01/31/2011 12:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Remembering the Victims of the Holocaust

The horrors of the Holocaust, perpetrated with such systemic cruelty on such a large population over so many years, remain as painful to fathom today as ever.

Last Thursday was a day of remembrance for those millions of Jewish men, women and children, as well as thousands of other victims, including Roma, Slavs, disabled people, homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses, communists and other political dissidents whose lives were brutally cut short by the ideology of hatred of the Nazis and their allies.

The Holocaust should serve as a reminder of the dangers of marginalization of particular groups in society. It should remind us that hateful words have the ability to translate into hateful actions. The threat of genocide still remains. It is the ultimate and most terrible expression of intolerance, xenophobia and racism.

This day is an annual reminder that we must act more decisively at the first signs that a climate conducive to genocide is starting to develop. We must be vigilant against emerging trends towards the vilification of communities and preempt, through law, policy and education, the prejudice that can in its worst forms lead to genocide.

And we must not underestimate the importance of bringing to justice, through individual criminal responsibility, perpetrators of these crimes. The recent international ad hoc tribunals, established to deal with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, as well as the International Criminal Court, owe a debt to the precedents set by the Nuremberg trials, and several subsequent tribunals, which resulted in successful prosecutions. In this connection, I reiterate my call to States to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which is similarly built on a clear commitment to put an end to impunity.

Let us remember what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 40s, reflect on why it happened, and take it upon ourselves to remain vigilant and to stop discrimination in its tracks before its insidious seeds develop into heinous crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. While we can never compensate for the Holocaust, or do justice to its millions of victims and their descendants, we can at least ensure that by remembering their suffering, and acting on what we have learned, we can mitigate the suffering of others today and in the future.