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Obama administration takes historic step to prevent world's worst crimesAug 08, 2011
Washington, D.C. – Today’s signing of a new directive by President Obama is a major step forward in US efforts to prevent some of the world’s worst crimes, signaling that atrocity prevention is a core national security and moral goal of the United States.
Historic underinvestment in civilian foreign policy instruments and the prioritization of narrow interests over the rights of others have left the current president with few tools at his disposal to effectively protect civilians around the globe. The directive initiates an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board made up of officials from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and other agencies. Members of the board will help development strategies and tools the president can use to make the US response to atrocities and politically driven humanitarian catastrophes quicker and more comprehensive.
“This is a first step toward truly turning a corner and creating effective means for the US to respond to genocide and mass atrocities,” said Scott Stedjan, senior policy advisor for humanitarian response at Oxfam America. “This directive makes clear that the Obama administration is serious about developing the tools and strategies required to prevent massive human rights abuse.”
The number of civilians living under constant threat of armed conflict and massive human rights abuse is stunning. The Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, has lost eight percent of its people to conflict and the deadly hunger and disease it has unleashed. If the United States lost a similar proportion of civilians, 25 million people, approximately the population of Texas, would have died. While the new directive is a step in the right direction, it will take more than political will to proactively prevent such conflict and genocide in places like the DRC.
“Policymakers who promise of ‘never again’ after a tragedy unfolds must begin to put their money where their mouth is and invest in prevention,” said Stedjan. “President Obama has rightly set the goal for us and now the American people must demand that the administration develop effective strategies and Congress follows through and funds atrocity prevention strategies developed by the administration.”
To build effective US capacities to prevent atrocities, Oxfam America recommends that the interagency process and Congress start by investigating the need to:
1) Invest in police training capacities. Police in foreign countries are the front line for protecting civilian populations and preventing atrocity crimes. In places like Afghanistan, Chad, and southern Sudan, the lack of effective and accountable state security forces creates a vacuum often filled by armed groups and a steady flow of weapons.
2) Establish and fund flexible spending accounts for USAID and State Department. The vast majority of US government funding to countries at risk of atrocities and mass human rights abuse is earmarked and inflexible. The US government must have the capability to quickly inject funds to help countries stave off insecurity that could lead to mass abuse.
3) Prioritize the development of a global treaty on the arms trade, which will stop arms from being used for atrocities by regulating the flow of weapons based on accepted principles of inter¬national humanitarian and human rights law.
Note to editors: For more information on the new directive and atrocity prevention, see Preventing Mass Atrocities.