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USIP’s Lawrence Woocher on the New Steps to Prevent Genocide
United States Institute of Peace
4 August 2011
 
(…) USIP’s Lawrence Woocher discusses President Barack Obama’s major announcement Thursday on new steps to prevent mass atrocities, including the creation of an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board and other initiatives.
 
What will the interagency Atrocities Prevention Board do? What role will it play in policymaking?
 
The White House announcement states that the new board will “coordinate a whole-of-government approach to engaging ‘early, proactively, and decisively’” in situations at risk of mass atrocities. It remains to be seen how it will operate in practice, but one important role indicated in the White House announcement would be to link risk assessments with the development of interagency preventive strategies. No systematic process currently exists to fill this critical function. As a result, despite the benefits of preventive action, a reactive culture prevails. (…) Therefore, a more systematic and coordinated interagency approach should ensure that a fuller range of options are presented to senior decision-makers before crises become full blown. (…)
 
What are some implications of President Obama’s announcement to bar entry people who “organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights”?
 
Most directly, this proclamation will help ensure that the United States cannot be used as a haven for perpetrators of these heinous crimes since suspected perpetrators will be denied entry. (…)
 
Why is this being announced now? Any significance to the timing?
 
This initiative has been in the works for some months. Its timing is probably less the result of any specific world events than patient spade work behind the scenes combining with an opening in the president’s schedule. (…)
 
Are we “limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing” in the face of mass atrocity – or when we are on the brink of mass atrocity? That is, based on USIP research, what other tools exist that are less costly and effective?
 
Relevant preventive tools begin with risk assessment, early warning and other kinds of analysis; include long-term development initiatives such as support for inclusive governance institutions and the rule of law; diplomatic tools such as fact finding, sanctions and mediation; and military measures short of the use of force, such as peacekeeping, information operations and intensive surveillance. (…)
 
How does this White House initiative complement the work and findings of the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF)?
 
(…) President Obama’s unambiguous statement that “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America” is precisely the kind of clarity that the Task Force recommended.
 
There are several other themes in the presidential directive that echo findings of the GPTF and ongoing work by the Institute, including the need to improve the use of intelligence and early warning assessments to support policy development, to conduct “an inventory of existing tools and authorities across the government that can be drawn upon to prevent atrocities,” and to improve training for frontline practitioners of diplomacy, development and defense. (…)
 
Finally, why is prevention a global responsibility? How can the U.S. engage key regional allies, as the president’s directive requests?
 
The United States is just one of 140 states that has a legal obligation to “undertake to prevent” genocide, based on its ratification of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Furthermore, at the 2005 World Summit, all member states of the United Nations accepted the “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”—a concept known as “R2P.” (…)
 
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