The UN General Assembly held a special session on Monday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling on the world to be on guard against a repetition of the holocaust.
The daylong session is the first memorial of its kind to be held by the world body to mark the liberation of the camps, the largest of which were in Auschwitz, Poland. The day opened with a moment of silence, followed by speeches by General Assembly President Jean Ping and Annan.
"It is, above all, a day to remember not only the victims of past horrors, whom the world abandoned, but also the potential victims of present and future ones," Annan told the 191-member assembly.
"Such an evil must never be allowed to happen again. We must be on the watch for any revival of anti-Semitism and ready to act against the new forms of it that are appearing today," he stressed.
Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet Red Army troops on January 27, 1945. Up to 6 million Jews are estimated to have been killed in the camps, as well as hundreds of thousands of others deemed undesirable by the Nazis including Romany, gay people, Catholics and communists.
"But the tragedy of the Jewish people was unique," Annan said. "An entire civilization, which had contributed far beyond its numbers to the cultural and intellectual riches of Europe and the world, was uprooted, destroyed, laid waste."
Turning to more recent cases of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, he declared: "On occasions such as this, rhetoric comes easily. We rightly say 'never again.' But action is much harder. Since the holocaust the world has, to its shame, failed more than once to prevent or halt genocide."
He noted that even today "terrible things" are happening in Darfur, Sudan, where tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly 2 million have been uprooted in fighting between the government, pro-government militias and rebels.
He is due to receive an international investigative report on Tuesday determining whether the violence in Darfur constitutes genocide.
Before the gathering, Annan and his wife, Nane, hosted a coffee reception for death camp survivors and other distinguished guests, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
Among some 35 speakers were Wiesel and the foreign ministers of Israel, Germany, France, Argentina, Armenia, Canada and Luxembourg, which represented the EU.
The special session was requested by US Ambassador to the UN John Danforth, who said in a letter to Annan in early December that the event should take place three days ahead of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp complex, to avoid conflicting commemorations there.
The request was backed by Israel, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, and member states of the EU.
Accompanying the special session, two exhibitions will be opened at the UN headquarters in New York by Annan and Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. One is a collection of photographs and paintings from the two death camps in Auschwitz and the other is a photographic exhibit by youth groups who visited what remains of the camps.
(Xinhua News Agency January 25, 2005)