Statement by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus
Ambassador Sotos Zackheos
on the 50th Anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

December 2, 1998

Mr. President,

Cyprus has aligned with the statement made by the distinguished representative of Austria on behalf of the European Union. In view of the special significance of the item I would like to make a few additional comments and observations.

Fifty years have passed since the unanimous adoption by the General Assembly, on 9 December 1948, of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The fiftieth anniversary provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the suffering of the millions of people, victims of genocide, and to draw the necessary lessons for the future. The Convention has sought to codify certain specific serious crimes committed with "...the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group..." as crimes under international law.

The Genocide Convention is a far-reaching and legally binding international instrument for the punishment of the crime of genocide which does not confine itself to a narrow interpretation but includes, in the definition, inter alia, such acts as the causing of serious bodily or mental harm and the deliberate imposition of conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction. It is important that the provisions of the Convention apply to any person including constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals and that such crimes are punishable "irrespective of whether they have been committed in time of peace or war" as Professor Daes notes.

As recognized by the United Nations, "genocide is the ultimate crime and the gravest violation of human rights." During this century alone we have witnessed a frightening number of such heinous crimes. A bitter reminder is the Holocaust which brought immense suffering to millions of people. The Ottoman massacre of one and a half million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 is a further example of this crime for which, unfortunately, efforts are being exerted for the prevention of its historical recognition. Having in Cyprus a vibrant, talented and entrepreneurial Armenian Community we can appreciate, first hand, the trauma felt by this Community for the serious injustices their ancestors suffered.

Unfortunately, the same policy has been applied against the people of Cyprus during and in the aftermath of the 1974 Turkish military invasion and occupation of 37% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus resulting in one third of the population being forced out of their homes and finding themselves as refugees in their own country. The case of Cyprus confirms what Jean Paul Sartre, the noted author and philosopher, wrote in 1971 (Jean Paul Sartre, "On Genocide" in Richard Falk et. al. Crimes of War, ed., New York, Random House, 1971) that ..."in some cases the occupying forces maintain their authority by the terror of a perpetual threat of massacre."

Turkey's policy of ethnic cleansing against the population of Cyprus is further attested by the massive colonization and systematic destruction of the religious and cultural heritage in the territory occupied by the Turkish army and by the inhumane conditions of life imposed on the few Greek Cypriots and Maronites still living in the occupied part of the island. There is no doubt that the aim is to Turkify completely the occupied area and to erase any signs of the long historic Greek presence there. As the Secretary General of the United Nations wrote in his report to the Security Council, "With regard to the Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the northern part of the island, I had informed the Council that those communities were subjected to severe restrictions and limitations in many basic freedoms which had the effect of ensuring that inexorably, with the passage of time, the communities would cease to exist" (S/1996/411, 7 June 1996). I would also like to refer to the plight of the Armenian Community who, in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion in 1974, lost their homes and properties.

Mr. President,

Unless a nation can come to terms and recognizes aspects of its history, this nation cannot create the foundation for understanding and reconciliation which will allow it to take its place as a responsible partner in the community of nations. As the Special Rapporteur on genocide of the Sub Commission on Prevention and Protection of Minorities, Mr. B. Whitaker, wrote in his report, (E/CN.Y/Sub. 4/1985/6) ..."it has rightly been said that those people who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

The perpetrators of crimes must be brought to justice and be punished in accordance with the due process of law. In pursuing this aim of doing justice to the people that have suffered and in order to safeguard the inherent dignity of human beings, it is necessary, now more than ever, that all states cooperate in the punishment of those responsible for crimes of genocide.

Recent history has demonstrated the urgent need for the implementation of the provisions of the Convention. We have noted with satisfaction the recent decision of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which, for the first time, handed down a life sentence for crimes of genocide. We hope that the establishment of a Permanent Criminal Court having jurisdiction over the crime of genocide will act as a decisive deterrent of such crimes. My Government has worked actively for the establishment of the Court in its belief that an end must be put to impunity.

Despite the many advances made for human rights and for religious tolerance, the world is still witness today to acts of mass extermination and ethnic cleansing sometimes in the context of armed aggression or internal conflict. My Government invites all states that have not yet ratified or acceded to the Convention to do so as soon as possible. I would also like to reiterate our position as expressed in our letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations on 8 May 1998 stating that..."the reservations made by a number of countries when acceding to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are not the kind of reservations which intending parties to the Convention have the right to make".

Finally Mr. President,

I wish to express the hope and wish that, as we approach the third millennium of our common history, the international community will work together in the interest of peace, justice and human dignity, so that the horrors that plagued us in the past centuries will never be repeated again.

Thank you.

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