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The World

Regret, Resolve Over the Holocaust

The U.N. marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps with a special session and a focus on more recent genocides.

January 25, 2005|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — In a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that the U.N. would continue to fight ideologies based on hatred and exclusion.

But he added that despite vows of "never again," the U.N. and the world had failed to stop several genocides since the Holocaust.

"The United Nations must never forget that it was created as a response to the evil of Nazism, or that the horror of the Holocaust helped to shape its mission," Annan said at the General Assembly special session, the first to focus on the genocide that nearly wiped out Europe's Jewish population.

"The world has, to its shame, failed more than once to prevent or halt genocide -- for instance, in Cambodia, in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia," Annan said.

The session represented a milestone for the United Nations, which has long been perceived by Israel as hostile to the Jewish state's interests. A decade ago, Russian and Arab representatives blocked an attempt to observe the 50th anniversary of the death camps' liberation. On Monday, the U.N.'s Arab Group, which represents 22 nations, agreed to support the session, though Jordan was the only Arab nation to address the assembly.

"We decided that the day should be solemn and peaceful and without disagreement," said Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, chairman of the Arab Group. "The issue should not be politics."

U.S. Ambassador John C. Danforth requested the special session before he stepped down from his post Thursday, and the gathering also was seen as an olive branch to the United States after a period of strained relations with the world body.

The day began with a moment of silence and then gave way to a host of speeches. Annan honored the millions of Jews and people from other persecuted groups who were systematically exterminated by Nazis during World War II, as well as the people who risked their lives to save others.

The uncle of Annan's wife was Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing special passports enabling them to flee to safety.

The speakers also included the foreign ministers of Israel and Germany, heirs to the two sides of the Holocaust, as well as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and liberators of the camps.

Brian Urquhart, a former U.N. undersecretary-general who was among the first Allied soldiers to reach the Bergen-Belsen death camp, told the assembly that the inhuman condition of the broken and starving prisoners was unfathomable.

"The dead and dying were everywhere," he said. "Who could imagine such horrors?"

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wiesel said, "We know that for the dead, it is too late ... but it is not too late for today's children, ours and yours."

Monday's proceedings will add resonance to an international report expected today on whether the systematic killing by militias in Sudan's Darfur region constitutes genocide. The drive by government-backed militias to clear out rebels and their supporters has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and uprooted nearly 2 million black African farmers and their families.

Annan said today's report would identify the gross violations of international humanitarian law that have occurred. How the Security Council will respond will be a test of the lessons learned from the mass killings 60 years ago, he said.

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