Genocide Convention – pupils mark the anniversary


December 9 2017 is the 69th anniversary of the adoption of the Genocide Convention. To mark the date members of the pupil action group, Genocide80Twenty put some questions to Matthew Rycroft CBE, Britain’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Mr Rycroft spoke about howe the issue of genocide was close to his heart given his years working on and in Bosnia – he was a member of the British delegation to the Dayton peace talks on Bosnia.

We asked Mr Rycroft about the relevance of the Genocide convention at the United Nations today and why he thinks it is important that young people know about it.

How will the UN and the British delegation be marking UN’s International Day of Commemoration & Prevention of Genocide?

The UN established 9 December as the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, in 2015 through a resolution passed in the UN General Assembly.  This date was chosen as it marks the anniversary of the adoption of the 1948 Genocide Convention.  At the UN, there are often several events to mark this day, including through a meeting at which prominent speakers and UN member states are make statements to mark the commemoration.  Details of events this year have not yet been circulated, but we are likely to attend this event and make a statement.

Personally, whenever anyone says the word genocide, I think about Srebrenica. That is where 8000 men and boys were deliberately killed – it is a genocide that haunts the UN, who were supposed to be keeping it a safe area, to this day.  It is also a beautiful part of the world, which somehow makes the tragedy all the more chilling.

Why do you think that it is important to mark the UN’s International Day of Commemoration & Prevention of Genocide and for young people to know about the commemorations?

It is important to mark this day to raise awareness of the Genocide Convention, its role in combating and preventing the crime of genocide, and to commemorate and honour its victims.  We need to ensure that people do not forget the horrors of the past – that is a big part of ensuring that such crimes do not happen again.  It is especially important for young people to grow up knowing what has happened in the world, and learn from it.   Learning about Srebrenica, or Rwanda, or any other genocide, is a powerful part of anyone’s education.

How important is the Genocide Convention in your work at the UN? It genocide an issue that is frequently discussed?

The Genocide Convention is a central piece of international law.  Sadly we discuss genocide and other atrocity crimes (crimes against humanity and war crimes) frequently at the UN, particularly in the Security Council.  The  Secretary General’s Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide plays a key role in ensuring the UN and Member States are alert to the risks of genocide and other atrocity crimes.  A significant part of his role is early warning – looking for signs that could indicate that populations are at risk of atrocity crimes. When these crimes occur he seeks to mobilise the United Nations and Member States to take effective action in response to these situations.  He is specifically mandated to alert the Secretary-General and through him, the Security Council, about situations where he considers there is a risk of genocide.  He has done that recently in the case of South Sudan.  He is also mandated to liaise with the United Nations system on activities for the prevention of genocide, and to work to enhance the United Nations’ capacity to analyse and manage information regarding genocide or related crimes.

Do you think that the Convention is effective in preventing terrible atrocities from occurring around the world?

The convention plays an important legal framework through which perpetrators of atrocity crimes can be brought to account.  Accountability is important for the victims of atrocity crimes and can help in prevention.  The recent conviction of Mladic who the court found ‘significantly contributed to’ the Genocide in Srebrenica is a good example of somebody who has finally been brought to justice.  However, the process of international accountability is slow and this may mean that the deterrent effect is not felt for years or even decades.  Even when deterrence is difficult to assess, international justice sends a strong message to perpetrators of atrocities that they will ultimately be held to account.