By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has questioned the United Nations’ commitment to eradicating genocide, slamming the UN’s genocide convention as nothing more than a “symbolic document.”
President Rivlin used his speech in the General Assembly on Wednesday, as part a ceremony marking International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, to call for greater international action and intervention in cases of genocide.
“We must ask ourselves honestly, is the struggle of the General Assembly against genocide effective enough?” he said, referencing atrocities in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Syria.
“In the face of these atrocities, are we shedding too many tears and taking too little action?”
The ceremony marked 70 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in January 1945. Rivlin’s speech warned of a “fundamentalist viper raising its head,” and called for the UN to more actively combat genocide.
“[The UN] must push ahead with decisive action. This organisation has a duty to lay down the lines that constitute genocide, and make clear crossing those lines makes it compulsory to intervene,” he said.
“Nations must not be saved as an afterthought or from considerations of cost-benefit.”
Rivlin made no mention of a current International Court of Justice inquiry into possible war crimes perpetrated by Israeli forces on Palestinian civilians in mid-2014. Thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were killed in seven weeks of bombings, actions decried as ‘genocide’ by pro-Palestinian groups.
David Pressman, alternative representative of the United States to the UN for Special Political Affairs, also used his address to call for greater action on Jewish tragedies. He mentioned the town of Gotha, near the Auschwitz camp, whose inhabitants he called “complicit by inaction” in the “crimes of passivity” that allowed the Holocaust to happen.
“If we are to live up to the promise of ‘never again,’ we must recognize the role these bystanders played; people who convinced themselves they did not know, or were powerless to do anything,” Pressman said.
“We must recommit ourselves as governments, communities and individuals, not to become bystanders.”
The meeting was also addressed by Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon and General Assembly vice-president Denis Antoine, before moving speeches from Holocaust survivor Jona Laks and Soviet Army veteran Boris Feldman, who helped liberate Nazi concentration camps.
Laks spoke of how she was marked for death in Auschwitz, before her twin sister begged SS doctor Josef Mengele to spare her life. Both twins were subjected to Mengele’s experiments.
“There was nothing darker about the holocaust than the role of doctors in the killings,” Laks said, speaking of experiments including injections into eyeballs and uteruses, and deliberately infecting wounds to produce gangrene.
Laks spoke of the need for the stories of ageing holocaust survivors to be recorded and remembered.
“When the last witnesses are gone, who will know what happened?” she said.
“The Jewish people paid in blood for the world’s indifference and ignorance. It is imperative the world never forgets what happened, for there are some who would like to see it repeated.”