People's Stories Freedom

Let us recommit to stand against evil in all its forms
by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
27 January 2023
(UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remarks at the United Nations Memorial Ceremony marking the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust).
'I want to begin by expressing my deep gratitude to the survivors with us at the United Nations in New York, and those who join online.
You give meaning to our work to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. To defend human rights and dignity. To strive for justice and peace.
Your testimonies shocked the conscience of the world. And your courage, resilience, and endurance continue to inspire us. So from the bottom of my heart, I want to say to you: thank you.
Ninety years ago this year, the Nazi party came to power in Germany. Within months, they dismantled fundamental constitutional rights and paved the way for totalitarian rule. Members of Parliament were swiftly arrested, freedom of the press abolished.
In Dachau, the first concentration camp was built. In Berlin, books were piled on bonfires. And all over Germany, virulent antisemitism became official government policy. Discrimination and exclusion – codified in law – began almost immediately.
Open, organized violence – most notoriously the terror of the Kristallnacht – followed soon after, alongside widespread theft and plunder.
And then the systematic mass murder started. By the end of the war, six million children, women, and men – nearly two out of every three European Jews – had been murdered.
The rise of National Socialism in Germany was made possible by the indifference – if not connivance – of so many millions. We now know the terrifying depths of the abyss into which Germany would plunge. But the alarm bells were already ringing in 1933. Too few bothered to listen, and fewer still spoke out.
Today, we can hear echoes of those same siren songs to hate. From an economic crisis that is breeding discontent… to populist demagogues using the crisis to seduce voters … to runaway misinformation, paranoid conspiracy theories and unchecked hate speech… to growing disregard for human rights and disdain for the rule of law… to surging white supremacist and Neo-Nazi ideologies… to attempts to rewrite history, deny the Holocaust, and rehabilitate collaborators… to rising antisemitism and other forms of religious bigotry and hatred.
At its essence, Holocaust remembrance is a call to be on constant alert. Never to be silent in the face of hate. Never tolerant of intolerance. Never indifferent to the suffering of others.
After all, hatred does not start in a vacuum. The Nazis did not invent antisemitism, eugenics, or notions of racial supremacy. The Holocaust was the culmination of millennia of antisemitic hate.
Throughout history, the hatred that begins by declaring: “You have no right to live among us” sooner or later says: “You have no right to live.”
The painful truth is: antisemitism is everywhere. In fact, it is increasing in intensity. Over the last year, Orthodox Jews were assaulted on busy streets in Midtown Manhattan, Jewish schoolkids bullied in Melbourne, hateful banners hung on a freeway bridge in Los Angeles, and Swastikas spraypainted on the Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
Survey after survey arrives at the same conclusion: antisemitism is at record-highs. And what is true for antisemitism is true for other forms of hate. Racism. Anti-Muslim bigotry. Xenophobia. Homophobia. Misogyny.
Neo-Nazi, white supremacist movements are becoming more dangerous by the day. In fact, they now represent the number one internal security threat in several countries – and the fastest growing.
From Christchurch to Buffalo, from El Paso to Oslo, with targets from mosques to synagogues, refugee centers to grocery stores: We are not just facing violent extremism; we are increasingly facing terrorism. The threat is global – and it is growing.
And a leading accelerant of this growth is the online world. Today, I am issuing an urgent appeal to everyone with influence across the information ecosystem – regulators, policymakers, technology companies, the media, civil society, and governments.
Stop the hate. Set up guardrails. And enforce them. Many parts of the Internet are becoming toxic waste dumps for hate and vicious lies. They are profit-driven catalysts for moving extremism from the margins to the mainstream.
By using algorithms that amplify hate to keep users glued to their screens, social media platforms are complicit. And so are the advertisers subsidising this business model. That is why I have called for regulation that clarifies responsibility and improves transparency.
We know how easily hate speech turns to hate crime, how verbal violence breeds physical violence, how diversity and social cohesion are undermined – as are the values and principles that bind us together..
We all have a role to play. We can never let hate have the last word. We cannot allow old hatreds to find new outlets and impunity on digital platforms. Together, we must confront falsehoods with facts, ignorance with education, indifference with engagement.
Because “never again” means telling the story again and again. We must tell the stories of the persecuted. The mass murder of the Roma and Sinti. The torture and murder of other victims targeted by the Nazis: persons with disabilities. Germans of African descent. Homosexuals. Soviet prisoners of war. Political dissenters and countless others.
