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Samantha Power, Obama's anti-genocide advisor, unveils new "Atrocities Prevention Board"

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WASHINGTON---The Obama White House issued new measures on Friday to prevent genocides and mass atrocities, creating an "Atrocities Prevention Board" in the wake of the failure of the "Never Again" vow taken following the German Holocaust to stop the murders of entire populations.

Obama's directive forming the board states: "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America." The directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities. The directive recognizes that preventing mass atrocities is a responsibility that all nations share and that other countries must also be enlisted to respond to particular crises. Therefore, the directive calls for a strategy for engaging key regional allies and partners so that they are prepared to accept greater responsibility for preventing and responding to crimes against humanity."

The Obama White House efforts to address genocide is headed by Samantha Power, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. Power won a Pulitizer Prize for her book, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide"and worked briefly for President Obama when he was a U.S. senator from Illinois.

.Excerpt from an essay at WhiteHouse.gov by Power and David Pressman, Director for War Crimes and Atrocities.


"First, governmental engagement on atrocities and genocide often arrives late, when opportunities for prevention have been missed. Second, senior decision-makers are often not personally engaged because there is a government-wide assumption that there is little that can or will be done. And third, too few other international players step up to try to prevent atrocities, and come under little domestic pressure to do so. As a result, too often, we and the rest of the international community have later regretted not taking diplomatic, political, economic, legal, and military steps that might have prevented the loss of tens of thousands of lives."


Below, the Power/Pressman essay:

In the decades since the world first pledged "never again," the U.S. response to mass atrocities and genocide has confronted several challenges. First, governmental engagement on atrocities and genocide often arrives late, when opportunities for prevention have been missed. Second, senior decision-makers are often not personally engaged because there is a government-wide assumption that there is little that can or will be done. And third, too few other international players step up to try to prevent atrocities, and come under little domestic pressure to do so. As a result, too often, we and the rest of the international community have later regretted not taking diplomatic, political, economic, legal, and military steps that might have prevented the loss of tens of thousands of lives. In 2008 the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretaries Madeleine K. Albright and William Cohen, found that preventing genocide was an "achievable goal" but one that required a degree of governmental organization that matches the kind of methodical organization that accompanies mass-killings.

This week, President Obama directed a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States' ability to prevent mass atrocities. The President's directive states plainly that: "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America." The directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities. The directive recognizes that preventing mass atrocities is a responsibility that all nations share and that other countries must also be enlisted to respond to particular crises. Therefore, the directive calls for a strategy for engaging key regional allies and partners so that they are prepared to accept greater responsibility for preventing and responding to crimes against humanity.

Over the past two years, the Obama Administration has devoted enormous time and energy to better equipping our Government, and the international community as a whole, to be able to respond meaningfully to potential (and actual) atrocities. He is the first president to establish a position at the White House responsible for policy on war crimes and mass atrocity. In Sudan, we launched a full court diplomatic press that helped ensure that the South Sudan referendum occurred on time, thereby preventing the outbreak of mass violence that would have accompanied a delay. In Kyrgyzstan, through engagement at the highest levels, we helped bring about the creation of a formidable international commission of inquiry to investigate the causes of the ethnic killings there and to prevent relapse into conflict. In Cote d'Ivoire, we facilitated a robust international effort to protect civilians, while maintaining firm resolve that strong-man Laurent Gbagbo had to step down. In Libya, as civilians were being targeted by their own leader for ruthless attack, we mobilized - with unprecedented speed -- an international coalition, operating with a mandate from the Security Council and at the request of the Libyan people and the Arab League, to protect civilians endangered by Qadhaffi. When indicators of a potential relapse into conflict emerged around the constitutional referendum in Kenya, we worked with international partners and Kenyan leaders to support a peaceful and credible process.

We know that often holding those who have carried out mass atrocities accountable is at times our best tool to prevent future atrocities. As such, we have engaged in an intensive effort to create a variety of international mechanisms charged with uncovering the facts and identifying those responsible for gross human rights abuses in Syria, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Cote d'Ivoire, and have announced our commitment to accomplish the same in Burma. We have also intensified our focus on finding the world's most wanted fugitive war criminals, mobilizing interagency focus and resources towards apprehending those who must face justice. We offered our full support to the Government of Serbia as it successfully pursued the final remaining fugitives from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, who were apprehended this year.

In addition to the Presidential directive, which makes clear the level of priority attached to preventing mass atrocity, we are taking another important step forward in our effort to hold accountable human rights abusers by, for the first time, barring entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in mass atrocities, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or other serious violations of human rights. Existing U.S. law renders specific classes of human rights violators inadmissible to the United States - such as participants in genocide, torture, or extra-judicial killings. However, before today, the United States did not have an explicit bar to admission on the basis of participation in other serious human rights or humanitarian law violations or atrocities. The President's Proclamation fills this gap, and by enumerating these grounds for denying admission to the United States, policymakers will have a new tool to warn groups that have carried out, or may be about to carry out crimes against humanity, war crimes, and related abuses , that their conduct falls within explicit standing bans on admission to the United States. As such, we will be able to more effectively shame those who are organizing widespread and systematic violence against civilians based on ethnicity, religion, or other protected characteristics. In banning would-be organizers of human rights violations as well as perpetrators, it allows the United States to act expeditiously before planned atrocities metastasize into actual ones.

