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Genocide “remains a very real threat” around the world, said the UN chief on Thursday, marking the UN International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, and of the Prevention of this Crime

“The international community has repeatedly failed to respond collaboratively, swiftly and decisively to prevent genocide and related atrocity crimes”, António Guterres said.  

The UN chief was participating in a virtual event to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the Genocide Convention and the International Day.  

For Mr. Guterres, the Convention gave the world a better understanding of early warning signs and risk factors, but more needs to be done. 

Today, we face the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945. They are lasting longer and are increasingly complex. Impunity is rife and human rights and the rule of law are regularly ignored”, he said.  

The Secretary-General also highlighted identity-based hate speech and incitement and discrimination, saying they continue to spread and are increasingly being used for political manipulation and gain. 

“These are all alarming warning signs that should prompt action”, he argued.  

‘Champions of prevention’ 

For Mr. Guterres, the world knows what needs to be done: eliminate identity-based discrimination and recognize diversity as a strength; respect human rights and the rule of law; ensure accountability and reparations for past atrocity crimes; and reconcile and restore broken communities. 

He believes that Member States have the primary responsibility for preventing genocide, but it cannot be achieved without the participation of the entire society.  

“Young people, religious and community leaders, the private sector and the media, especially social media platforms, all have a responsibility to become champions of prevention”, he added.  

Role of the youth 

Also addressing the Member States, was the President of the 76th session of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, who stressed the theme of the event, The Voices of Youth for a Peaceful and Inclusive World. 

“Whenever I meet and interact with our youth, I notice their enthusiasm to effect positive change. They have little patience for the petty hatreds and divisions that previous generations succumbed to”, he said. “They would rather concern themselves with uplifting humanity’s condition.” 

In fact, young people constitute a majority of the population in many countries that are experiencing, or are currently facing violence, and risks of atrocity crimes. 

Young people have carried forward several initiatives that have led to change in at-risk countries, including peaceful demonstrations and campaigns, via social media platforms, and the promotion of dialogue among diverse ethnic and religious groups. 

‘Carry our work forward’ 

“We can help them along their path by reminding them of the heartbreak and death that follows when prejudice is combined with violence, especially organized violence”, Mr. Shahid said.   

Member States should also educate younger generations on the history and human cost of genocide, invest in the skills of peacebuilding and reconciliation, and promote gender equality.  

“It is only youth, after all, that can carry our work forward”, he concluded.    

The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, also participated in the event, and the Secretary-General Special Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, moderated an interactive dialogue on the issue.