Genocide: A Preventable Crime – A global conversation on Understanding Early Warning of Mass Atrocities 20 years after the Genocide Against the Tutsi of Rwanda
Statement by Mr. Peter van der Vliet
Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations
New York, 15 January 2014
Dr. Adams, distinguished panelists, dear guests,
I’d like to thank the Permanent Mission of Rwanda and the Global Center for R2P for organizing this important debate at the start of a year of commemoration. I am deeply moved by the compelling messages and stories we have heard so far, urging us to learn from the past rather than just dwell upon it, no matter how heart wrenching.
The lesson I take away from this can be summed up in two words: ‘courage’, and ‘action’.
It starts with one individual, like General Dallaire, who has the courage to stand up and warn that a line is about to be crossed, a line from which there is no return.
It also takes political courage to heed such a warning and to take action, rather than turn our head. Even if the exact way ahead is not clear, if accounts are hazy, or contradictory, or consequences politically unpleasant, waiting and seeing is not an option in the case of mass atrocities. The price of inaction is too cynical to contemplate.
We have been courageous enough to learn from Rwanda, from Srebrenica, from Sri Lanka, and we continue to learn. The situation in Syria is a tragic lesson of how catastrophic the consequences can be once a certain threshold is crossed and the situation sprials out of control.
As others have said, this is a complex issue. But it is our moral duty to continue to find ways to avoid the worst from happening and respond to redress situations when they occur. There is hope, for instance:
- We now have the principle of the Responsibility to Protect, which empowers individuals, community leaders, states and the international community to protect those that would be innocent victims of the most heinous crimes. Prevention is a key element of the Responsibility to Protect.
- The courageous initiative by France for a voluntary moratorium in the Security Council on the use of the veto in case of mass atrocities. A growing number of member states echo and support this initiative, including my own country.
- The UN’s soul searching resulting in the Deputy Secretary General’s excellent Rights Up Front initiative, urging the courage to speak out at the first sign of risk, rather than to keep quiet for fear of repercussions.
This year and next year, here at the UN we will formulate our ambition for a new global agenda after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015. Ours is a vision of eradication poverty and leaving no one behind. The Secretary-General has called it ‘A life of dignity for all’. Senator Dallaire earlier wondered about ‘the yardstick of humanity’. ‘A life of dignity for all’ is absolutely clear in this regards: ‘all’ means everyone, everywhere. If we are to realize that vision, and I am confident that we can, we simply cannot allow mass atrocities to happen. For, ‘A life of dignity for all’ also means never again having to say … never again.
Or, in the words of Maya Angelou:
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived,
but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.