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Fourth Stockholm International Forum: Preventing Genocide, 26-28 January 2004

Intervention in Plenary Session on 28 January

James Wimberley, Council of Europe

The Council of Europe, of which Sweden is a founder member, was set up as a response to the horrors of the Second World War, including – as they then saw it – the Holocaust. To prevent their recurrence, it has pursued – not of course alone – the broad strategy of building a united Europe of human rights, democracy and human development. It has created quite effective, if still imperfect, instruments for monitoring and supporting, and in some cases enforcing, its standards.

We recognise that specific, targeted, sharp-edged measures are necessary for preventing and punishing genocide and related crimes, and support both the ICTY and the ICC. The broad and the targeted approaches must not be set against each other; they are not alternatives. But in the long run, it is the broad strategy that will drain the swamp in which the plague of genocide breeds and like smallpox, abolish it for good. We must not aim for less; and the new-found peace of most of Europe shows that his goal is not Utopian but attainable.

A society of rights rests, as many here have underlined, on values shared through education. Our member states agree on the principles of an integrated education for democratic citizenship and in 2005 will celebrate a European Year of Citizenship through Education. This education must not be rote learning or painting by colours, but preparation for arduous moral as well as practical choices. For example, great stress is rightly laid today on the virtues of courtesy, tolerance, empathy, and self-restraint as preconditions for dialogue across cultures. But there are times when dialogue becomes complicity and the right response is rudeness, anger, walking out – even violence and, collectively, war.

Education can provide navigational aids to young people as they prepare to face these dilemmas of the human condition. There are the great statements of human rights, such as the Universal Declaration and the European Convention, defining a tradition that young people can be invited to make their own. There are the works of art and literature that stretch the imagination and empathy, and present a great variety of human situations to train our moral judgement.

Third, there is honest confrontation with the past. At the 2000 Stockholm Forum, our Secretary General launched the idea of a Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and for the Prevention of Crimes against Humanity, to be celebrated in all European schools. This is now being put into effect in many of our member states, on a day chosen by each in the light of its history. From honouring the victims and recognition of the terrible facts, pupils and teachers try to awaken an ongoing engagement against violations of human rights large and small.

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This brings my official statement to an end, and it has been easy enough to make. But as the last representative speaker, I would like to end on a more personal, and a little more difficult, note: and as an office suit and official badge can become a cloak of irresponsibility, I will take off my jacket and stand before you in the more demanding role of Everyman as bureaucrat.

25 years ago, one day in the spring of 1979, I was called, as a very junior official, into a meeting of our Director of Political Affairs with the ambassador of China to France. The ambassador expounded to us his country’s condemnation of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, as a drive to enlarge the sphere of influence of Vietnam and its ally the Soviet Union. I thought to myself: this geopolitical analysis may be right or wrong, but no-one should ask Europeans, with our recent history, to condone another regime sunk in the madness of genocide. I thought of saying this, but I was junior, it was not my place to intervene, I feared embarrassment: and I did not say it.

From this unimportant incident, I know from experience the truth of the insight of Samantha Powers: if we look hard at ourselves in the mirror, most of us must accept that part of the problem of genocide is us.