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United Nations: Special Session on 60th Anniversary of Liberation of Death Camps

(January 24, 2005)

On January 24, 2005, the United Nations General Assembly will convene in Special Session to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps. The Special Session of the General Assembly will open a week of events to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the camps, including a state ceremony which will take place on January 27 in Poland, with the participation of the president of the State of Israel.

This is the first time that the UN General Assembly is convening to commemorate the Holocaust, and the first time that the General Assembly is convening a Special Session at Israel’s initiative. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on January 11 welcomed the decision by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to hold this Special Session.

The Israeli initiative regarding the convening of the UN Special Session is intended to strengthen international awareness of the Holocaust and the struggle against anti-Semitism, on the one hand, and the related significance of the rebirth of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, on the other.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the instruction of Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, enlisted the assistance of 30 countries (the United States, the 25 EU states, Russia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) in presenting a joint request to the UN Secretary General to convene a Special Session of the General Assembly to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps. Out of the 191 member-states, over 135 countries have so far responded positively to the Secretary General’s request, including Islamic countries and others that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

This is the 28th Special Session of the General Assembly which has been convened since the UN's establishment in 1946. The first two Special Sessions were held in 1947 and 1948, and discussed what was known at the time as the Palestine problem. No other Special Sessions have dealt with issues relating to Israel. The most recent Special Session, the global summit on children, was convened in 2002.

The Special Session of the General Assembly is the most formal of all UN fora. It is the most difficult forum to convene, since it is first necessary to obtain the support of a majority of the UN member-states. This is a particularly difficult task for the State of Israel, which faces an almost automatic UN majority of opposing Arab countries and their supporters. 

The UN Secretary General will participate in the Special Session along with the President of the General Assembly (the Foreign Minister of Gabon) and a large number of distinguished guests from around the world, including the Foreign Ministers of Poland, Germany, Luxembourg (the President of the EU), the President of the Italian Senate and a delegation from the US Congress.

The UN General Assembly Special Session will open with a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, to be followed by addresses from the UN Secretary General, Israel’s Foreign Minister, representatives of the liberated countries, representatives of the countries that initiated the Special Session, spokespeople of the regional UN groups, and Eli Wiesel, who will speak on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

Israel’s delegation to the UN Special Session is headed by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom. The Minister invited Holocaust survivors to participate as part of the official Israeli delegation at the event, including former Knesset speakers Dov Shilansky and Shevah Weiss, Holocaust Survivor Association head David Greenstein, Maj.-Gen. (res) Yossi Peled and actress Gila Almagor.

On the day of the UN Special Session, at 6 p.m. (New York time), Foreign Minister Shalom and the UN Secretary General will inaugurate an exhibit organized by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority about the Auschwitz death camp. It will be displayed over a number of weeks in the foyer of UN headquarters in New York. Foreign ministers, representatives of the US Congress, Jewish leaders from around the world, ambassadors and other public dignitaries will attend a special reception to mark the opening of the exhibit.

The convening of the Special Session is a significant accomplishment for the State of Israel and the fight against anti-Semitism. Israel views the session as an event of the highest importance for the Jewish people and the entire world. This is the very first time that the international community is convening formally to commemorate the Holocaust, its victims and the bravery of those who fought and defeated the Nazis. Israel is proud of the fact that it has succeeded in convening this unique historic event under the auspices of the United Nations.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry