In International Memory: Commemorating the Victims of the Holocaust

The special event was hosted in honor of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The program consisted of various speakers, including Holocaust survivors who gave their testimony. The first speaker was the Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who stated that today was a day of both remembrance and celebration, as January 27 was the day the remaining inmates of the Auschwitz concentration camp were finally liberated. The Secretary-General also explained that the Holocaust remembrance is linked with the founding principles of the United Nations, which is shown in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One notable speaker was Mrs. Marta Wise, who is a Jewish survivor. She was 10 years old when she and her sister were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She is one of the few remaining survivors who were there when the soldiers of the Red Army liberated the inmates. She described the horrible pain and trauma she experienced in the camp, and she explained how she and her sister were put in the medical experiment block of the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, where they were subjected to horrible experiments. Mrs. Wise said that people often asked her where was God during the Holocaust, but she wonders where was man?

Another notable speaker was Her Excellency Samantha Power. She explained that it is often difficult not to lose oneself in the death of millions of victims, and the scale is so massive as to feel unknowable. She stated that nothing will be like the Holocaust, but there are still contemporary atrocities today. She explained the important role we have to play as the upstanders, and that it is even more important with the surge of anti-Semitism in various parts of the world today. The event concluded with special musical performances.

Meeting: Special event on the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust on the theme “The Holocaust and human dignity” (27 January) (organized by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, Department of Information))

Date/Location: Wednesday January 27, 2015, 11:00 – 13:00; General Assembly Hall

Speakers: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon; Her Excellency Ms. Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN; His Excellency Mr. Felix Klein, Special Representative for Relations with Jewish Organizations, Federal Government of Germany; Mr. Szabolcs Takács, Chair of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance; Mrs. Marta Wise, Jewish survivor; Mr. Zoni Weisz, Sinto survivor; Mr. Haim Roet, Jewish survivor

Written By: WIT Representative Kangho (Paul) Jung

Edited By: WIT Representative Alex Margolick

Photo Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Remembering the Holodomor Famine

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The Permanent Mission of Ukraine hosted a meeting on occasion of the 82nd anniversary of the Holodomor famine in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The famine was an effort by the dictator Joseph Stalin to eliminate the Ukrainian independence movement, and it resulted in the deaths of 7-10 million people, which was nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s rural population. 25,000 people died per day, and 3 million children were senselessly murdered. The Soviet regime established unreachable grain quotas, confiscated foodstuffs, and closed Ukraine’s borders with no food and no chance to escape. Therefore, the famine is considered to be a genocide, which the UN defines as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

The meeting was also held to honor the recent resolution passed by the UN, which marks December 9 as the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of This Crime. The speaker was Mr. Yuriy Sergeyev, who said that like the Holodomor genocide, food insecurity continues to be employed and used as political weapons. However, he explained that politically induced famines cannot occur in societies with democratic regimes, and thus, the simple solution is democracy. In addition, he stated that international societies like the UN have a responsibility to secure the protection of literacy, education, development, human rights, and freedom. Mr. Sergeyev noted that the meeting was also held to keep the memory of those who died during the genocide, and make sure that the world will understand the magnitude of the genocide to ensure an atrocity like this will never happen again. After the speaker, students from the Self-Reliance School of Ukrainian Studies recited poems and sang songs.

Meeting: Special event on “Combating Food Insecurity: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine” (on the occasion of the eighty-second anniversary of the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine) (organized by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine)

Date/Location: Wednesday December 9, 2015, 13:15 – 14:30; Conference Room 8

Speakers: Mr. Yuriy A. Sergeyev, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative of Permanent Mission of Ukraine

Written By: WIT Representative Kangho (Paul) Jung

Edited By: WIT Representative Alex Margolick

Photo Credit: Boston University

Meeting on the Jacob Blaustein Institute’s Manual on Human Rights and the Prevention of Genocide

13604167335_0958c8da2b_bThis meeting commemorated the creation of the Jacob Blaustein Institute’s Manual on Human Rights and the Prevention of Genocide. Deputy Secretary-General Eliasson opened the panel by focusing discussion on developing tools to mobilize action.

Permanent Representative Gasana (Rwanda) stated that we are still witnessing major human rights violations in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Iraq, and Kenya that warrant our resolve. Though it is impressive to see the international community’s commitment since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Gasana believes that political will is lacking. Of course, in addition to political will, genocide prevention also requires civilian protection, warning systems, and swift, decisive action based on those warnings. Gasana believes that the current conflict-solving model, in which the Security Council manages genocide rather than preventing it, is problematic. He called upon the Security Council to collaborate more with the Special Office for the Prevention of Genocide.

Mr. Dieng stated that the statement “never again” is already a sign of failure: we must continue to take every effort to prevent what happened in 1994. Furthermore, he wanted everyone to refer to the “genocide in Rwanda” as the “genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda in which Hutu and others who opposed the genocide were killed.” Dieng acknowledged that genocides are not committed in a vacuum; there are usually warning signs. He challenged the international community to pick up on these early warnings of impending violence and immediately begin taking preventative action.

