United Nations to commemorate victims of all genocides on Dec. 9

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

Sept. 11, after years of persistent diplomatic efforts, the Republic of Armenia succeeded in having the United Nations General Assembly adopt by consensus a generic resolution on all genocides.

Introduced by Armenia and co-sponsored by 83 other nations, the resolution establishes December 9 as the “International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime.” Dec. 9 was chosen since the UN Genocide Convention was adopted on that day in 1948.

Henceforth, on every December 9, the UN will commemorate and honor the victims of all genocides. Even though the resolution does not mention any particular genocide, it is up to Armenians to ensure that their genocide is included in official UN commemorations on that date. No one will be surprised should the Turkish government attempt to block such Armenian efforts!

Ironically, Turkey was one of the co-sponsors of the genocide resolution, probably out of a concern that opposing it would have revealed its deep-seated anxiety on the subject of genocide. Consequently, Turkish officials acted as if this resolution was unrelated to their country’s past and present genocidal crimes against Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and Kurds!

Among the 84 countries co-sponsoring the resolution were the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, Germany, India, Japan, and Iran. Interestingly, Azerbaijan and Rwanda did not co-sponsor it. Azerbaijan was reluctant to support any resolution proposed by Armenia. Rwanda, on the other hand, felt the resolution was unnecessary, since the UN had designated April 7 as International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda. In contrast, Israel co-sponsored the resolution, even though the UN had already set January 27 as International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect issued a statement last Friday commending the adoption of the UN resolution, and listing the “significant anniversaries of the most atrocious crimes of the last century,” including “the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities in Cambodia, and the 20th anniversaries of the genocide in Rwanda and at Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Amb. Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s Representative to the UN, spoke of his “sense of duty,” while presenting the proposed resolution to the General Assembly on Sept. 11. Paying tribute to Raphael Lemkin who had coined the term genocide, the Ambassador stated: “For the victims of our past inaction, the International Day will render dignity. The denial to millions of the sanctity of life is ultimate injustice. Justice denied haunts generations of survivors. We speak from experience.”

Another genocide milestone forgotten by the international community and Armenians is the 30th anniversary of the adoption of a report by the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The historic document titled, “Revised and updated report on the question of the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide,” was drafted by British Rapporteur Benjamin Whitaker. It is noteworthy that Amb. Mnatsakanyan referred to this report twice in his speech, while introducing the genocide resolution to the UN.

In paragraph 24 of his report, Whitaker cited several cases of genocide in the 20th century, specifically mentioning the Armenian Genocide. Moreover, in footnote 13, Whitaker added: “At least 1 million, and possibly well over half of the Armenian population, are reliably estimated to have been killed or death marched by independent authorities and eye-witnesses. This is corroborated by reports in United States, German and British archives and of contemporary diplomats in the Ottoman Empire, including those of its ally Germany. The German Ambassador, Wangenheim, for example, on 7 July 1915 wrote, ‘the [Turkish] government is indeed pursuing its goal of exterminating the Armenian race in the Ottoman Empire’ (Wilhelmstrasse archives).”

Regrettably, Whitaker passed away last year. But, there are three other former members of the UN Sub-Commission — Erica Daes (Greek), Leandro Despouys (Argentinian), and Louis Joinet (French) — who staunchly supported the reference to the Armenian Genocide in the Whitaker report which the Sub-Commission adopted on August 29, 1985, by a 14-1 vote. All three human rights experts should be invited to the United Nations on Dec. 9, 2015, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Whitaker Report, and recognize his unique contributions to the cause of prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide!

Amb. Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry, and the Armenian government should be commended for their effective leadership at the UN on genocide prevention!

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