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Recognize and act on warning signs of genocide, Guterres urges, honouring victims

In a message on the international day to commemorate the victims of genocide and affirm their dignity, on Wednesday, Secretary-General António Guterres also highlighted the key responsibility of governments. 

“Governments need to guarantee civic space for human rights institutions and defenders to do their essential work, and they need to protect the rights of those at risk,” he said. 

‘Warning signs’ 

Mr. Guterres outlined that genocide is always preceded by “clear, multiple warning signs” and victims are often early targets of hate speech, discrimination and violence. 

But promptly recognizing and acting on these warning signs, remains a challenge. 

“Hate speech is a clear warning sign, and we need to do better in rejecting it in all its forms,” said the Secretary-General, highlighting that all of society must be involved. 

“It is crucial that we all join hands to defend the principles of equality and human dignity and to repair the fissures and polarization that are so prevalent in our societies today.” 

Observed on 9 December every year, the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime was established by the UN General Assembly. The date commemorates the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in 1948, by the General Assembly. 

‘Foundational’ to the UN 

In the message, the Secretary-General highlighted that the imperative to prevent genocide is “foundational to the United Nations”. 

The Convention, adopted in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the Second World War, remains “as relevant as ever” as we work to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes, he said. 

“Crimes which are sadly still being perpetrated with impunity and no regard for the sanctity of human life,” he added. 

Hate speech is a clear warning sign, and we need to do better in rejecting it in all its forms – UN Secretary-General

Rights of victims 

Mr. Guterres also called for credible and effective accountability to deter atrocity crimes and providing justice and remedies for victims. 

Meeting their psychological and material needs is equally important. 

“Victims have rights to truth, justice, reparation and a comprehensive package of guarantees of non-recurrence,” he stressed. 

Praise for national efforts, tribunals

On Wednesday in New York a special event took place to mark the International Day, where judges and experts shared their experiences in securing justice for victims of genocide and related crimes. 

Mr. Guterres acknowledged the contributions made by special national mechanisms to reckon with genocide, and the international tribunals set up within the UN system. 

“The Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council investigative bodies – fact-finding missions, groups of experts, high-level missions and commissions of inquiry – also play a fundamental role”, he said. 

He paid tribute to the “pivotal role” of civil society, in amplifying the voices of victims, and calling for accountability and reparations: “It often takes decades and generations for a community destroyed by genocide to recover. Preventing genocide, ultimately involves all of society, which must always remain committed and vigilant.”

The UN chief said we must all work harder, “to repair the fissures and polarization that are so prevelant in our societies today.”

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