UN Adopts Global Holocaust Day

UNITED NATIONS - The UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution by consensus yesterday establishing an annual day to commemorate the Holocaust.

The International Day of Commemoration will be held every year on January 27, the day in 1945 when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated.

The resolution urges individual countries to develop educational programs to try to prevent future acts of genocide. It also rejects any denial of the Holocaust, condemns discrimination and violence based on religion or ethnicity, and calls for the UN to establish an outreach program to encourage the public to engage in Holocaust remembrance activities.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom welcomed the U.N. resolution, the first proposed by Israel and accepted by the General Assembly.

"This is an historic decision which means that the U.N. relates to Israel as a country equal to other countries, and a step that contributes to Israel's international standing," Shalom said.

Shalom had been pushing for Israel to put forward the proposal for some time, following a long period during which Israel initiated no proposals because it knew they would be blocked by the Arab countries. According to Shalom, the significance of the resolution is that 60 years after the Holocaust, the international body recognizes the importance of learning the lessons of the Holocaust.

In presenting the resolution, U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman said he was moved "as an Israeli, a Jew, a human being and the son of a family that was a victim of the Holocaust."

Gillerman thanked the countries that had joined Israel in sponsoring the draft resolution, and especially UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The proposal came about beginning in June, as part of an effort by Israel to reap the benefits of the disengagement plan, and with the realization that Holocaust commemoration was receiving unprecedented international support as evidenced by the ceremonies in January commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Jerusalem initially doubted Israel's ability to lead the passing of the proposal, and asked an important European country to "adopt it." But it was subsequently decided to proceed with the Israeli initiative after it appeared that the European country was not keen to advance the resolution.

The proposal, submitted by Israel on August 15, was initially co-sponsored by the U.S., Australia, Canada and Russia. However by the time the debate on the resolution started Monday, it had 104 co-sponsors out of the 191 member countries.

Following the vote, several ambassadors came over to congratulate Gillerman.

But Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said after the vote that the day should commemorate all victims of genocide, and not be limited just to victims of the Holocaust.