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Remembering the Holocaust

Consider that we must do more than “remember.” We must make “Never again” truly mean “Never.”

Ellen J. Kennedy

Every year, a day is designated to remember the Holocaust. Organizations hold memorial ceremonies for the 6 million Jews and others who perished, survivors share their stories, and people of all faiths vow “Never again.”

But those words “Never again” have rung hollow over the decades since World War II.  There have been many other genocides — in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, East Timor, Guatemala, Argentina, Darfur. People have been persecuted on different continents, for different reasons, and in different ways.

“Never again” has meant “over and over again” as innocent people continue to be targeted by their race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or political beliefs.  Genocide has had no boundaries in geography or in the nature of the targeting.

Genocides happen for many complicated reasons, but they also happen for a very simple one: We let them happen. Ordinary people have not created sufficient political will to prevent the violence and the exterminations.

Recent hopeful signs

Yet there are some recent and very hopeful signs. Today, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we can do more than remember. We can support efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, to prosecute those who commit the worst crimes on the planet, and to establish systems for early warning and protection.

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Since 2001, there has been a growing movement for the “responsibility to protect,” or R2P, as it is known. This policy, originated by experts from around the world and supported by the United Nations in 2005, asserts that the nations of the world have a responsibility to protect innocent people when their own governments are either unwilling or unable to do so. R2P was the guiding principle that averted tragedy in post-election Kenya  a few years ago; that led to intervention in Libya; and that guides strategy to end the crisis in Syria.

The newly formed International Criminal Court, a permanent and independent global tribunal headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, began operating in 2002 to prosecute individuals for the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. ICC judges announced a “guilty” verdict last month for Thomas Lubanga Dyilo on charges of murder, rape and the use of child soldiers in Congo. 

This landmark case, the first completed by the ICC, brings great hope for an end to impunity for massive human rights violations. The ICC has issued arrest warrants for other perpetrators, including Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir, for the genocide currently being waged in Darfur.

U.S. has yet to support ICC

There are 121 signatory nations to the International Criminal Court, demonstrating a global commitment to peace and justice. However, the United States has not yet joined the world community in support for this effort to deter violence and prosecute perpetrators. 

Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, consider that we must do more than “remember.” We must make “Never again” truly mean “Never.” We can raise our voices in support of the Responsibility to Protect and the International Criminal Court — in memory of all those who perished in the Holocaust and all the genocides that have happened since that terrible time. 

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the executive director of the World Without Genocide at William Mitchell College of Law. For World Without Genocide events commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, please visit the World Without Genocide website.


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