Belgium commemorates victims of genocide – 75 years of the Genocide Convention

75 years ago today, on 9 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

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75 years ago today, on 9 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. After the horror of the Shoah and other atrocities committed during the Second World War, the international community needed to say “Never again!”. In 2015, UN Member States decided to commemorate each year, on 9 December, the victims of genocide and other people affected by this crime defined in the Convention on the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime.

The Genocide Convention was born out of a shared commitment by States to prevent such horrific crimes from happening again. This legally binding treaty underlines the primary responsibility of States and obliges them to take measures to prevent and punish this crime.

Belgium is one of the 153 states that have ratified the Convention and continues to advocate for universal ratification. Our parliament has criminalized the crime of genocide under Belgian law and adopted legislation aimed at repressing the denial, minimization, justification or approval of genocides, crimes against humanity or war crimes recognized as such by an international tribunal.

Belgian judicial authorities have prosecuted several Rwandans alleged to have participated in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda. A new session of the Brussels Assize Court relating to the crime of genocide and war crimes committed in 1994 in Rwanda is currently underway. Belgium also intervened in the case “Allegations of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Ukraine v. Russian Federation)” pending before the International Court of Justice, in order to defend the integrity of the Convention.

Our country is also one of the first supporters of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As the first permanent and independent international court responsible for investigating the most serious crimes under international law, including the crime of genocide, as well as prosecuting their perpetrators, the ICC complements national jurisdictions which have primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting the most serious crimes. Belgium is also at the origin of the so-called "MLA" initiative ("Mutual Legal Assistance") which led to the adoption by a diplomatic conference in Ljubljana, at the end of May, of a new multilateral treaty aimed at facilitating cooperation between States in the fight against impunity, including for the crime of genocide. The Ljubljana-Hague Convention will be open for signature by all States on 14 and 15 February at the Peace Palace in The Hague.

Furthermore, prevention also remains at the heart of our efforts. At the United Nations, our country actively participates in initiatives aimed at preventing the crime of genocide. This includes better identifying and reacting to early warning signs of genocide, such as human rights violations, hate speech and all forms of discrimination. This is why Belgium supports the mandate of the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and its approach aimed, for example, at working at the local level by supporting atrocity prevention initiatives put in place by civil society.

Faced with the resurgence of nationalist ideologies, racism and anti-Semitism and aware of the crimes to which this can lead, it is up to us more than ever to redouble our efforts and respect our obligations under the Convention.

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