More than six decades since the Holocaust and nearly a generation after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive framework to address genocide and other crimes against humanity before it’s too late.
“This has left us ill prepared to enbage early, proactively, and decisively to prevent threats from evolving into large-scale civilian atrocities,” states a new presidential study directive.
That will soon change. On Aug. 4, President Barack Obama ordered key Cabinet members to establishment an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board within 120 days. The board will consist of officials from the State Department, Pentagon, National Security Agency and others. Its function will be to coordinate a “whole of government approach” to prevent mass atrocities and to respond effectively.
In the president’s view, this approach is not only a moral responsibility but also imperative to our national security.
“Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods,” the directive states. “America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.”
Too often, the United States responds late to mass killings and must decide between sending in troops or standing on the sidelines. With an early warning system in place, decision-makers could address situations early, when a menu of low-cost and low-risk alternatives are available, such as economic and diplomatic interventions.
A statement from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice announced that new visa restrictions are a key element in the president’s strategy. According to the statement, Obama has “expanded grounds to deny visas to serious human rights violators and war criminals and to isolate those who engage in or conspire to commit atrocities.”
Commenting on Obama’s overall directive, Rice said, “The United States is deeply committed to ensuring that no individual, now or in the future, sees a path to power in division and death.”
She added that the United States would continue to “enlist” input from any nation that shares its values and goals of eliminating genocide and other crimes against humanity.
Obama directed the national security adviser to take a leadership role in designing the board. The adviser’s task will include recommending membership, mandate, structure, operational protocols and authorities for the new entity, which should be up and running by the end of the year.