Global Forum on Genocide

Yerevan , 

As delivered

Mr President, Your Excellency, distinguished guests

Years ago, as Norway’s Foreign Minister I attended a dinner hosted by Yasser Arafat, in Ramallah, in Palestine.

I was very fortunate that night:

I sat next to the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Jerusalem.

We chatted and, when I said I’m Norwegian, he said:

‘There’s something I want you to see.’

And from his robe he produced an original Nansen Passport.

Nansen Passports were documents issued to refugees by the League of Nations because they couldn’t get travel papers from national authorities.

Fridtjof Nansen – my compatriot – had seen that refugees were effectively imprisoned:

Unable to move freely and seek asylum.

His passport set them free. Nansen was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this initiative and his work as High Commissioner for refugees in the League of Nations.

First it was given to Russians, after their civil war.

Then it was extended to Armenian, Assyrian and Turkish refugees in 1933.

And to see one in the hands of this great man this great spiritual leader, who had touched thousands of lives, once a boy in a camp, was to see how stupid we are when we give up on refugees and other victims of war.

There is potential in every man, woman and child.

100 years ago too many Armenians were denied the chance to realise that potential when they were brutally murdered.

Hundreds of thousands more were condemned to poverty.

And this was not just Armenia’s loss, it was the world’s loss.

Those people, their achievements, their ideas, their discoveries, the joys they would have brought to those around them…

All of that was stolen, destroyed – and we can never get it back.

But we can – we must – try to stop it happening again.

The Nansen Passport marked the beginning of the debate over humanitarian intervention.

When should the international community get involved?


Where does state sovereignty stop and international responsibility begin?

These questions are as vital now as they were then.

The international community is still too slow.

Politics still gets in the way of compassion.

The UN Charter still gives responsibility for the world’s security to just a handful of states, in the Security Council as if it were still 1945.

Well, it isn’t.

It’s 2015 and all states have a responsibility to protect innocent people from grave human rights abuses.

The Responsibility to Protect – so called R2P – was adopted unanimously ten years ago at the UN.

It followed the devastating failures of the international community in Rwanda and Srebrenica.

Under this doctrine, states have the first duty to prevent acts like ethnic cleansing and the international community should support them.

But, when they can’t or won’t, we must step in.

We don’t question who is suffering, or why, we just give people the help they need on the basis of our shared humanity.

The decade of Responsibility to Protect has been mixed.

It has been applied well:

Look at Kenya, for example, where in 2007 swift diplomatic action limited the spread of ethnic violence.

It has been applied less well:

Look at Libya, now gripped by instability because the 2011 military intervention was not accompanied an effective political track.

And sometimes it hasn’t been applied at all:

Look no further than Syria for that.

200,000 dead. 11 million displaced.

A humanitarian catastrophe which should not be possible in the 21st Century.

We see the same indifference towards the hundreds now drowning in the Mediterranean:

The boats full of migrants risking it all because they feel they have no choice.

Whether it is in Syrian towns or European waters:

These are human beings who need our help.

So I want to take the opportunity of this global forum to repeat a simple message:

We all have a responsibility to protect.

By putting a spotlight on these issues, Armenia is doing us all a great service.

You are forcing us to confront the difficult questions and think about how we act.

Please do not stop.

The Council of Europe values you immensely as one of our 47 members:

An independent Armenia, committed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

And I’d like to mention, particularly, the focus you put on xenophobia and racism, when you held the Chairmanship of our Committee of Ministers for the first time, in 2013.

That decision was extremely prescient and has paved the way for much of the work we are doing on extremism and radicalisation today.

We will continue to help you build strong institutions and practices which embody European values.

The Armenian people want the same things all people want.

I hear the same things everywhere I go:

The chance to work;

To raise their children well;

To live in free societies;

And to connect with others;

And so I also hope that you will soon find reconciliation with your neighbours.

In today’s Europe, the strongest and most prosperous societies are open societies.

Politically open, economically open, and open to their neighbours too.

I want to pay tribute to the many civil society, cultural and academic initiatives, now aiming to reconnect the Armenian and Turkish societies.

If there is a chance of returning to the 2009 Protocols, establishing diplomatic relations with Turkey, I urge both sides to seize it.

The Council of Europe stands ready to support this dialogue in any way we can:

You both sit at our table.

And a hundred years of conflict will not, I hope, erase thousands of years of peace.

So let us finish on the future.

Armenia’s is a hopeful one.

This nation has a rare resilience.

You have turned your sorrow into strength and this week the whole world can see it.

Today we recommit to end killing and violence against innocents.

These acts do not fall from the heavens.

They are always a choice and all nations have a duty to stop them.

In the words of Fridtjof Nansen:

‘War will cease – when men refuse to fight’.