Stopping Third-Party Enablers of Mass Atrocities

Last week, Human Rights First published a briefing paper titled “Disrupting the Supply Chain for Mass Atrocities.” The paper discusses the role played by third-party governments, companies, and individuals in supporting the perpetrators of mass atrocities, and offers recommendations to target and stop those enablers.

The briefing comes in the wake of an interagency meeting coordinated by David Pressman—the National Security Staff’s Director of War Crimes, Atrocities, and Civilian Protection—to organize atrocities-prevention initiatives throughout the government, and identifies the roles each agency or department can play in the U.S. government’s efforts to deter enablers and prevent mass atrocities.

The paper notes that perpetrators of mass atrocities rarely have all the goods and services they need to carry out their plans of extermination, which means they must rely on outside supplies, especially of weapons, money, and fuel. While the perpetrators themselves may be isolated from the international community and therefore immune to outside pressure, third-party governments or commercial entities are often vulnerable to political and economic arm-twisting by other governments and multilateral institutions. Thus, inducing third-party actors not to support those who commit mass atrocities can do much to prevent atrocities, and a coordinated, whole-of-government approach can be very effective in accomplishing those goals.

The briefing urges the National Security Staff to provide leadership in coordinating the various agencies and departments to prevent mass atrocities by heading a robust interagency structure. Such a structure would pull together the initiatives pursued by each department into a comprehensive set of policies.

These are Human Rights First’s main recommendations:

  • The intelligence community should collect information not just on the perpetrators of mass atrocities, but also on the enablers, their roles, supply chains, and other relevant information. Such information may also shed light on other national security challenges like terrorism financing as well.
  • The Department of the Treasury should disrupt enablers by imposing sanctions and seizing assets of anyone who supports perpetrators of mass atrocities. While unilateral sanctions by the United States have been well enforced, UN sanctions need to be better enforced and more effective.
  • The Department of State can apply political pressure on enabling states through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, and embassies can play an important role in intelligence gathering. Formalizing the different State Department working groups on genocide prevention and clarifying their relationships to the National Security Staff will make the State Department’s efforts to defuse escalating atrocities more effective.
  • The Department of Defense would continue developing its Mass Atrocities Prevention and Response Operations (MAPRO) project and collect and disseminate useful intelligence.
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