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On Thursday, the White House announced some positive news in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities. The administration plans to create a new interagency Atrocities Prevention Board that will coordinate a comprehensive government approach to prevent mass atrocities and genocide . The board —whose exact authority, mandate, and structure will be under interagency review over the next months —will begin functioning within 120 days, according to the presidential directive announcing its creation.
With the creation of the new board, the Obama administration is taking an important step in fulfilling its own strategy that was laid out in May 2010, which recognized that the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide is central to U.S. national security.
The establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board will increase the number of policy options available to the U.S. government, and allow the administration to act more robustly to prevent, rather than just react to mass violence. The directive said:
Governmental engagement on atrocities and genocide too often arrives too late, when opportunities for prevention or low-cost, low-risk action have been missed. By the time these issues have commanded the attention of senior policy makers, the menu of options has shrunk considerably and the costs of action have risen.
In the face of a potential mass atrocity, our options are never limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing. The actions that can be taken are many, they range from economic to diplomatic interventions, and from non combat military actions to outright intervention. But ensuring that the full range of options is available requires a level of governmental organization that matches the methodical organization characteristic of mass killings.
President Obama also issued a proclamation on Thursday that will ban the entry of individuals into the U.S. who have participated in “widespread or systematic violence” against civilians, or have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, or other “serious violations of human rights.”
In an Enough Project press statement applauding these presidential initiatives, Co-Founder John Prendergast said, “This is a crucial step by the Obama administration to institutionalize a more proactive response to mass atrocities. The test of course will be in the specific cases, but without the structural policy framework, the response to specific cases is much more idiosyncratic and unpredictable.”
Enough Executive Director John Bradshaw said that by creating an interagency board, the administration is making a concrete statement that preventing mass atrocities and genocides is a core national security interest. “This is a historic step forward, but the Board will only fulfill its potential and have real impact on the ground in areas beset by violent conflict if it involves the most senior decision-makers,” he cautioned.
Photo: President Obama