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Discussion Paper Series, Volume I


by Kiyo Akasaka
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
for Communications and Public Information

While the twentieth century produced great achievements, it also witnessed terrible acts of inhumanity and destruction. At one end of the spectrum were dazzling scientific discoveries and technological developments, made in an environment stimulated by some of history’s most brilliant intellectuals and talented individuals. Paradoxically, human beings during this period also witnessed world wars, destruction, starvation and mass atrocities, including the Holocaust which, in many ways, animated the founding of the United Nations.

It is incumbent upon us to ask how such acts of brutality could occur in modern, well-educated and sophisticated societies. What is the driving force behind such aggression and how can it be stopped? How do we ensure that people everywhere enjoy the advantages and fundamental freedoms available in democratic societies, allowing for non-violent conflict resolution within States and between States? What can we learn about human nature by examining these past tragedies to ensure that they will not recur in this twenty-first century?

Recognizing the need to find answers to these vital questions, the United Nations General Assembly, in resolution 60/7 of 1 November 2005, called for the establishment of a programme of outreach on “the Holocaust and the United Nations” to encourage study of the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help prevent future acts of genocide. The Department of Public Information’s Holocaust and the United Nations outreach programme, created in January 2006, honours the memory of the victims while helping to mobilize civil society for Holocaust education and remembrance.

As part of this mandate, the programme has invited scholars from around the world to explore the underlying causes of genocide - hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice - and draft papers that will inform the discussion on ways to prevent and stop the violence. This volume comprises nine discussion papers, drafted by authors from Australia, China, France, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, Israel, the Sudan and the United States. We are particularly honoured that Francis Deng, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, has contributed to this series. I encourage you to read and share this publication. While all of the views expressed by the individual scholars might not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations, the writers offer insights that help to raise the level of dialogue, as well as help to define possible means to curb abuses of human rights and mass violence.

While important strides have been made by the United Nations with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, along with the establishment of numerous courts and tribunals to bring to justice the perpetrators of such crimes, the killing and maiming of vulnerable groups persists today.

The concept of “Responsibility to Protect”, adopted by the 2005 World Summit - the largest gathering of Heads of State and Government the world has seen - offers new promise for concrete action by Member States. It summarizes the inherent obligation of every State to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It also asserts the responsibility of the international community to take collective action through the United Nations to protect populations from such serious crimes and violations when States manifestly fail to do so. United Nations­Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is committed to this concept and has said that, “working together, we can deliver on the promise of the responsibility to protect. And we can transform this idea from an abstract obligation into what it truly is: one of humanity’s highest callings”.

It is my hope that this volume will help guide us in our inter­actions with others on the subject of genocide, and provide insight on the philosophical, moral and practical issues that must be part of any solution proposed to help preserve human dignity and stop, indeed prevent, mass atrocities.

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