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Former political prisoner, Juan Méndez, chosen for UN genocide prevention role

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UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has announced that he has selected Juan Méndez, a former Argentine political prisoner and human rights advocate for the post of UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. Mr Annan announced the new role, which will operate largely as an information gathering and early warning mechanism, in April as part of an Action Plan to Prevent Genocide that coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. The appointment forms part of Mr Annan’s stated desire to transform the culture of the UN itself from one of reaction to one of prevention.

Mr Méndez brings to the role a wealth of experience both as a victim of human rights oppression, and as a long-standing and effective human rights advocate and lawyer. Following two jail terms under Argentina’s military junta he moved to the United States where he worked for Human Rights Watch, and as an academic and lawyer. He is currently the President of the International Centre for Transitional Justice, a non-governmental organization working to bring human rights violators to justice in countries emerging from conflict or misrule.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) welcomed the selection of Mr Méndez and the extensive experience that he will bring to the role. MRG stressed however that for this new UN mechanism to be an effective rather than a symbolic one, it must be adequately resourced and staffed and posses the access and authority to make a difference. MRG recently pointed to a need for the additional establishment of a Special Adviser on Minorities to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which it feels would be a further key component of a systematic and effective conflict prevention process.

MRG argues that a New York based adviser on genocide would greatly benefit from stronger links to the UN human rights machinery in Geneva, perhaps facilitated by such a minority-focused expert. Citing the current urgent situation in Darfur, which has been raised as a further example of UN incapacity and lack of political will among member states, MRG stated that unless preventive action is taken at an early stage the effectiveness of diplomatic engagement with governments is diminished as conflict develops. In this respect the new position of Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide has a potentially extremely valuable role to play.

Notes for editors

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on press@minorityrights.org.