And above all, we must tell the stories of all the children, women, and men who were systematically murdered and who together made up the rich and vibrant mosaic that was Jewish life in Europe.
We must remember the Holocaust not as the history of 6 million deaths; but as 6 million different stories of death.
We remember people like Janusz Korczak, the Polish doctor, educator and head of an orphanage in Warsaw. He refused offers to escape the Warsaw Ghetto and stayed with the 200 children under his care – all the way to Treblinka, so they would not die alone.
We remember Friedl Dicker Brandeis who taught art to children in the Theresienstadt Ghetto – encouraging them to paint or draw so that, if only for a moment, they might feel safe. In 1944, Friedl and her students were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Today, as we remember them and countless, nameless others, we also reflect on our responsibility: Our responsibility to honour the memory of those who perished. To learn the truth of what happened, and to ensure that neither we, nor future generations, ever forget.
To refuse impunity for perpetrators anywhere. To stand against those who deny, distort, relativize, revise, or otherwise whitewash their own complicities or that of their parents or grandparents with regards to the Holocaust.
And our responsibility to intensify our efforts in prevention – to discredit prejudice, to resolve conflicts and settle disputes before they erupt. Today and every day, let us recommit to stand against evil in all its forms and work for a world of peace, human rights, and dignity for all.
Holocaust Remembrance Day - Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
On Friday, 27 January, the international community will commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, honoring the millions of victims of the Holocaust, and the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
The systematic persecution and extermination of more than six million Jews, including more than a million murdered within the confines of Auschwitz, remains one of the darkest chapters in human history.
In addition to commemorating victims, International Holocaust Remembrance Day also recognizes the role of educational programs in teaching about the Holocaust in order to educate future generations on the tools to prevent genocides.
This year’s theme, “Home and Belonging,” highlights the humanity of Holocaust victims and survivors, as well as the dangers of hate speech, antisemitism, Holocaust distortion and denial and prejudice.
In recent years the hatred and antisemitism that begat the Holocaust is experiencing a resurgence around the world, with a worrying rise in neo-Nazism, hate speech and Holocaust denial. Despite the Holocaust being one of the most well documented mass atrocities in history, Holocaust denial and distortion has been amplified on social media platforms with ease.
By systematically negating the facts of history, genocide deniers manufacture doubt, seed discord and mistrust, strengthen contested narratives about the past, present and future, and create conditions that may lead to the recurrence of atrocities.
Genocide denial is not only an attempt to minimize or redefine the scale and severity of the crimes committed, but it also often contributes to the dehumanization of survivors and victims.
Savita Pawnday, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Global Centre stands with and honors all of the victims of the Holocaust and of Nazism. Auschwitz-Birkenau is a warning from history of the consequences of indifference and inaction in the face of mass atrocities. If we do not resist those who deny the humanity of others, we risk repeating the horrors of the past.”
As history has taught us, genocide does not happen overnight. Genocide is preventable if warning signs – such as hate speech and systemic discrimination and marginalization – are taken seriously and followed by early action.
Member states should institute education curriculums that inculcate values and behaviors that counter hate and prejudice. States should also incorporate modules on preventing and responding to atrocity crimes in their education system, including modules on how to prevent and to resist incitement.

Visit the related web page

Human Rights Watch World Report 2023
by Tirana Hassan
Acting Executive Director
Jan. 2023
The obvious conclusion to draw from the litany of human rights crises in 2022—from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deliberate attacks on civilians in Ukraine and Xi Jinping’s open-air prison for the Uyghurs in China to the Taliban’s putting millions of Afghans at risk of starvation — is that unchecked authoritarian power leaves behind a sea of human suffering.
But 2022 also revealed a fundamental shift in power in the world that opens the way for all concerned governments to push back against these abuses by protecting and strengthening the global human rights system, especially when the actions of the major powers fall short or are problematic.
We have witnessed world leaders cynically trading away human rights obligations and accountability for human rights abusers in exchange for seeming short-term political wins.
US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s principled pledge to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah state” over its human rights record was eviscerated once he was in office and facing high gas prices by his bro-like fist bump with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman.
And the Biden administration, despite its rhetoric about prioritizing democracy and human rights in Asia, has tempered criticism of abuses and increasing authoritarianism in India, Thailand, the Philippines, and elsewhere in the region for security and economic reasons, instead of recognizing that all are linked.
