Over one year ago, the Genocide Prevention Task Force, a project of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the US Institute of Peace, released a report detailing recommendations for US policymakers on preventing genocide. The report acknowledges that the current US government response to genocide and mass atrocities is ad hoc; there are no standing institutional mechanisms nor procedures for addressing potential and emerging crises. The report analyzes the importance of early warning, early prevention, preventive diplomacy, military options, and international action as necessary components of a comprehensive genocide prevention strategy.
In addition, the report emphasizes the importance of leadership, the indespensible ingredient, on behalf of the American president, Congress, and people. Specifically, the Task Force urges the American president "to demonstrate at the outset that preventing genocide and mass atrocities is a national priority." The upcoming State of the Union address is one opportunity for President Obama to make it clear that genocide prevention is a national priority on his agenda. Doing so has important implications for Sudan, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as other current and potential conflicts.
Just a few days ago, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan gave his perspective on the state of Sudan, stating that he was optimistic about the future of peace in both South Sudan and Darfur. However, the same day ten aid agencies issued a report saying that a “lethal cocktail” of rising violence, chronic poverty, and political tensions run the risk of plunging Sudan back into civil war. The New York Times ran a front page story citing that although the violence in Darfur has slowed down in recent years, tensions and the risk of a return to violence will remain high unless Sudan undergoes significant structural changes in governance.
All this could be prevented with leadership from the Government of Sudan; however with President Bashir indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and responsible for the marginalization and destruction of much of his country, this is beyond unimaginable. And, according to the principles of the Responsibility to Protect, if a government fails to protect its own people, it becomes the responsibility of the world to protect them.
The aid agencies warned that “unless the world acts soon” civil war would once again visit Sudan, and specifically cited the United States as needing to show leadership in helping to prevent this impending crisis from occurring.
The writing is on the wall, the world is shining a spotlight on it: massive and potentially genocidal violence is imminent in Sudan. As President Omar al-Bashir dismisses it from his capitol of Khartoum, will President Obama call attention to it from his capitol of Washington DC in his State of the Union? And more importantly, will he and Congress lead the world in acting to prevent this impending crisis? Perhaps, but perhaps not unless the American people show leadership first in holding them accountable.
Recommendation 1-4 of the GPTF report suggests that the president “launch a major diplomatic initiative to strengthen global efforts towards prevention.” In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, President Obama spoke about the necessity of taking action against “repression in Burma” in the context of international law and human rights standards. This recognition of the conflict in an address to the international community is a first step that President Obama must follow with action to foster global cooperation to end these human rights abuses. The demands in H.Res. 898, for example, rely heavily on the international community to collectively achieve goals that will hold the military regime in Burma accountable for their actions. It calls on the EU, ASEAN, and the UN Security Council specifically to strengthen sanctions against Burma, as well as countries throughout the world to put in place an arms embargo against the Burmese military regime. President Obama must use a focus on human rights and genocide prevention in his foreign policy to foster the crucial international support to make these measures a reality.
Mentioning the results of risk assessment procedures in annual reports and the State of the Union, thereby making them known to policy makers, will prevent much future instability, like the recent deaths and displacements that resulted from Kimia II. Most importantly, preventing the many mushrooming insurgencies in Eastern Congo would enable us focus effort on the most difficult rebels, while protecting the people and secured territories. Thanks to globalization and technology, we have the ability to monitor the peace and conflict dynamics in DR Congo. Along with shifting ways of approach of existing conflict, the USA should shift methods when it comes to processing incoming tips and warnings on conflict. Currently, irregular information by highly placed UN and embassy officials is valued more than that offered by NGOs and on ground monitors like the Human Rights Watch who have to cry out too many times before their warnings are taken seriously; this way many chances of prevention are missed. President Obama must emphasize genocide prevention in his State of the Union address.
Download the full GPTF report here.
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