‘Never Again’ declaration: 12 principles affirmed at Nuremberg trials conference

Former Canadian justice minister and attorney general Irwin Cotler speaks at “The Double Entendre of Nuremberg” symposium on May 4 at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. Credit: Yossi Zeliger.

The following principles were declared and adopted at an international legal symposium at Jagiellonian University in Poland on May 4, 2016, on the eve of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). Titled “The Double Entendre of Nuremberg: The Nuremberg of Hate, The Nuremberg of Justice,” the symposium marked the 80th anniversary of the Nazis' anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws and the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials—the Allied forces’ military trials of 13 prominent Nazi leaders. The symposium was organized by Jagiellonian University, March of the Living International, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

We, Parliamentarians, Political Leaders and Representatives of Civil Society from around the world,

RECOGNIZING that genocide is the most insidious and destructive threat known to humankind – the ultimate crime against humanity – a horrific and unspeakable act whereby state-sanctioned incitement transforms hatred into catastrophe;

RECOGNIZING that the Holocaust constitutes genocidal horrors too terrible to be believed but not too terrible to have happened;

RECOGNIZING that on December 9, 1948 the world came together to draft the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the “Genocide Convention”) having now the force of customary international  law; 

RECOGNIZING that while the 20th century was the century of the Genocide Convention – and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted on December 10th 1948 – it was also the century of multiple preventable genocides and mass atrocities; 

RECOGNIZING that inaction and indifference can lead to mass atrocity and genocide;

RECOGNIZING that the dangers of genocide and mass atrocity shall never cease unless the lessons of genocides past are heeded and acted upon;


1. Le devoir de mémoire – The imperative of remembrance

Unto each person there is a name; each person has an identity; each person is a universe. Whoever saves a single life, it is as if he or she has saved an entire universe.

And so, the abiding imperative which we must imbibe and act upon: We are each, wherever we are, the guarantors of each other’s destiny. 

2. The danger of state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide

The Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers – it began with words

The Holocaust succeeded not only because of the industry of death, but because of the Nazis’ state-sanctioned ideology of hate. It is this teaching of contempt, this demonizing of the other, this is where it all begins. Incitement to genocide is not merely a warning sign of preventable tragedy; it is itself an international crime prohibited in the Genocide Convention. We have a responsibility to recognize, address, and redress this crime against humanity.

3. The danger of antisemitism

The oldest and most enduring of hatreds

If the Holocaust is a metaphor for radical evil, antisemitism is a metaphor for radical hatred. From 1941 to 1945, 1.3 million people were murdered at Auschwitz – of whom 1.1 million were Jews. Let there be no mistake about it: Jews died at Auschwitz because of antisemitism, but antisemitism did not die at Auschwitz. While it begins with Jews, it does not end with Jews; we have a responsibility to prevent and combat this insidious hatred. 

4. The danger of Holocaust denial – the responsibility to repudiate false witness

The ultimate Orwellian inversion: the Holocaust denial movement whitewashes the crimes of the Nazis as it excoriates “the crimes of the Jews”

The Holocaust denial movement – the cutting edge of antisemitism old and new – is not just an assault on Jewish memory and human dignity; it constitutes an international conspiracy to cover up the worst crimes in history. It is our responsibility to unmask the bearers of false witness – to expose the immorality of the deniers as we protect the dignity of their victims; and to guard against Holocaust inversion – the Nazification of Israel and the Jewish people.

5. The perils of indifference and inaction in the face of mass atrocity and genocide – the responsibility to protect

Indifference and inaction always mean coming down on the side of the victimizer, never on the side of the victim

In the face of evil, indifference is acquiescence, if not complicity in evil itself. For years now, we have known, but have yet to act, to stop the slaughter of the innocents in Syria, ignoring the lessons of history and mocking the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine. What makes the Holocaust, and more recently the Rwandan Genocide, so unspeakable is not only the horror of the genocides – which are horrific enough – but that these genocides were preventable. The international community cannot be bystanders to horror – we must act. 

6. The danger of impunity: the responsibility to bring war criminals to justice

Impunity only emboldens and encourages the war criminals and crimes against humanity

If the last century – symbolized by the Holocaust – was the age of atrocity, it was also the age of impunity. Few of the perpetrators were brought to justice. Accordingly, just as there can be no sanctuary for hate, no refuge for bigotry, so there cannot be base or sanctuary for these enemies of humankind. 

7. The danger of “la trahison des clercs” – The betrayal of the elites: the responsibility to speak truth to power

The Holocaust was made possible not only because of the “bureaucratization of genocide”, but because of the complicity of the elites

Holocaust crimes then, were the crimes of the Nuremberg elites. It is our responsibility, to speak truth to power, and to hold power accountable to truth. The double entendre of Nuremberg – of Nuremberg Racism and the Nuremberg Principles – must be part of our learning as it is part of our legacy.

8. The threat of assaults on the vulnerable and powerless

It is our responsibility to give voice to the voiceless, to empower the powerless

The vulnerability of the powerless and the powerlessness of the vulnerable are dramatized so painfully at Auschwitz by the remnants of shoes and suitcases, crutches and hair of the murdered. Indeed, it is revealing that the first group targeted for killing were the Jewish disabled, reminding us yet again of the need to prevent and combat injustice. 

9. The need to prevent targeted violence against women

Significant numbers of the world’s population are routinely subject to rape, assault, torture, starvation, humiliation, mutilation and even murder simply because they are female

Horrific crimes against women have not only attended the genocide or been in consequence of it, but have in fact been perpetrated in pursuit of it. Seventy years after the Holocaust, this lesson remains to be learned – and acted upon – whether we speak of the horrific crimes against women in the Congo, or Syria, or elsewhere.

10. The need to prevent mass atrocities against children

The destruction of millions of universes, of generations yet unborn and never to be born

If there is an atrocity that belies understanding, it is the willful exploitation, maiming and killing of a child – the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. The Nazi genocide was the genocide of millions of children, and 1.5 million children perished in the Holocaust of European Jewry. We have yet to learn from this most horrific of horrors, let alone act upon it; millions of children the world over are subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, slavery, execution, and recruitment as “child soldiers” incited to terrorize and kill others.

11. The responsibility to pay tribute to the rescuers

The righteous among the nations, of whom the Swedish non-Jew, Raoul Wallenberg, and the Polish non-Jew Jan Karski, are metaphor and message

Raoul Wallenberg and Jan Karski demonstrated how one person with the compassion to care, and the courage to act, can confront evil and transform history.

12. The imperative to respect the legacy of Holocaust survivors

The legacy of light that emerged from the darkest hate

We must remember—and honour—the survivors of the Holocaust, the true heroes of humanity. For they witnessed and endured the worst of inhumanity, but somehow found, in the depths of their own humanity, the courage to go on, to rebuild their lives as they helped build our communities.


Never again will we be indifferent to incitement and hate; 

Never again will we be silent in the face of evil; 

Never again will we indulge racism and antisemitism; 

Never again will we ignore the plight of the vulnerable; and 

Never again will we be indifferent in the face of mass atrocity and impunity.

WE WILL SPEAK UP AND ACT against racism, against hate, against antisemitism, against mass atrocity, against injustice, and against the crime of crimes whose name we should even shudder to mention: genocide.

Posted on May 4, 2016 .