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Washington DC - President Obama’s announcement on Monday of the new interagency Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) represents a significant step forward in enhancing the US government’s capacity to prevent and respond to the world’s worst crimes, Oxfam America said today.
To date, a failure of coordination between agencies, poor foresight and an emphasis on large-footprint military options have handicapped the US government’s ability to appropriately deal with the threat of mass atrocities.
“The new APB is evidence that the Obama administration is fulfilling its promise to make genocide prevention a national priority for the United States,” said Scott Paul, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor at Oxfam America. “The Atrocities Prevention Board won’t be a silver bullet. But it has the potential to substantially increase America’s capacity to prevent, together with our international partners, the most flagrant, large-scale abuses of human rights.”
In August 2011, President Obama issued Presidential Study Directive 10, instructing the National Security Advisor to lead an interagency study to develop plans for a new Atrocities Prevention Board. According to the Directive, the Board is responsible for coordinating a whole of government approach to mass atrocities and strengthening civilian genocide prevention capacities.
"Policymakers have historically underinvested in civilian foreign policy tools. As a result, they have created the perception that US options for preventing large-scale deliberate violence against civilians are limited to sending in the military or standing by in silence,” Paul said. “That has long been a false choice: the reality is that the US government has a wide range of civilian and military tools other than full-scale military intervention at its disposal.”
Improving early warning systems, utilizing economic incentives, increasing diplomatic pressure, and shifting priorities for military and police training toward human rights, civilian leadership and rule of law principles are among the many useful tools in preventing mass atrocity situations that the Atrocities Prevention Board must take into consideration.
“The test for the Atrocities Prevention Board is whether, over the long-run, we’re better able to mobilize those tools and whether it is able to quickly and effectively focus the attention of high-level decision-makers on countries that threaten to descend into mass atrocities in the future.” Paul said.