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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Genocide can and must be prevented, Türk declares

04 December 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


Intersessional Meeting Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

The Genocide Convention is a grave and urgent document.

This first human rights treaty in the history of the United Nations, it was adopted on the eve of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Seventy-five years later, the two foundational agreements remain deeply interconnected.

Important lessons of the Holocaust, whose indescribable crimes led to the Convention – and the lessons of Cambodia, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and others – made it absolutely clear that p reventing genocide, and bringing its perpetrators to account before all humanity, is essential to the work of advancing human rights.

The prohibition of genocide is not an ordinary rule of international law: it is jus cogens – an overriding principle for all humanity, and all States, to follow, at all times, and without exception. T he Convention calls on all States and people to maintain vigilance, and demands action to prevent and to punish genocide.

Prevention is key. Genocide is never unleashed without warning. It is always the culmination of preceding and identifiable patterns of systematic discrimination – based on race, ethnicity, religion or other characteristics – and of gross human rights violations, targeted as a matter of policy against a people; minority; community.

Early warning signals of genocide must compel us to action.

We must remember that genocide is often preceded or accompanied by statements from political leaders and other public figures that dehumanize and demonize people from targeted communities. Disinformation campaigns on social media can further amplify these statements, until condoning and justifying violence becomes normalized.

The Council's emphasis on the need for careful preventive action in the digital sphere is absolutely critical. There must be better governance of digital tools and digital spaces.

However, this digital aspect is just one piece of the puzzle. Underlying ideologies and policies that drive incitement to violence, discrimination and hatred which may ultimately culminate in genocide also require preventive action. The best prevention tool is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, together with the international treaties deriving from it – because they identify many of the root causes, and they provide practical solutions and guardrails.

The second key is accountability. Not only because it provides justice for victims, but because accountability is central to ending genocide.

Prevention and punishment – the two aims of the Genocide Convention – can never be seen in isolation from each other. The knowledge that the international community is monitoring statements and events, and that justice will come, has deterrent impact on perpetrators.

Impunity is an enabler of genocide. Accountability is its nemesis.

What does that accountability need to look like in practice? It begins with effective, prompt, thorough and impartial investigations and prosecutions. It includes truth-telling and non-judicial measures of acknowledgment, memorialisation, education and reparations, among other steps. We need to keep stepping up that full range of work, until all victims have access to justice and effective remedies; and until we have succeeded in ending genocide, for all humanity.

For 75 years, ending genocide and advancing human rights have been twinned.

As we mark the 75th anniversaries of both the Genocide Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is essential to act in support of this vision of a more humane and peaceful world.

I urge all States that have not yet ratified or acceded to the Genocide Convention, to do so as a matter of high priority, in order to protect our common humanity, and advance our universal human rights.