On Genocide Prevention Day, 'We Continue to Fail to Heed the Lessons' of the Holocaust

Photo courtesy AP Images.

On the 68th anniversary of the United Nations establishing that genocide is an international crime, the U.S. Holocaust Museum warned that genocide “is occurring or is threatened in an unprecedented number of places from northern Iraq and Aleppo to Burma and South Sudan.

“After World War II, the international community made a commitment to prevent genocide, yet we continue to fail to heed the lessons of this tragic history,” former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who is chairman of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience, said in a statement. “We are painfully aware of the dire costs of inaction — the consequences of failing to respond early to warning signs or to halt atrocities ultimately undermines our safety and security at home.”

The museum called on the international community and Washington to recognize not only “these very real threats, but also the dramatic side effects of our failure to address them.”

“We face a moment of considerable global change, where, sadly, state and non-state actors around the world feel unconstrained in brazenly targeting groups of civilians for destruction,” said Tom Bernstein, chairman of the museum’s governing council. “For the sake of the past and for our own future, we have a duty to respond before the vow of ‘Never Again’ is once again betrayed.”

The museum noted Congress’ determination earlier this year that the Islamic State has perpetrated genocide against religious minorities in Iraq. “If steps are not taken to protect civilians, document the crimes committed, hold accountable those responsible, and prevent future violence, civilians will continue to face violence and the use of the genocide label will have little meaning.”

At the United Nations, marking the second International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decried “extreme acts of violence against individuals and communities simply because of their national, racial, religious or ethnic identity.”

“I am gravely concerned about the rising hostility and prejudice against immigrants and those labeled outsiders,” Ban added. “There can be no place for exclusionary or superior views of identity, or for divisive attempts to separate people into ‘us and them.’ We have seen in the tragedies of history where this dark path can lead.”

The secretary-general, who is stepping down at the end of the year, stressed that member states “must honor the suffering of the victims of genocide, and of their families, by working even harder against expressions of hatred, intolerance, racism and xenophobia.”

“Let us spare no effort to uphold our moral and legal responsibility to protect populations against genocide,” Ban said.