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Switzerland officially hands over GAAMAC’s Chair to Argentina

18 Nov 2020 11:9

On 16 November 2020, GAAMAC’s diverse community gathered online to officially mark the handover of GAAMAC’s chair from Mô Bleeker of Switzerland to Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi of Argentina during a high-level event on atrocity prevention co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of Argentina and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland.

“The prevention of atrocities is a permanent endeavour and human rights are one of its pillars”. - Ambassador Simon Geissbühler, Head of the Human Security Division at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

Ambassador Simon Geissbühler, Head of the Human Security Division at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) kicked off the event underlining GAAMAC’s tremendous track record and recalling the early stages of the initiative. “It was crucial to mobilize political will at national level, overcome the silo mentality and join efforts among all members states and community engaged in the prevention of the most serious crimes”, he said. This ultimately led to the creation of GAAMAC as a global platform for prevention in 2013.

In her keynote speech, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reminded participants that “atrocity crimes are aggravated forms of human rights violations, and preventing serious human rights violations from occurring is vital to preventing mass atrocities”. She called for a long-term approach to structural prevention based in human rights and for the need to understand and address the factors leading to the commission of atrocity crimes, such as “long-standing discrimination, economic inequalities, social exclusion, and denial of economic and social rights”.

“By building solid human rights protections into their recovery efforts, States can invest in upstream prevention, with a specific and radical focus on detecting and eliminating socioeconomic inequalities and marginalization.” Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The High Commissioner also highlighted GAAMAC’s important role in setting “a signal for the usefulness and centrality of the inclusion of civil society, forging alliances for prevention work that can effectively be undertaken and enforced at the domestic level”. Investing in upstream prevention, identifying and addressing root causes and accelerators of serious human rights violations, strengthening accountability and transitional justice are some of the contributions emphasized by the High Commissioner that states can make to effectively prevent atrocity crimes.

Drawing a parallel between atrocity prevention and a vaccine, Ambassador Federico Villegas, Permanent Representative of Argentina to the UN in Geneva emphasized the role of GAAMAC in fostering cooperation and exchanging on the best strategies to “help countries develop their own vaccine of preventing atrocities”. “Argentina is honoured to take the torch of GAAMAC in the person of Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi”, he concluded, “and to develop a strong platform for the benefit of all countries”.

“I have been looking forward to this moment since GAAMAC was created in 2013”, said Mô Bleeker, outgoing Chair and Special Envoy for Dealing with the Past and Prevention of Atrocities, FDFA Switzerland, “this is an important signal attesting to the credibility of this initiative”. As she reflected on the past 7 years as GAAMAC chair, Ms Bleeker highlighted successes such as the establishment of regional initiatives producing tangible results on the ground and the creation of a “GAAMAC culture” of real cooperation and exchange. As a departing gift to the GAAMAC community and her successor, Ms Bleeker proudly presented the audience with the last edition of FDFA political journal Politorbis entirely dedicated to atrocity prevention.

“Prevention is a long-term and permanent endeavour” said incoming chair and former President of the International Criminal Court Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi. Despite the important developments towards a global system of justice and greater accountability for atrocity crimes in the last three decades, “no society is immune and no society can fight atrocities and its consequences by itself”, she reminded. “Regional and international collaboration and coordination is needed and GAAMAC hopes to contribute to such collaboration among all relevant actors”, the new Chair concluded.  

“Just like human rights, the atrocity prevention agenda is universal”, said Ambassador Jürg Lauber, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva as he closed the event. “Today, Switzerland hands over the chairwomanship of GAAMAC, but we will remain a strong and dedicated partner”.

Find all the speeches

Read the last edition of Politorbis on atrocity prevention