2 August 2021
Fernand des Varennes
UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues
Statement on the occasion of 2 August 2021, Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma
On the night of the second and third of August 1944, almost 3000 men, women and children belonging to the Sinti and Roma minority were murdered by the Nazi Regime in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. It’s estimated that between 25 and 50 % of the million or so of the Sinti and Roma population in Europe were probably exterminated. That is what the European Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma marks today.
But it’s actually much more than that. Today my United Nations mandate on minority issues is issuing a press release which warns that just as members of the Jewish and Sinti and Roma minorities were portrayed as alien to the nation and even threats to the values and culture in Nazi Germany, Sinti and Roma again today are facing a backdrop of increasingly divisive rhetoric. We forget perhaps that the Holocaust did not begin with gas chambers, it started with hate speech against minorities. The Nazis effectively used propaganda to win the support of millions of Germans to facilitate persecution, war, and ultimately genocide of mainly the Jewish, Sinti and Roma minorities.
Unfortunately today, social media platforms are again amplifying intolerance and prejudice and allowing thousands of little Joseph Goebbels to spew propaganda of hate and racism reaching almost immediately huge numbers of people causing real harm, literally leading to individuals around the world being vilified, pointed out, lined up, lynched and massacred because they belong to dehumanised others, usually, overwhelmingly targeted minorities.
I therefore called for on this day marking the Sinti and Roma Genocide be used as an opportunity for greater acknowledgment of the Sinti and Roma genocide in order to address as a matter of urgency the increasing intolerance, demonizing and hate speech targeting of Roma and other minorities around the world.
States must do more to proactively combat rising signs of intolerance and attacks against Romani and other minorities, particularly in social media and in hate crimes. I also gave this warning that “Minorities, are experiencing significant increased in hate speech but also targeting by politicians and others where they are stigmatised as threatening ‘others’.
States must not forget the holocaust of the Sinti and Roma. They need to reflect and act to address the exclusion and discrimination too many face today, also experienced by many other minorities as well as to take concrete steps to address the increasing high levels of hate speech in social media as propaganda mediums of intolerance and even tools of incitement to violence and discirminations..
Despite the real progress that has been made by many Sinti and Roma minorities in Europe, this virtual commemoration ceremony of the European Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma is a significant event because it not only acknowledges what has occurred in the past, it can also serve to highlight what must continue to be fought for and protected, and that is the full respect of the human rights of Sinti and Roma minorities, as well as that more can be done, more must be done, to recognise the continuing, and perhaps exacerbating, instances of racism, intolerance and exclusion experienced by Sinti, Roma and other minorities. This is essential because of the very real possibility that racism and discrimination will get worse unless governments are more pro active against hate speech against Roma and other minorities. Remembering the genocide, remembering history means living responsibility for the present and the future. And that means taking steps to defend the rights and lives of society’s most vulnerable and marginalised. This commemoration by the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and the Association of Roma in Poland in cooperation with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is an important part in the necessary remembrance of what has occurred, and in reminding all of us that we need to be vigilant so it never happens again.
So congratulations, Thank you, merci et bonnes délibérations.