Of course, these kinds of double standards are not solely the purview of global superpowers. Pakistan has supported the United Nations high commissioner for human rights’ monitoring of abuses in Muslim-majority Kashmir, but owing to its close relationship with China, has turned its back on possible crimes against humanity against Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Pakistan’s hypocrisy is especially glaring given its coordinator role of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Human rights crises do not arise from nowhere. Governments that fail to live up to their legal obligations to protect human rights at home sow the seeds of discontent, instability, and ultimately crisis.
Left unchecked, the egregious actions of abusive governments escalate, cementing the belief that corruption, censorship, impunity, and violence are the most effective tools to achieve their aims. Ignoring human rights violations carries a heavy cost, and the ripple effects should not be underestimated.
But in a world of shifting power, we also found opportunity in preparing our 2023 World Report, which examines the state of human rights in nearly 100 countries. Each issue needs to be understood and addressed on its own merits, and each requires leadership.
Any state that recognizes the power that comes from working in concert with others to affect human rights change can provide that leadership. There is more space, not less, for governments to stand up and adopt rights-respecting plans of action.
New coalitions and new voices of leadership have emerged that can shape and further this trend. Pacific Island nations as a bloc have demanded more ambitious emissions reductions from those countries that are polluting the most, while Vanuatu leads an effort to put the adverse effects of climate change before the International Court of Justice for their own sake—and ours.
And while the US Supreme Court struck down 50 years of federal protection for reproductive rights, the “green wave” of abortion-rights expansions in Latin America—notably Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico—offers a compelling counternarrative.
This is the overarching lesson of our ever-more disrupted world: we need to reimagine how power in the world is exercised, and that all governments not only have the opportunity but the responsibility to take action to protect human rights within and beyond their borders..
Another year of shrinking real and virtual civic space around the world brings the recognition that attacks on the human rights system are due in part to its effectiveness—because by exposing the abuses and elevating the voices of survivors and those at risk, the human rights movement makes it harder for abusive governments to succeed.
In 2022, six weeks into the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian authorities summarily shuttered the Human Rights Watch office in Moscow after 30 years of continuous operation, together with those of more than a dozen foreign nongovernmental organizations.
The closures followed a decade of repressive laws and measures that the Russian government adopted to decimate civil society and force hundreds of activists, journalists, human rights lawyers, and other critics into exile. The Kremlin has gone to such great lengths to extinguish dissent because dissent threatens it. And therein lies a fundamental truth: those who work assiduously to repress human rights show their weakness, not their strength.
Respect for Rights as a Prescription for Stability
Autocrats benefit from the illusion they project as being indispensable to maintaining stability, which in turn seemingly justifies their oppression and widespread human-rights violations committed toward achieving that end.
But this “stability,” driven by the endless quest for power and control, infects and erodes every pillar needed for a functional society based on the rule of law. The result is frequently massive corruption, a broken economy, and a hopelessly partisan judiciary. Vital civic space is dismantled, with activists and independent journalists in jail, in hiding, or fearing retaliation.
The months-long protests in Iran in 2022 underline the grave risks for autocracies of imagining that repression is a shortcut to stability. Protests erupted across the country in response to the death of the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa (Jina) Amini in September, following her arrest by “morality police” for wearing an “improper hijab.” But protest against the mandatory use of the hijab is just the most visible symbol of repression.
The new generation of protesters across the country echoes the frustrations of generations past: people tired of living without fundamental rights, and of being ruled by those who callously disregard the welfare of their people.
The demand for equality triggered by women and schoolgirls has morphed into a nationwide movement by the Iranian people against a government that has systematically denied them their rights, mismanaged the economy, and driven people into poverty.
Iranian authorities have ruthlessly cracked down on what became widespread anti-government protests with excessive and lethal force, followed by sham trials and death sentences for those who dare challenge the government’s authority. Hints that authorities may disband the morality police fall well short of the demand to abolish the discriminatory compulsory hijab laws, and even further from the fundamental structural reforms the protesters are demanding to make the government more accountable.
The link between impunity for abuses and mismanaged governance can be seen elsewhere. Shortages in fuel, food, and other essentials, including medicine, sparked massive protests in Sri Lanka, forcing Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and then his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to resign.
Unfortunately, the man who parliament chose to replace them, Ranil Wickremasinghe, has walked away from commitments to justice and accountability for egregious violations committed during the country’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009. President Wickremasinghe, instead of focusing on the economic crisis and ensuring social justice, cracked down on protests, even using the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain student activists..
