UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 24 -- The U.N. General Assembly on Monday held its first commemoration of the liberation of Nazi death camps at the end of World War II, as Secretary General Kofi Annan urged key U.N. members to prosecute war criminals in Darfur, Sudan.
Annan chided the organization's members for repeatedly failing to heed the lessons of the Holocaust in recent decades, and standing by in the face of mass murder in Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. "Since the Holocaust, the world has, to its shame, failed more than once to prevent or halt genocide," he said.
A worker finishes installing an exhibit about the holocaust on display at the United Nations in New York, marking this week's 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet troops.
(Chip East -- Reuters)
_____Crisis in Sudan_____
Q&A: Darfur A brief explanation of the issues and current humanitarian situation in Western Sudan.
Photos: Continuing Crisis
Photos: Sudan's Rebels
A Former Rebel's Search for Sudanese Identity (The Washington Post, Feb 11, 2005)
Sudan Offers War Crimes Trials (The Washington Post, Feb 9, 2005)
Lack of Access Muddies Death Toll in Darfur (The Washington Post, Feb 8, 2005)
Girls From Sudan's War Now Fight to Learn (The Washington Post, Feb 4, 2005)
U.N. Report on Sudan Draws Mixed Reaction (The Washington Post, Feb 2, 2005)
Annan, who has been personally criticized for not acting to stop mass killings in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, did not provide a detailed plan to halt the killing in Darfur. Instead, he urged Security Council members to ensure that "the perpetrators are held accountable" for their crimes.
Annan said that a U.N. commission of inquiry will report to him Tuesday that "gross violations" of international humanitarian law and human rights have occurred in Darfur. Sudanese-backed Arab militias have killed tens of thousands of black African villagers and displaced nearly 2 million more there.
"Terrible things are happening today in Darfur, Sudan," Annan said. "It is easy to say that 'Something must be done.' To say exactly what and when and how, and to do it, is much more difficult. But what we must not do is deny what is happening, or remain indifferent, as so many did when the Nazi factories of death were doing their ghastly work."
The U.N. special session, which marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi camps, drew speakers from 34 governments in the 191-member organization.
The event itself marked something of a turning point for the U.N. assembly, which passed a resolution in the 1970s equating Zionism with racism. Previous attempts to commemorate the Holocaust had been blocked by the Soviet Union, and Arab governments have opposed U.N. efforts to condemn anti-Semitism.
The speakers at Monday's session included Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and the foreign ministers of Israel, Germany and France.
"The Jewish witness that I am speaks of my people's suffering as a warning," Wiesel said. "He sounds the alarm to prevent these tragedies from being done to others. And yes, I am convinced if the world had listened to those of us who tried to speak, we may have prevented Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia and, naturally, Rwanda."
Acknowledging that "this barbaric crime will always be part of German history," Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, used the occasion to promote a central role for the United Nations in combating future acts of genocide. "Preventing genocide, the resounding 'never again,' is a central raison d'etre of the United Nations."
Wolfowitz praised the U.S. and allied forces who liberated the Nazi death camps. He said the most important lesson of the Holocaust is that "peaceful nations cannot close their eyes or sit idly by in the face of genocide."
He presented a broader defense of the use of U.S. military force in confronting the forces of totalitarianism. "Americans have fought often to liberate others from slavery and tyranny in order to protect our freedom," he said. "Cemeteries from France to North Africa, with their rows of Christian crosses and stars of David, attest to that truth."