The New York Times
January 24, 2005

UN Asks if World Can Stop Future Genocide


Filed at 2:39 p.m. ET

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - If the world had listened to the horrors of the Nazi death camps, perhaps genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda could have been prevented, speakers told the first-ever U.N. General Assembly session on the Holocaust.

Both U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Nobel Laureate author Elie Wiesel, a World War II death camp survivor, questioned whether the nations had the will to stop mass murder in the future.

``If the world had listened, we may have prevented Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia and naturally Rwanda,'' Wiesel said.

``We know that for the dead it is too late. For them, abandoned by God and betrayed by humanity, victory did come much too late,'' Wiesel said. ``But it is not too late for today's children, ours and yours. It is for their sake alone that we bear witness.''

Annan told the assembly that at this moment, ``terrible things are happening today in Darfur, Sudan.'' He asked the U.N. Security Council to take action once it received a new report determining whether genocide had occurred in Darfur and identifying gross human rights abuses.

The special session, at which survivors and the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Argentina, Armenia, Canada and Luxembourg spoke, is a memorial to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death camp.

The meeting was first called by the United States and backed by Annan, who polled the 191-member assembly.

More than 150 nations agreed to the session, including Islamic nations. But among Muslim nations, only Afghanistan and Jordan's U.N. ambassadors are scheduled to speak to the General Assembly, often accused by Israel of being anti-Semitic.


The liberation of Auschwitz is to be observed this year as Holocaust Memorial Day, with world leaders attending ceremonies in Poland on Jan. 27, exactly 60 years after Soviet Red Army troops liberated the camp.

Up to 1.5 million prisoners, most of them Jews, were killed in Auschwitz alone, dying in gas chambers or of starvation and disease. During the war, six million Jews overall were exterminated and millions of others including Poles, homosexuals, Russians and Gypsies were killed or used as slave labor, at several Nazi death camps.

``How could intelligent, educated men, or simply law-abiding citizens, ordinary men, fire machine guns at hundreds of children every day'' and read Schiller and listen to Bach in the evening,'' Wiesel asked.

To warm applause, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called the Holocaust ``barbaric. ``For my country it signifies the absolute moral abomination, a denial of all things civilized without precedent or parallel,'' he said.

He assured Israel that it could ``always rely'' on support because ``the security of its citizens will forever remain nonnegotiable fixtures of German foreign policy.''

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who lost most of his extended family in the Holocaust, said if there was one thing the world had learned, it is that nations ``cannot close their eyes and sit idly by in the face of genocide.''

``We know that there have been far too many occasions in the six decades since the liberation of the concentration camps when the world ignored inconvenient truths so that it would not have to act or acted too late,'' Wolfowitz said.

And Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, warned that ``the brutal extermination of a people began not with guns or tanks but with words systematically portraying the Jews and others as not legitimate, something less than human.''

He said one would never know if the United Nations, born from the ashes of World War II and instrumental in the founding of the State of Israel, could have prevented the Holocaust. But he said each U.N. member state needed ``to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that it will never happen again.''

Wiesel also drew attention to the indifference of the West during the war to accept more refugees, allow more Jews to go to Israel, or bomb the railway lines to the vast Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site.

``In those times those who were there felt not only tortured, murdered by the enemy but also by what we considered to be the silence and indifference of the world,'' Wiesel said. ``Now, 60 years later, the world at least tries to listen.''

French Foreign minister Michel Barnier acknowledged that German occupiers were helped by the Vichy government in deporting Jews but that others resisted.

``When the first signs of persecution of the Jews announcing the Shoah occurred, how many stood up? How many spoke out?,'' Barnier asked.