Centering the demands of the millions of people pressing for human rights and democratic civilian rule in Myanmar remains critical to addressing the ongoing crisis. In February 2021, Myanmar’s military staged a coup and has brutally suppressed widespread opposition ever since. For two years, the military junta has carried out systematic abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and sexual violence, that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) produced a “Five Point Consensus”—negotiated between the bloc and Myanmar’s junta—to address the crisis in the country. It has failed, with several ASEAN countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore acknowledging the junta’s refusal to comply.
Since the coup, ASEAN has barred Myanmar junta representatives from the bloc’s high-level meetings. Beyond that, ASEAN has imposed minimal pressure on Myanmar, while other powerful governments, including those of the US and UK, hide behind regional deference to justify their own limited action.
To achieve a different result, ASEAN needs to adopt a different approach. In September, Malaysia’s then-Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah was the first ASEAN official to meet openly with representatives of Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government, formed by elected lawmakers, ethnic minority representatives, and civil society activists after the coup. The bloc should follow suit and extend its engagement to representatives of civil society.
ASEAN should also intensify pressure on Myanmar by aligning with international efforts to cut off the junta’s foreign currency revenue and weapons purchases, which would in turn weaken Myanmar’s military. As ASEAN chair in 2023, Indonesia should lead a review of the junta’s human rights record and failure to comply with the Five-Point Consensus and consider suspending Myanmar to uphold the bloc’s commitment to a “people-oriented, people-centered ASEAN..”
Time and again, human rights prove to be a powerful lens through which to view the most existential threats we face, like climate change. From Pakistan to Nigeria to Australia, every corner of the world faces a nearly nonstop cycle of catastrophic weather events that will intensify because of climate change, alongside slow onset changes like sea-level rise.
In simple terms, we are seeing the cost of government inaction, a continued assault by big polluters, and the toll on communities, with those already marginalized paying the highest price.
The unbreakable link between people and nature has been recognized by the UN General Assembly, which last year confirmed the universality of the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. With the destructive effects of climate change intensifying around the world, there is a legal and moral imperative for government officials to regulate the industries whose business models are incompatible with protecting basic rights.
To stave off the worst effects of climate change and confront the human rights toll at all stages of their operations, governments need to urgently work to implement a just transition to phase out fossil fuels and prevent agribusiness from continuing to raze the world’s forests.
At the same time, governments should act with urgency in upholding human rights in their responses to climate extremes and slow-onset changes that are already inevitable, protecting those populations most at risk, including Indigenous peoples, women, children, older people, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty.
Many of these communities are also leading the charge to protect their ways of life and their homes against coal, oil, and gas operations that pollute the water they rely on to cook, clean, and drink, and result in the rising of the seas that engulf the lands where they live. Centering frontline communities and environmental defenders is one of the most powerful ways to push back against corporate and government activities that harm the environment and protect critical ecosystems needed to address the climate crisis.
Indigenous forest defenders are critical to the protection of the Brazilian Amazon, an ecosystem vital for slowing climate change by storing carbon. Rather than supporting them, the administration of then-President Jair Bolsonaro enabled illegal deforestation and weakened Indigenous rights protections. The spectacular environmental destruction during his four-year term went hand-in-hand with serious rights violations, including violence and intimidation against those who tried to stop it.
Brazil’s newly elected president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has pledged to reduce Amazon deforestation to zero and defend Indigenous rights. During his previous two terms from 2003 to 2010, deforestation dropped dramatically, but his administration also promoted dams and other infrastructure projects with high environmental and social impacts in the Amazon. President Lula’s ability to deliver on his climate and human rights commitments are critical for Brazil and the world.
The magnitude, scale, and frequency of human rights crises across the globe show the urgency of a new framing and new model for action. Viewing our greatest challenges and threats to the modern world through a human rights lens reveals not only the root causes of disruption but also offers guidance to address them.
Every government has the obligation to protect and promote respect for human rights. After years of piecemeal and often half-hearted efforts on behalf of civilians under threat in places including Yemen, Afghanistan, and South Sudan, the world’s mobilization around Ukraine reminds us of the extraordinary potential when governments realize their human rights responsibilities on a global scale. All governments should bring the same spirit of solidarity to the multitude of human rights crises around the globe, and not just when it suits their interests.
* Access the full essay and report:

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook