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Annan calls for urgent action, even military intervention, to prevent genocide

26 January 2004 With the past decade providing "especially shameful" examples of genocide in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on the global community to take urgent preventive action, both political and, if necessary, military.

"Genocide, whether imminent or ongoing, is practically always, if not by definition, a threat to the peace," Mr. Annan said in an address to the Stockholm International Forum on preventing genocide. "It must be dealt with as such - by strong and united political action and, in extreme cases, by military action."

Among measures he proposed were the establishment of a committee by States parties to the Genocide Convention to review reports and recommend action, as well as the appointment of a special rapporteur to deal directly with the Security Council, making clear the link, often ignored until too late, between massive and systematic violations of human rights and threats to international peace and security.

Mr. Annan referred to the genocide of the 1990s - when more than 7,000 civilians were murdered following the capture of the Srebrenica enclave by Serb forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were estimated to have been massacred in Rwanda - as especially shameful. The UN had peacekeepers in both areas at the time.

"In Rwanda, some of those peacekeepers lost their lives trying to defend the victims. All honour to them. But instead of reinforcing our troops, we withdrew them."

He added that in both cases the gravest mistakes were made by Member States, particularly in the way decisions were taken in the Security Council "but all of us failed."

Issuing a call to arms against the roots of violence and genocide - "intolerance, racism, tyranny, and the dehumanizing public discourse that denies whole groups of people their dignity and rights" - the Secretary-General praised Canada for setting up the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty.

"Thanks to the Commission, we now understand that the issue is not one of a right to intervention, but rather of a responsibility - in the first instance, a responsibility of all States to protect their own populations, but ultimately a responsibility of the whole human race, to protect our fellow human beings from extreme abuse wherever and whenever it occurs," he declared.

He also voiced hope that the International Criminal Court would serve to deter the crime of genocide.

"I long for the day when we can say with confidence that, confronted with a new Rwanda or a new Srebrenica, the world would respond effectively, and in good time," he said. "But let us not delude ourselves. That day has not yet come. We must all do more to bring it closer."

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