We know that the steps this administration has taken are not panaceas to the horrifying violence being perpetrated around the world against civilians. Even today, we see violence against civilians from Syria to Sudan. But President Obama has directed us to scrub every option and bring as many levers as possible to bear in trying to influence the calculus of those promoting ethnic, religious and other forms of mass violence. The Obama administration takes very seriously its responsibility to do everything that we can to prevent atrocities, and -- with the President's Directive and his Proclamation barring human rights violators from entering the United States -- President Obama has given the US government two new tools in the effort to meet


Read the Fact Sheet

FACT SHEET: President Obama Directs New Steps to Prevent Mass Atrocities and Impose Consequences on Serious Human Rights Violators

"The United States is committed to working with our allies, and to strengthening our own internal capabilities, in order to ensure that the United States and the international community are proactively engaged in a strategic effort to prevent mass atrocities and genocide. In the event that prevention fails, the United States will work both multilaterally and bilaterally to mobilize diplomatic, humanitarian, financial, and--in certain instances--military means to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities."

-National Security Strategy of the United States, May 2010

President Obama is committed to strengthening the United States Government's ability to prevent mass atrocities and serious human rights violations. In 2010, he created the first-ever White House position dedicated to preventing and responding to mass atrocities and war crimes. And in Kyrgyzstan, Cote d'Ivoire, Libya, Sudan, and elsewhere, this Administration has prioritized the protection of civilians and the prevention of mass atrocity and serious human rights violations, and employed a wide range of economic, diplomatic, and other tools in service of those ends.

Today, President Obama is directing a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States' ability to prevent mass atrocities. The President's directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities. Today he is also issuing a proclamation that, for the first time, explicitly bars entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights.

The Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities, Presidential Study Directive-10 (PSD-10), is innovative and significant in several respects:

Presidential Prioritization. In PSD-10, President Obama finds that: "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America." He directs agencies to participate in a comprehensive assessment, led by the National Security Advisor, of how best to accomplish this national security imperative.

Organization Matters. The President notes that, "66 years since the Holocaust and 17 years after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide." The President orders the creation of an interagency Atrocity Prevention Board within 120 days from today so as to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to engaging "early, proactively, and decisively."

Full Toolbox. The President rejects the idea that, in the face of mass atrocity, our options are "limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing." He instructs his Administration to undertake a 100-day review - to take an "inventory" of the full range of economic, diplomatic, and other tools available to U.S. policymakers; to develop the appropriate governmental organization to try to ensure early and less costly preventive action; to improve the collection and processing of indicators of mass atrocity; to provide a channel for dissent to be raised during a crisis; and to appropriately train and prepare our diplomats, armed services, development professionals, and others.

A Global Responsibility. The directive recognizes that preventing mass atrocities is a responsibility that all nations share. Often other countries are better positioned than the United States to respond to particular crises or potential atrocities. Recognizing that the burden for preventing mass atrocities must be appropriately shared by other countries, the directive calls for a strategy for engaging key regional allies and partners so that they are prepared to accept greater responsibility for preventing and responding to crimes against humanity.

The President's proclamation makes two key contributions:

Closing gaps. The United States has long sought to ensure that our country does not become a safe haven for human rights violators or those responsible for other atrocities. Existing U.S. law renders certain human rights violators inadmissible to the United States - such as participants in genocide, torture, extra-judicial killings, or certain violations of religious freedom. However, before today, the United States did not have an explicit bar to admission on the basis of participation in serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law or other atrocities that do not otherwise fit into those categories specifically enumerated in the Immigration and Nationality Act. This proclamation fills this gap by expanding the grounds for denial of entry into the United States to cover a broader array of recognized violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. The proclamation will also cover participants in serious human rights violations, such as prolonged arbitrary detention, forced disappearances, slavery, and forced labor, as well as participants in widespread or systematic violence against civilians based on ethnicity or other grounds.

New deterrent. By enumerating these grounds for denying admission to the United States, policymakers will have a new tool to deter would-be organizers of atrocities, serious human rights violations, and related abuses. The President's proclamation empowers the United States to warn groups that have carried out, or may be about to carry out, serious human rights violations or grave atrocities that their conduct falls within explicit standing bans on admission to the United States. As such, we will be able to more effectively shame those who are organizing such conduct. The proclamation also bans admission to the United States for those who are complicit in organizing these abuses - not just those who carry them out. As such, it allows the United States to act before planned abuses and atrocities metastasize into actual ones.

The proclamation is being issued pursuant to the President's authority under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which authorizes the President to suspend entry into the United States of aliens whose entry "would be detrimental to the interests of the United States." There are currently seventeen 212(f) proclamations in effect, including Proclamation 8342 (2009), which suspends entry to foreign government officials responsible for failing to combat human trafficking, and Proclamation 7750 (2004), which suspends entry of persons engaged in or benefiting from corruption.


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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on August 8, 2011 9:17 AM.

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