Press Releases

                                                                                                                            8 April 2004

    Deputy Secretary-General Says Deep Sorrow over Rwanda Must Be Transformed into Action to Ensure Such Descent into Horror Never again Permitted

    NEW YORK, 7 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s remarks at the meeting of the General Assembly in commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, with the participation of the President of the Security Council, in New York,  7 April:

    Ten years ago, the international community failed Rwanda.  None of us -- neither the Security Council, nor the UN Secretariat, nor governments in general, nor the international media -- paid enough attention to the gathering signs of disaster.  And once the genocide was under way, none of us did enough to stop it, even when televised images of slaughter were visible all around the world.

    Our sorrow is genuine and deep.  But sorrow is of no use to the 800,000 people, at least -- men, women and children -- who were left to suffer the most brutal of deaths.  It will be of little meaning to future generations, unless it is transformed into something more:  into real, concerted action, by the entire international community, to ensure that such a descent into horror is never again permitted.

    The Secretary-General regrets that he is not with us today.  But his choice of the Commission on Human Rights as the forum for his statement today seems to me highly appropriate.

    Genocide, after all, is the ultimate violation of human rights, and it usually comes as the climax of many lesser violations.  Our human rights machinery, therefore, has a vital role to play in giving warning of its approach, and any action to prevent it must be grounded in a resolute effort to uphold universal human rights and human dignity.

    In his statement, the Secretary-General announced an action plan, which brings together a wide range of activities of the United Nations system under the rubric of preventing genocide.

    These activities include:

    -- First, preventing armed conflicts, and especially internal conflicts -- which are never a sufficient explanation, let alone excuse, for genocide, but which do seem to provide a necessary context and pretext for it.  Preventing war is, indeed, the primary purpose of the United Nations, and should be a conscious aim of our development work, as well as our political and diplomatic activity.

    -- Secondly, protecting civilians -- and especially minorities, since they are genocide’s most frequent targets.  This is a task not only for our humanitarian and legal experts, but increasingly also for our peacekeepers, many of whom today are no longer restricted to using force only in self-defence, but often mandated also to protect local civilians who are threatened with imminent violence.  They must be given the resources they need to fulfil those mandates.

    -- Thirdly, working to end impunity, by helping to build and maintain robust judicial systems, both national and international.  The last 10 years have seen spectacular developments in international criminal law, with the ground-breaking verdicts of the two UN Tribunals -- for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia -- and the creation of the special court in Sierra Leone, as well as the International Criminal Court.  But the work done by our peacekeepers and development workers to help individual countries strengthen their police judicial institutions is no less important.  All these efforts need to be extended and stepped up.

    -- Fourth, monitoring the warning signs that tell us when genocide or other comparable disasters are approaching.  This is an area where the UN human rights system, as well as our humanitarian funds and programmes, are already heavily engaged, in partnership with civil society organizations.  But there are still conspicuous gaps in our capacity to analyse and manage the information that the system gathers, so that we can use it to understand complex situations and suggest appropriate action.

    At least some of those gaps should be filled by the new post that the Secretary-General announced:  that of Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.

    This adviser’s mandate will refer not only to genocide, but also to mass murder and other large-scale human rights violations, such as ethnic cleansing.  He or she will work closely with the High Commissioner for Human Rights to collect information on potential or existing situations or threats of genocide, and their links to international peace and security.

    Unlike the Special Rapporteurs with whom we are familiar, the Special Adviser will not only report to the Commission on Human Rights, but will also act as an early-warning mechanism to the Security Council and other parts of the system, including the General Assembly.  He or she will report to these bodies through the Secretary-General, and will make recommendations to the Security Council on actions to be taken to prevent genocide.

    Indeed, Mr. President, I welcome the participation of the President of the Security Council in this meeting, since it is the action or inaction of the Council that will ultimately be decisive.  No matter how good our early warning systems may be, they will be of little use unless Member States can summon the political will to act when warning is received.

    Right now, for example, we have abundant warning that something horrible is going on in the Greater Darfur region of Sudan.  As the Secretary-General said earlier today, it is vital that international humanitarian workers and human rights experts be given full access to the region, and to the victims, without further delay.  And, he added, if that is denied, the international community must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action.

    We cannot undo the past or reverse the crimes that were committed in Rwanda.  We cannot repair the failure.  But the world can be serious about preventing genocide. 

    The Secretary-General said today that the legacy he would most wish to leave to his successors is a United Nations better equipped to prevent genocide, and able to act decisively when prevention fails.

    I believe we all have an obligation to help him achieve that, and I hope you will give him your support.  That would be the best way to honour the victims whom we remember today, and to save those who might be victims tomorrow.

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