The United Nations marked the day of remembrance of victims of genocide with a warning that the crime has not been relegated to the history books but remains a threat today.
The U.N. set the tone for its observance of the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime with a video of scenes of violence and devastation in Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq — countries that have experienced the horrors of genocide. The video also contained scenes of reconciliation and the voices of young people calling for a peaceful and inclusive world.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a virtual global audience that history tends to repeat itself. He urged people to remain vigilant and to understand the early warning signs of genocide.
"Today, we face the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945," he said. "They are lasting longer and are increasingly complex. Impunity is rife, and human rights and the rule of law are regularly ignored. Identity-based hate speech, incitement and discrimination continue to spread and are increasingly being used for political manipulation and gain."
The U.N. chief said these are alarming warning signs that should prompt action.
U.N. experts and human rights organizations have produced numerous reports of gross violations, many amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some reports allege genocide is being committed in Myanmar, China and Ethiopia, among other nations.
The president of the 76th session of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said the body has a responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
"Genocide does not happen overnight or without warning. It is preceded by a buildup of human rights violations, bigotry, hatred and division," Shahid said. "It culminates in bloodshed. … That is why we must always meet the forces of bigotry and hatred with tolerance and inclusion. That is why we must celebrate diversity."
Genocide is a term used to describe violence against members of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group with the intent to destroy the entire group.
In 1948, three years after the end of World War II when the full extent of the Holocaust was revealed, the United Nations declared genocide to be an international crime. The term was coined in recognition of the massive crimes committed by the Nazis, who killed 6 million European Jews and also targeted Roma people and sexual minorities.
The International Day of Commemoration honors the memories of the millions of victims killed in targeted genocide and presses for action to prevent future genocide from occurring.