25 Years of Genocide Prevention in the United States
Twenty-five years ago today, the U.S. Senate ratified the United Nation’s International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The convention recognizes genocide as an international crime and affirms the United States’ commitment to stop genocide.
The U.S. ratification of the Convention on on February 19, 1986, came 38 years after it was approved the UN General Assembly, 35 years after it officially entered into force, and 17 years after Senator William Proxmire (WI) vowed to deliver a speech on the Senate floor every day until the Convention was ratified (a promise that he fulfilled by delivering a total of 3,211 speeches). It took nearly two more years until President Ronald Reagan signed the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987, also known as the Proxmire Act, binding the U.S. to the requirements outlined in the UN convention. Despite the delayed response, the ratification of the Genocide Convention marked an important step in the United States’ commitment to making “Never Again” a reality.
A total of 140 states have now ratified the Convention; however, it does not legally bind them to respond to genocide. As history shows, these states have not fulfilled their promise to act to prevent or stop mass atrocities. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur while the international community did little or nothing to intervene. For many reasons – geopolitical maneuvering, lack of domestic support, and the definition of the term genocide itself, among many others – states have often avoided taking action.
But the future looks optimistic. The past decade has seen an increase in U.S. anti-genocide activities. Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to the Darfur crisis as genocide in 2005, and called for U.S. intervention. In 2008, the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, released the report, “Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers”, which contained 34 policy recommendations to enhance the capacity of the U.S. government to respond to genocide and mass atrocities. Just two months ago, in December 2010, the Senate passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 71 (S.Con.Res.71), reaffirming the U.S. commitment to genocide prevention and calling for specific steps to adopt some of the recommendations of the GPTF.
The Obama administration has expressed its commitment to conflict prevention in the National Security Strategy, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Despite these efforts, the budget extensions for fiscal year 2011 proposed by the House Appropriations Committee challenge the future of U.S. conflict prevention strategies. The proposed allocations cut the U.S. foreign-operations budget by 21 percent from the previous year. The appropriations bill drastically reduces the funds dedicated to development and humanitarian aid, and threatens the capacity of the U.S. government to prevent and respond to conflict. The bill cuts funds for Food for Peace by 36 percent, Migration and Refugee Assistance by 41 percent , and The Civilian Stabilization Initiative by 74 percent. The bill completely eliminates the Complex Crises Fund, which has enabled the U.S. to respond to situations at risk for mass atrocities. These cuts cripple the U.S. ability to engage in conflict prevention, and pose a serious risk for the lives of civilians in countries such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Immediate action is needed to prevent these life-threatening cuts.
Call 1-800-GENOCIDE to urge your Representative to vote NO on the appropriations bill unless these programs are restored, and go to STAND’s to learn more about the 25 Years and Counting initiative. Use your voice to encourage the U.S. government to take further steps to increase the country’s ability to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities.
- “Senate Unanimously Passes Resolution on Genocide Prevention”, Genocide Intervention Network blog, 24 December 2010: http://www.genocideintervention.net/blog/senate_unanimously_passes_resolution_genocide_prevention
- “Never Again… 25 Years Later”, of Peace and Politics, 10 February 2011: http://ofpeaceandpolitics.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/never-again-25-years-later/
- “Prevention and punishment are key — 60th anniversary of the Genocide Convention”, UN OHCHR, December 2008: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/GenocideConvention.aspx
- “On This Day: U.S. Fully Adopts Genocide Convention”, Enough Project blog, 9 December 2010: http://www.enoughproject.org/blogs/day-un-adopts-genocide-convention
Written by Rosslyn Steinmetz