Too often, the world has failed the populations under threat of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. The examples are many, and we know them well, but they remain a scourge, even today, causing great suffering. And the devastating impact on the victims, communities and society as a whole can take generations to overcome and heal.Acting quickly to early warning signs and investing in early prevention can save lives and prevent attempts to destroy vulnerable groups, in whole or in part. Where we see people facing systematic discrimination or becoming targets of violence simply because of who they are, because of their identity, we must act – both to defend those at immediate risk and those who could be in jeopardy in the future. By promoting a culture of peace and non-violence that includes respect for diversity and non-discrimination, we can build societies that are resilient to the risk of genocide.
The imperative to prevent genocide is not only moral; it is a legal obligation set out in Article I of the Convention. Indeed, the primary obligation to prevent genocide rests with States. I congratulate Turkmenistan, Dominica and Mauritius for responding to my appeal last year for the universal ratification of the Genocide Convention. I urge the 42 States that have yet to ratify the Convention to do so as a matter of priority.
Civil society, religious leaders, media outlets and teachers play an important role. This year, I launched two initiatives, the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech and the Action Plan for the Protection of Religious Sites, which aim to galvanize our work and to encourage contributions from these partners, working hand in hand with states.
Investing in prevention is especially urgent today. Across the world, we are seeing an alarming surge in xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and attacks against Christians, often fed by nationalist and populist ideologies. It is important on this day to recognize that the Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers, nor did the genocides in Rwanda, Srebrenica or Cambodia start with mass killings. They were all preceded by discrimination, hate speech, incitement to violence and the dehumanization of “the other”.
Let us pay tribute to the victims of this egregious crime by remembering their suffering and by recommitting to equality and prevention, not only in our words but in our actions.