Remarks at International Holocaust Remembrance Day Program

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
Washington, DC
January 28, 2013

Thank you, Mike, for that kind introduction.

Good morning and welcome. It is an honor to be with you here today. I would like to acknowledge some of our special guests who are with us: Father Patrick Desbois, founder of Yahad-In Unum, as well as Dr. Brown-Fleming from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Deputy Assistant Secretary Victoria Holt, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson; and, of course, our Interim Special Envoy Michael Kozak, whom you all know well.

Today is an important occasion. Each year we gather together to commemorate the victims of one of the worst tragedies in human history. Indeed, almost 70 years after the end of World War Two, we continue to honor those whose lives were brutally taken during the Holocaust because they were Jewish, Roma, LGBT, disabled, or otherwise unjustly targeted by the Nazis.

But we do more than just remember. As we move into the 21st century, we must also take a stand against present day genocide.

We must stay vigilant, and true to our values. It is, in fact, our obligation. We need to consistently remind ourselves that those who promote and manipulate bigotry for political advantage can end up organizing mass atrocities, including genocide and other crimes against humanity.

As you all know well, this is not always the easy thing to do; but it is the right thing to do.

Last spring, President Obama made clear that the United States is taking concrete steps to prevent mass atrocities, protect civilians, and ensure that we hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable. In his Presidential Study Directive-10, he stated that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.”

As such, he established the Atrocities Prevention Board, whose primary purpose is to coordinate a whole of government approach to preventing mass atrocities and genocide.

For the past year, I have been honored to represent the State Department on the APB, and am proud of its initial achievements.

Perhaps the most significant outcome so far occurred just 10 days ago when President Obama signed into law new legislation that will provide rewards for information leading to the arrest, transfer or conviction of any foreign national accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide.

This is tremendous, and I commend those of you here today who have worked hard to make this a reality.

In addition to helping to pass laws, the APB is also enhancing the collection and analysis of intelligence, developing training materials for our diplomats, and expanding our multilateral diplomatic efforts.

While we pledge to do everything we can, as the Secretary has said so often, preventing mass atrocities is a responsibility that the United States and all peoples and countries around the world share. And that is why we must all – all of us here today – commit to work together to turn our promise of “never again” into a reality.

So, as you mark this important day through speeches, videos and panel discussions, I urge you to commit to this promise, remember our lessons, and work to ensure our future is free from the horrors we witnessed 70 years ago, and again in places like Cambodia and Rwanda.

To quote Secretary Clinton at our commemoration event last year, “Each of us can be part of that chain of humanity that stands for the very best that we can be.”

Let’s us never forget that. Thank you.