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On October 13-15, the Stanley Foundation convened U.S. government officials and mass atrocities specialists for a discussion called “Structuring the US Government to Prevent Atrocities: Considerations for an Atrocities Prevention Board,” as part of its 52nd annual Strategy for Peace Conference. Two months prior, the Obama administration mandated the creation of a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), per the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force.

The participants concluded that the cases with which the APB would be faced would fall into one of two categories: “situations of high, imminent or ongoing risk that have already mobilized internal focus and high-level attention vs. slow burn or “over the horizon” crises that have yet to trigger high-level concern and a cohesive policy approach.” Accordingly, the APB’s role would differ depending on which type of crisis they were responding to; the group went on to identify other potential roles for the APB outside of crisis-specific engagement. Another focal point of the discussion was implementing the APB concurrently with the Department of State and USAID’s 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review in order to foster mutual reinforcement.

Also this month, the Stanley Foundation’s Rachel Gerber wrote an op-ed titled “Prevention: Core to the Responsibility to Protect,” in which she explains that the R2P principle is comprised of three pillars: 1) the primary responsibility of the state to protect its populations from four circumscribed mass atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes); 2) the concurrent responsibility of the international community to assist states in their efforts to do so; and 3) the responsibility of the international community to take collective action should national authorities fail to protect their populations from imminent or unfolding atrocities. R2P was formulated with the intention of preventing, and not solely responding to, mass atrocities. Gerber asserts that doing so requires a framework to be utilized throughout all phases of potential crisis—before crises emerge, as crises appear on the horizon, and following atrocities. While such a broad array of actions may not realistically fit into a single policy doctrine, it is imperative that R2P inform policy approaches across the crisis spectrum.

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To the applause of genocide prevention organizations nationwide, President Barack Obama today issued a study directive for the establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board, whose sole duty will be the development of policy aimed at preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocities.

This is a milestone achievement, as until now the United States has lacked effective interagency protocols for prevention and response.

Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation executive director Tibi Galis praised the Obama administration for recognizing the need for a “whole-of-government approach to engaging ‘early, proactively, and decisively.’ ”

The directive, rather than spelling out details, offers an outline of the new body’s duties. Stressing the need for an overarching, “whole of government” approach, the president ordered the development of an interagency protocol identifying the government agencies that will contribute to the board’s work.

Many of the directive’s provisions are heavily influenced by the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), formed to discuss and develop policy recommendations for the U.S. government. The 2008 report issued by the GPTF argued that genocide and mass atrocities “threaten core U.S. national interests.” President Obama, in his directive today, used similar language, positing prevention as a “core national security interest.”

The GPTF report called for early warning systems, attempts to prevent escalation of violence once begun or imminent, and long-term prevention initiatives. While Obama’s directive remained mainly in the realm of broad intentions, its framework seemed to echo the suggestions of the GPTF report.

The presidential initiative received an avalanche of praise from U.S. organizations working to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes.

“Finally, there is a concrete effort to put that rhetoric into action and create a standing prevention structure within the U.S. government,” Human Rights First president Elisa Massimino said.

Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, cochairs of the GPTF, said the project “if fully implemented should eventually save countless lives.”

The United States Institute for Peace, a co-convener of the GPTF (along with the American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), said it “welcome[d] the announcement” as a “needed step forward.”

The study directive gives the National Security Advisor 120 days to “develop and recommend the membership, mandate, structure, operational protocols, authorities, and support necessary for the Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and develop atrocity prevention and response policy.”

Photo: Oregonlive.com

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