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Commemorating International Holocaust Memorial Day

29 January 2012

(From left) Dr Mohan, Mr Magnus, Prof Koh, H E Viets and Mr Zainul Abidin answering questions from the audience

What is the historical significance of the Holocaust to Europe and the world? What does this mean in terms of human rights and our struggle against all forms of racial discrimination?

These were some of the questions posed during a special session of the Tembusu Forum on 27 January to mark the International Holocaust Memorial Day. More than 250 guests comprising students, diplomats, religious leaders and members of the public attended the event.

In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution declared 27 January as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the biggest Nazi concentration and death camp, by Soviet troops.

At the forum, Prof Tommy Koh, Rector of Tembusu College and Ambassador-At-Large at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that he convened the forum to set out the facts about the Holocaust as he found many young Singaporeans ignorant of the historical event. He hoped the forum will increase their awareness and strengthen the respect for human rights.

Recognising the Holocaust, Her Excellency Angelika Viets, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Singapore, said that this historical chapter has led Germany to build a special relationship with the state of Israel. "This meant and still means the commitment and the enduring responsibility of Germany for the State of Israel in its right to exist in secure borders. This historical and political responsibility is one of the pillars of our foreign policy," she noted.

For Europe and the global community, the Holocaust has highlighted the importance of human rights, said H E Viets. The European Union law with its common set of rules and binding regulations allows for a peaceful Europe. On the global stage, the war tribunals of Nuremberg and Tokyo, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, serve as deterrents for human rights violations.

Offering an Asian perspective on the implications of the Holocaust was Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, former Senior Minister of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mr Richard Magnus, member of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights; and Dr Mahdev Mohan of the Singapore Management University's School of Law, who is also an international civil party lawyer in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

The forum saw a lively discussion moderated by Prof Koh. The four speakers fielded questions which included how to translate an inclusive approach to multicultural settings, particularly for Singapore and Germany, as well as the provision of minority rights in the formulation of an ASEAN declaration of human rights.

The Tembusu Forum is held to bring informed discussion about important global and regional issues to the Tembusu College residents and the larger community. It offers NUS undergraduates unique access to policy-makers, diplomats and intellectuals in a setting which encourages the exchange of ideas and opinions.