Washington, DC – President Obama today announced two important steps his administration will take to prevent mass atrocities: the creation of a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board and a proclamation barring serious human rights violators from entering the United States. The President’s action plan elevates mass atrocity and genocide prevention to a “core national security interest and a core moral responsibility in the United States of America.”
“The risk of mass atrocities right now in Syria, Cote d’Ivoire, and the South Kordofan region of Sudan put into sharp relief the need for effective preventative action. Too often, such impending human rights disasters are orphans in the bureaucratic process—everyone cares, but nobody drives action until it’s too late. Today’s announcement promises a new approach: Presidential priority, senior level responsibility, and a direct line to the top for urgent action,” said Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino. “Successive administrations have recognized that preventing genocide and crimes against humanity is in the national interest of the United States. Finally, there is a concrete effort to put that rhetoric into action and create a standing prevention structure within the U.S. government. We welcome the President’s initiative in making this a priority.”
According to today’s announcement, President Obama is creating an Atrocities Prevention Board, a high-level decision-making structure to bring the full resources of the U.S. government to bear in preventing mass atrocities and to establish authority to marshal inter-agency resources to this end. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will lead a comprehensive assessment of how the U.S. government can best organize its structure and resources to ensure early and less costly preventive action. Over the next 100 days, Donilon will work with the secretaries of key agencies involved in prevention—the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community, among others– to structure the board.
Human Rights First calls on the Obama Administration to include in the new structure a strategy for identifying and pressuring not only the direct perpetrators of mass atrocities, but also third-party enablers – individuals, commercial entities, and countries that provide the means and resources on which perpetrators rely to commit atrocities. The U.S. government needs the full range of tools when monitoring and addressing the threat of mass atrocities. Focusing on enablers of mass atrocities is an important and innovative strategy that should be included in that toolbox.
As this process begins, Human Rights First also urges the administration to ensure that those tasked with providing timely and accurate information in mass atrocity situations, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence organizations, have the necessary resources to do so. Intelligence plays a vital role in both assessing potential threats of atrocities and in identifying perpetrators and enablers of mass atrocities.
In addition to the creation of this new atrocities prevention body, President Obama issued a proclamation barring all serious human rights violators from entry into the United States. The proclamation “expand[s] the grounds for denial of entry into the United States to cover a broader array of recognized violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity.” While current law already permits exclusion of such people from the United States, today’s proclamation underscores the commitment to ensure that the United States does not become a safe haven for human rights violators, and will enhance the ability of U.S. diplomats and others to deter the commission of genocide and other mass atrocities in the future.
“These actions are critical steps toward institutionalizing prevention mechanisms in a more permanent way, rather than relying on the personal commitment and passion of current officials in key posts. If ‘never again’ and ‘not on our watch’ are to be more than feel-good slogans, the United States must untie the bureaucratic knots that have at times undermined its ability to prevent and effectively confront mass atrocities,” concluded Massimino. “Today’s announcement charts a promising way forward to achieving this vital national interest.”