First United Nations commemoration of Halabja genocide
Posted by sarkout on March 20 2009 21:19:13
First United Nations commemoration of Halabja genocide

Diplomats, victims and human rights advocates urge annual recognition and increased activism as steps to deter future slaughters

New York, US ( - The enduring tragedies of the 1988 chemical weapons attack against the Kurdish city of Halabja were commemorated for the first time at the United Nations on Monday. The commemoration, co-hosted by the Iraqi Mission to the UN and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), saw ambassadors, members of the Iraqi parliament, the human rights community and survivors decry the world’s silence at the time and urged steps to ensure no similar genocide again occurs.

Iraq’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr Hamid Al-Bayati, said holding the commemoration at the UN on the 21st anniversary of the genocide was an important milestone for the world to acknowledge the terror inflicted and the lack of action to protect the innocent and bring to justice those responsible.

“We come into the United Nations after we have told our story in the streets of New York, Washington and London” Al-Bayati said. “This is history.” The Ambassador called on the United Nations to set March 16 as an annual commemoration “with the hope that atrocities like this will not occur again”

At least 5,000 people died as an immediate result of the chemical attack on March 16, 1988, and again on March 18. A further 7,000 people were injured or suffered long term illness and birth defects after being exposed to the nerve agents Tabun, Sarin, and VX, as well as mustard gas. While the attack against Halabja remains the largest-scale, single chemical weapons assault directed against a civilian-populated area in history, the attacks were part of a larger systematic operation named Anfal which was aimed at eradicating the Kurds.

“Halabja, once a vibrant centre of Kurdish culture was, in a day, turned into a symbol of Kurdish tragedy,” said Qubad Talabani, the KRG’s representative to the US. “It is our ground zero.”

Discussing steps world leaders must take to prevent genocide were Ambassador Peter Galbraith and Mr Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Galbraith recalled his discovery of Saddam’s campaign of atrocities in 1987 and how world governments and officials must not dilute the horror for the sake of short-term expediencies with a rogue nation. Geft said the commemoration “embodies our hopes and our dreams for a more tolerant future.” Representatives of the Turkish and Iranian missions to the UN read statements of solidarity.

During the commemoration Human Rights Watch was recognised by the KRG for its work to expose and document the genocide of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein. Kenneth Roth, executive director, said the world must never again accept geopolitical excuses as the reasons for inaction against genocide, such as that against the Kurds. “It is wrong to close one’s eyes to atrocities,” Roth said. “Once a measure of impunity is set, all kinds of dictators around the world are all too eager to listen and to act,”

A photographic exhibition documenting the Halabja genocide was unveiled and will remain on display in the United Nations Headquarters in New York, before travelling to various locations across the US. The exhibition will then become part of the permanent work at The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
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