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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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The New York Times
20 December 2008

Madeleine Albright and William Cohen are the former U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense, respectively, and co-chairs of the Genocide Prevention Task Force. This New York Times op-ed comes on the heels of the Genocide Prevention Task Force report, which was released on 8 December. Its goals were: (1) To spotlight genocide prevention as a national priority; and; (2) To develop practical policy recommendations to enhance the capacity of the U.S. government to respond to emerging threats of genocide and mass atrocities.

Some we see; others remain invisible to us. Some have names and faces; others we do not know. They are the victims of genocide and mass atrocities, their numbers too staggering to count.

This month was the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It has been 20 years since the United States became a party to the treaty. Despite six decades of efforts to prevent and halt systematic campaigns of massacres, forced displacements and mass rapes, such atrocities persist. Why are we still lacking the necessary institutions, policies and strategies?

It is not because the public doesnt care. We have seen a surge in interest in this country, galvanized by the crisis in Darfur and driven in large part by students and faith-based organizations. And it is not because our leaders do not care. Over the years, many champions in Congress and successive administrations have demanded more action to stop genocide. ()

Barack Obama should demonstrate at the outset of his presidency that preventing genocide is a national priority. No matter how one calculates American interests, national borders today provide little sanctuary from international problems. Left unchecked, genocide will undermine American security.

First, genocide fuels instability usually in weak, undemocratic, corrupt states. It is in these states that we find terrorist recruitment and training, human trafficking and civil strife.

Second, genocide and mass atrocities have long-lasting consequences that go far beyond the states in which they occur. Refugees flow into bordering countries and then across the globe. The need for humanitarian aid can quickly exceed the capacities and resources of a generous world. The international community, including the United States, is called on to absorb displaced people and to undertake relief efforts. And the longer we wait to act, the higher the price tag.

Third, Americas standing in the world is eroded when we are perceived as bystanders to genocide. Yes, we must understand that preventing mass killings may eventually require military intervention, but this is always at the end of the list of intervention options, not the beginning. We must learn to recognize the early warning signs of genocide and move quickly to marshal international cooperation, to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear against those who violate the norms of civilized behavior. ()

We are keenly aware that the incoming presidents agenda will be daunting from Day One. But preventing genocide and mass atrocities is not an idealistic addition to our core foreign policy agenda. It is a moral and strategic imperative.

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