Remarks on Signing the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987 (the Proxmire Act) in Chicago, Illinois

 

November 4, 1988

 

Well, good morning. We gather today to bear witness to the past and learn from its awful example, and to make sure that we're not condemned to relive its crimes. I am today signing the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987, which will permit the United States to become party to the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide that was approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

 

During the Second World War, mankind witnessed the most heinous of crimes: the Holocaust. And after the war, the nations of the world came together and drafted the genocide convention as a howl of anguish and an effort to prevent and punish future acts of genocide. The United States signed the convention, and in 1949 President Truman requested the Senate's advice and consent to ratification. In 1986 the Senate gave its consent, conditioned upon enactment of implementing legislation. We finally close the circles today by signing the implementing legislation that will permit the United States to ratify the convention and formally join 97 nations of the world in condemning genocide and treating it as a crime.

 

I'm delighted to fulfill the promise made by Harry Truman to all the peoples of the world, and especially the Jewish people. I remember what the Holocaust meant to me as I watched the films of the death camps after the Nazi defeat in World War II. Slavs, Gypsies, and others died in the fires, as well. And we've seen other horrors this century -- in the Ukraine, in Cambodia, in Ethiopia. They only renew our rage and righteous fury, and make this moment all the more significant for me and all Americans.

 

Under this legislation, any U.S. national or any person in the United States who kills members of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group with the specific intent of destroying that group in whole or in substantial part may spend his or her life in prison. Lesser acts of violence are punishable by as much as 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. While I would have preferred that Congress had adopted the administration's proposal to permit the death penalty for those convicted of genocidal murders, this legislation still represents a strong and clear statement by the United States that it will punish acts of genocide with the force of law and the righteousness of justice.

 

The timing of the enactment is particularly fitting, for we're commemorating a week of remembrance of the Kristallnacht, the infamous ``night of broken glass,'' which occurred 50 years ago on November 9, 1938. That night, Nazis in Germany and Austria conducted a pogrom against the Jewish people. By the morning of November 10th, scores of Jews were dead, hundreds bleeding, shops and homes in ruins, and synagogues defiled and debased. And that was the night that began the Holocaust, the night that should have alerted the world of the gruesome design of the Final Solution.

 

This legislation resulted from the cooperation of our administration and many in Congress, such as Congressmen Henry Hyde and Jack Davis and John Porter and Senator Bill Proxmire, to ensure that the United States redoubles its efforts to gain universal observance of human rights.

 

We pay tribute to those who suffered that night and all the nights that followed upon it with our action today.

 

So, I thank you, and God bless you all. And now I will sign the proclamation and the bill.

 

Note: The President spoke at 10:15 a.m. in the Air Force Reserve Building at O'Hare International Airport. S. 1851, approved November 4, was assigned Public Law No. 100 - 606.