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A visit to Auschwitz

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This year’s observance of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of The Holocaust , on 27 January-- the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp -- falls at a time when there are reminders all around us of the dangers of forgetting.  This year marks two decades since the genocide in Rwanda.  Conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic have taken on dangerous communal dimensions.  Bigotry still courses through our societies and our politics.  The world can and must do more to eliminate the poison that led to the camps.

I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau last November.  A chill wind was blowing that day; the ground was rocky underfoot.  But I had an overcoat and sturdy shoes; my thoughts went to those who had had neither: the Jews and other prisoners who once populated the camp.  I thought of those captives standing naked for hours in icy weather, torn from their families and shorn of their hair as they were readied for the gas chambers.  I thought of those who were kept alive only to be worked to death.  Above all, I reflected on how unfathomable the Holocaust remains even today.  The cruelty was so profound; the scale so large; the Nazi worldview so warped and extreme; the killing so organized and calculated nature.

The barracks at Birkenau seemed to stretch to the horizon in every direction - a vast factory of death.  The “Book of Names” identifying millions of Jewish victims filled a room yet contained just a fraction of the toll, which also encompassed Poles, Roma, Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war, dissidents, homosexuals, people with disabilities and others.  I was especially moved by a video showing European Jewish life in the 1930s - scenes of family meals and visits to the beach, musical and theatre performances, weddings and other rituals, all savagely extinguished through systematic murder unique in human history.

Marian Turski, a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz and is today the Vice-President of the International Auschwitz Committee, walked me through the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate -- this time in freedom.  Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a survivor of Buchenwald and now the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, stood with me on the ramp where the transport trains unloaded their human cargo, and recounted the traumatic moment when the swift flick of an SS commander’s index finger meant the difference between life and death.  I grieve for those who died in the camps, and I am awed by those who lived -- who bear sorrowful memories yet have shown the strength of the human spirit.

I was also accompanied by students from the International Youth Meeting Centre in Oswiecim, who work to build bridges among people and nations.  L’dor v’dor, Marian Turski said to me - Hebrew for “from generation to generation”, the passing on of wisdom.  It is for this reason that Auschwitz-Birkenau is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.  We cannot build the future without remembering the past; what happened once can recur.  

Combatting hatred is among the cardinal missions of The United Nations.  Our human rights mechanisms work to protect people.  Our special courts and tribunals strive to combat impunity, deliver justice and deter violations.  UN special advisers on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect scan the world for the precursors of atrocity crimes.  The Alliance of Civilizations initiative seeks to counter manifestations of hatred, from anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to ultra-nationalism and bias against minorities.  Our new “Rights Up Front” effort seeks to strengthen early action to prevent grave abuses of human rights.

For almost a decade, the “United Nations and the Holocaust Outreach Programme” has been working with teachers and students on all continents to promote tolerance and universal values.  The programme’s newest educational package, produced in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, will help to introduce Holocaust studies into classrooms in countries ranging from Brazil and Nigeria to Russia and Japan.  At this year’s remembrance ceremony at UN Headquarters, the featured speaker will be Steven Spielberg, whose Shoah Institute for Visual History and Education was a landmark in preserving survivor testimony.

A few steps from the crematorium at Auschwitz, I took a moment to myself for reflection.  I touched a barbed wire fence -- no longer electrified but still sharp and intimidating.  I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of what had happened within, and humbled by the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers and leaders of many nations who defeated the Nazi menace.  My hope is that our generation, and those to come, will summon that same sense of collective purpose to prevent such horror from happening again anywhere, to anyone or any group, and build a world of equality for all.

More information?
Read the article in the UN News Centre: At New York synagogue, UN chief honours Holocaust victims, pays tribute to survivors





1 December 2017

Michel Sidibé
Executive Director of UNAIDS
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations

This World AIDS Day, we are highlighting the importance of the right to health and the challenges that people living with and affected by HIV face in fulfilling that right.


Community spaces design contest for an exciting hanoi

Ha Noi, October 17/10/2017 - Aiming at improving the living environment and bringing culture and art to the community towards a better urban future, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) successfully developed the project “Promote participatory, community-based and youth-led approach in safe, greening public spaces in Hoan Kiem district toward a pro-poor, inclusive and sustainable urban development” (hereinafter called Public Spaces project) under the Block by Block program with Mojang, the makers of the videogame Minecraft.


Deadline for round 1: From 17/10/2017 to 04/11/2017 Extended to 9 November 2017


Harsh punishment for child offenders doesn’t prevent further criminality

The age at which a child, can be held criminally liable is a controversial issue around the world. Within Viet Nam, this issue is currently being grappled with in the Penal Code amendments. Some argue that a "get tough on crime" approach is necessary to punish children to prevent further criminality.

However, international research shows that because of their developmental stages, labelling and treating children as criminals at an early age can have serious negative impacts on their development and successful rehabilitation.


New Year Greetings from the United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i. in Viet Nam


On the occasion of New Year 2017, on behalf of the United Nations family in Viet Nam I wish to reiterate our appreciation and express our warmest wishes to our partners and friends throughout the country. We wish our partners and their families in Viet Nam peace, prosperity, good health and happiness in the coming year.

As we enter the second year of the Sustainable Development Goals era, we look forward to continuing our close cooperation for the sake of Viet Nam’s future development; one which is inclusive, equitable and sustainable, with no one left behind.

Youssouf Abdel-Jelil
United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i. in Viet Nam


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message for World AIDS Day, observed on 1 December


Thirty-five years since the emergence of AIDS, the international community can look back with some pride.  But we must also look ahead with resolve and commitment to reach our goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

There has been real progress in tackling the disease. More people than ever are on treatment.  Since 2010, the number of children infected through mother to child transmission has dropped by half. Fewer people die of AIDS related causes each year.  And people living with HIV are living longer lives.

The number of people with access to life-saving medicines has doubled over the past five years, now topping 18 million. With the right investments, the world can get on the fast-track to achieve our target of 30 million people on treatment by 2030.  Access to HIV medicines to prevent mother to child transmission is now available to more than 75 per cent of those in need.