In the Q&A session, someone asked if an overly cautious approach, in which every human rights violation was deemed a genocide, would undermine the significance of the term ‘genocide.’ Eliasson responded that, rather than trying to distinguish ‘genocide candidates,’ we need to analyze each country’s risks on a case-by-case basis.

Meeting: Meeting on the Jacob Blaustein Institute’s Manual on Human Rights and the Prevention of Genocide
Date & Location: 11 April 2015, Conference Room 11, UN Headquarters, New York
Speakers: Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General; Eugène-Richard Gasana, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations; Adama Dieng, UNSG Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide; Felice D. Gaer, Director of AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights; Roberta Cohen, non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute
Written By WIT Representative: Alis Yoo

Post-Genocide Justice: Reconciliation in Rwanda

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Today, the Rwandan government hosted an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and to discuss the need for justice and reconciliation as important pillars in rebuilding Rwandan society. Ambassador of Rwanda, H.E. Nduhungirehe began the discussion by pointing out the main challenge of genocide reconciliation: how to provide redress for victims, while at the same time holding perpetrators accountable and restoring harmony among Rwandans. One way this was achieved was through the establishment of the Gacaca Courts across Rwandan towns and villages.

The Gacaca courts are a traditional community-run court system established in order to find out the truth about what happened during the genocide, and hold those responsible accountable. Over a 7-year period after the genocide, the courts successfully tried 1.3 million suspects, with convictions and sentences decided by community leaders with a focus on reconciliation. Next, Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares, the Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs, and Mr. Jallow, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), gave statements on the trials and convictions at the ICTR. Besides holding individuals accountable for their crimes, the ICTR also left a legacy of jurisprudence for international criminal law, which included finding individuals guilty of rape as a crime of genocide, and finding individuals guilty of incitement to commit genocide. The ICTR indicted 93 persons, 63 were convicted.

Mr. Minah, the permanent representative of Sierra Leone, then gave a statement about his country’s experience with justice and reconciliation after 11 years of civil strife. Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone, survivors were able to publicly tell their stories, and perpetrators had the chance to admit their crimes and ask for forgiveness. Mr. Minah ended his statement by pointing out that true reconciliation is achieved through restorative, not retributive justice. Ending the discussion, Ms. Murekatete, a genocide survivor, shed light on the situation from her unique perspective. She pointed out that while the Gacaca Courts and ICTR had many successes, there were also many shortcomings. She suggested increased protection and trauma counseling services for those who testified at the Gacaca Courts, and for the proceedings of the ICTR to be made more transparent for genocide survivors.

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Meeting Title:
Symposium on the Contribution of Post-Genocide Justice to Reconciliation in Rwanda
Speakers: Mr. Olivier Nduhungirehe, Deputy Permanent Representative of Rwanda; Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs; Mr. Hassan Boubacar Jallow, Prosecutor for ICTR; Mr. Vandi Chidi Minah, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone; Ms. Jacqueline Murekatete, Rwandan Genocide Survivor
Location: United Nations HQ, ECOSOC Chamber
Date: 3 June 2014
Written By WIT representative: Marli Kasdan
Edited by WIT representative: Sophia Griffiths-Mark 

Preventing Another Rwanda in Our Future

United Nations, New York Headquarters, 15 January 2014

Key figures that were involved in the genocide in Rwanda twenty years ago have gathered to seek further prevention and change towards future atrocities. The Ambassador from Rwanda began by inviting, “the world to remember,” the significance of lives that were lost during the genocide. She then discussed the positive change that has taken place in Rwanda since the time of genocide, such as an increased life expectancy among civilians and a total of 1 million making their ways out of poverty. The Deputy General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Aliasson, pointed out that Syria is in a similar situation that Rwanda was placed in twenty years ago and continued to warn for another possible genocide event in Syria.

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The Force Commander of the UN Mission for Rwanda, Romeo Dallaire, gave an inspiring speech reminding everyone that children cannot and should not be used as an instrument for war. He pointed out the irony, that he was back in the same room that he had been in twenty years ago, remarking on the same genocide event, except back then, there was a much smaller audience and less interest in the issue. Ms. Eugenie Mukeshimana, the Founder and Executive Director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network, shared her own childhood experience during the years of genocide. She emphasized the security she felt by having the Belgian soldiers by her side, and went on to state the importance of educating the next generation about the cruelty of crimes so that a child born today can look at the world differently twenty years later. The speakers came to agree that a genocide should not be in anyone’s future, and that we must do everything we can to prevent the upcoming generations from having to experience such crime.

Meeting Title: Special Event on Understanding Early Warning of Mass Atrocities Twenty Years after the Genocide in Rwanda (co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Rwanda, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and the Department of Public Information (DPI))

Key Speakers: Representative from Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Ambassador from Rwanda, Deputy Secretary General of UN (Jan Aliasson), Force Commander of UN Mission for Rwanda (Romeo Dallaire), Founder and Executive Director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network (Eugenie Mukeshimana)

Written by WIT intern: Yoo Jin Erin Kim