. While individuals can make an enormous difference in protecting citizens, the obligation of an international organization is to effectively prevent genocide. According to Mr Luck, the United Nations is currently working on some institutional mechanisms and is engaged in continued dialogue with Member States to prevent incidents of genocide in the future.

Ms Zilkic stated that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was about those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. Currently, the Museum is involved in education, remembrance and research programmes, in addition to speaking out in support of people when threatened with genocide. It is also involved in a two-pronged strategy to create awareness about genocide, such as making the Governments understand more about genocide and changing public understanding about the crime, thereby preparing them to respond swiftly. Mr Swaider pointed out that the Museum attracts 2 million visitors every year and approximately 30 million people visited its website in 2008 alone.

Ms Shraga gave a brief overview of the various international courts, such as the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). She said that a State's obligation to prevent genocide should extend beyond its own territories.

Talking about how important it was for younger people to support genocide prevention, Mr Rubagumya recalled how his own family fled to Uganda to escape the violence against Tutsis in Rwanda in the early 1960s, only to suffer from discrimination as refugees. Highlighting the difficulties faced by youths in Rwanda, he said that the Government had been bringing students from different parts of Africa and Europe to share their experiences and prevent future conflict.

While presenting cases of rescue during the Holocaust, Mr Rozett recounted three rescue events from the early 1940s. They included the rescue of a man by his neighbour during the mass murder of the Jews, prevention of mass deportation, and how an 11-year-old boy who lost his mother and separated from his sister during the Holocaust survived the ordeal on a farm.

The concluding event, a two-part series of panel discussions on genocide prevention, emphasized the link between the goals and values of the United Nations and its mandated activities in the areas of Holocaust remembrance and genocide prevention. The first event, organized on 12 June, featured David Hamburg's latest book, "Preventing Genocide: Practical Steps toward Early Detection and Effective Action". Speakers at the event also included Francis Deng, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning and Policy Coordination in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.