Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Argentine to help the UN's genocide prevention efforts


Human rights expert Juan Mendez, who was tortured by Argentina's military government in the 1970s, has been named to a new UN post that will provide early warning about situations anywhere in the world that could result in genocide, the UN announced.

Mendez, a lawyer twice imprisoned in his native Argentina for political and professional activities, worked with Human Rights Watch for 15 years and is currently the president of the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York, which assists countries pursuing accountability for mass atrocities or human rights abuses.

"I'm very honored, and at the same time the responsibility is beginning to weigh on me. It's an important job," Mendez told reporters from London following the announcement on Monday.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a letter informing the Security Council of his decision to appoint Mendez. The council's approval is considered a formality.

Annan decided to create the post of UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide in March as the world was about to mark the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. Annan, head of UN peacekeeping at the time of the 1994 genocide, has apologized for failing to intervene to prevent the slaughter of at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus by the Hutu-extremist government then in power.

Mendez said the UN was not solely to blame for the Rwanda genocide and that the entire world community has a role in preventing atrocities in the future.

"It is precisely because of the failures of the international community" that the new UN post is important, he said.

But because of its reach, the UN can play a unique role in preventing future genocides, Mendez said.

"There is no other international organization that can play a preventative role," he said.

In creating the post, Annan wanted a special adviser to collect information "on massive and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law of ethnic and racial origin that could lead to genocide," said UN associate spokeswoman Marie Okabe.

"The special adviser would act as an early warning mechanism to the secretary-general and Security Council to bring to their attention potential situations that could result in genocide, and make recommendations to the council on how to prevent genocide," Okabe said.

Mendez said he plans to rely on information and analysis gathered from UN agencies and personnel, as well as human rights and aid groups.

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