Hate and Bigotry ‘moving at lightning speed’ UN Chief warns

“We see bigotry moving at lightning speed across the Internet, intolerance entering mainstream politics – targeting minorities, Muslims, migrants and refugees, and exploiting the anger and anxiety of a changing world”.

Speaking on Monday (28 Jan) at a ceremony to mark the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that as we remember the Holocaust’s victims, “we also reaffirm our resolve to fight the hatred that still plagues our world today.”

UN Chief António Guterres expressed these words on alarming increase in anti-Semitism, hatred and bigotry during commemoration of  Holocaust Remembrance Day at UN Headquarters in New York.

The event was organised in the honouring memory of some six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust during World War Two, along with many other victims of what the UN chief called “unprecedented, calculated cruelty and horror”.

Guterres said that in the face of anti-Semitic violence such as in the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, it was “necessary – more and more – that we sound an alarm.” 

UN Photo: António Guterres addressing the annual United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Memorial Ceremony 2019 in the General Assembly Hall.

He said, “not only is anti-Semitism still strong – it is getting worse. And we must rise up against rising anti-Semitism.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, he noted, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by 57 per cent in 2017. The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency reported last year that 28 per cent of Jews had experienced some form of harassment for being Jewish.

Other communities are also facing greater harassment, the Secretary-General warned, 

He said, “across the world, we are seeing a disturbing rise in other forms of bigotry. Attacks on Muslims in several societies are on the rise, sometimes even outpacing other forms of hatred.”

“Rohingyas, Yazidis and many others have faced persecution simply for who they are. Intolerance today spreads at lightning speed across the Internet and social media. And perhaps most disturbingly, hate is moving into the mainstream – in liberal democracies but in authoritarian systems alike.”

Guterres also warned about political figures who in the past used the so-called “dog whistle” to signal their followers, but today “feel able to trumpet their noxious views for all to hear.”

Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Now more than ever, let us unite in the fight for universal values and build a world of equality for all.”

As the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps recede in time, leaving fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors, the need to be vigilant grows stronger, he said.

Under this year’s theme: “Holocaust Remembrance: Demand and Defend Your Human Rights”, youth are being encouraged to learn valuable lessons from the Holocaust, such as acting forcefully against discrimination and defending essential democratic values.

With neo-Nazism and hate groups on the rise, together with other forms of hatred around the world, the theme also highlights the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Mr. Guterres recalled the quote by former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks: “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews”.

“Bold action and education can turn the tide”

In her remarks, General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa spoke directly to the survivors, saying she was deeply humbled and touched by their presence at today’s ceremony.

UN Photo: Participants at the 2019 United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony.

 “We must draw lessons from history; this is why it is so vital that we remember the Holocaust and honour the victims of that  atrocity,” she declared, adding that she believed that only through remembrance and education could the hatred of others, the demonization of groups and the cynical manipulation of opinion that  promoted such hatred and violence, could be countered and stopped.

Calling for bold, quick actions by world leaders to stand up against the rising tide of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and intolerance in all its forms, she warned that with the bounds that had held the world together since World War II showing clear signs of fraying, “talking is not enough.”

“As leader, as citizens. As people of faith and of conscience we need to stand up for what we believe. Our survival as a modern civilization, based on the rule of law and human rights and respect for the dignity every individual depends upon it,” she said.