15 APRIL 2008

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon led an impressive commemoration at U.N. Headquarters of the Rwanda massacre. Although 14 years have passed, the impact was still there -- a tragic episode that was mishandled with glaring incompetence and political expediency by the main figures at the time, including senior U.N. officials (some of whom went on to become even more senior) with no real sign of regret or remorse!

A new Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon seemed genuinely determined to turn a new page. His initiative to visit Rwanda and make a personal / official contribution to a victims fund; his pointed statements and his active participation in the commemoration reflected a keen desire to show a new U.N. determination to never again tolerate genocide.

The Department of Public Information ably represented by Director Paula Refolo effectively organized the event at the Delegates' entrance of the General Assembly building, working closely with the Secretary General's office and the Mission of Rwanda, whose ambassador made a forceful statement. Speaking on behalf of the African Union, the Ambassador of Tanzania expressed support for the Secretary General's efforts to monitor closely potential areas of violating human lives and human dignity.

A moment of silence was observed as children from Rwanda lit a candle in memory of the victims. A female survivor spoke with touching dignity and grace about the plight of hundreds of thousands and the hope that others, in Darfur and elsewhere, would not suffer a similar fate.

The Secretary General issued the following special message for that day:

"Earlier this year I visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. The experience was as harrowing as my first visit to Rwanda two years earlier, and being there as Secretary-General of the United Nations carried even more profound meaning for me. It was impossible to pass through those halls and not be affected -- indeed, shaken to the core -- by what the Rwandan people endured.

"On this 14th anniversary of the genocide, my thoughts again go out the victims -- more than 800,000 innocent people who lost their lives. May they rest in peace. My thoughts go to the survivors. May their courage and resilience serve as an inspiration to all of us.

"The United Nations has a moral duty to act on the lessons of Rwanda. That is why this day is also a call to bolster efforts to prevent another genocide. It is a cause I am resolved to pursue, in my time as UN Secretary-General and in the years beyond. I have created the full-time position of Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, and appointed a Special Adviser with a focus on the responsibility to protect -- the obligation accepted by all States to act collectively, through the Security Council, when a population is threatened with genocide, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity. I will spare no effort in working with Member States to translate this principle from word to deed.

"I am equally determined to work for human rights everywhere -- to uphold them, protect them, defend them, ensure that they are a living reality. This year, to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations is pursuing a global awareness campaign to ensure that human rights are known, understood and enjoyed by everyone, everywhere. It is often those who most need their rights protected, who also need to be informed that the Declaration exists -- and that it exists for them.

"In all these endeavours, each one of us has a role to play: Governments, the media, civil society, and individuals. May the searing memory of the genocide in Rwanda always spur us on in our mission."