Holding the U.S. Government Accountable in Preventing and Responding to Mass Atrocities
The White House submitted its first annual report to Congress as mandated by the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocity Prevention Act. The report details actions taken by the administration to “prevent, mitigate, and respond to mass atrocities.”
Now, we must hold our government accountable to effectively implement the law.
The Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act (P.L. 115-441), signed into law this past January, establishes coordination mechanisms, supports training, and provides resources to ensure that the U.S. takes a proactive approach to preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocities. Now, we must hold our government accountable to effectively implement the law.
The report, released on Sept. 12, undoubtedly outlines some positive contributions made by the U.S. government towards the prevention of mass atrocities. Despite these advancements, however, we are concerned by certain developments and believe that several key aspects should have been expanded:
- The report was released 61 days late. Congress should have received the report by July 13, 2019. We are concerned that the delay might indicate a similar disregard for the efforts behind the report, such as identification of early warning signs of mass atrocities. The U.S. government must ensure that the work of the Atrocity Early Warning Task Force is emphasized.
- The Atrocity Early Warning Task Force meets less frequently and has decreased involvement from administration leadership than its predecessor, the Atrocity Prevention Board. We are concerned that the removal of “prevention” from the title will lessen its importance to U.S. government personnel assisting prevention work. Because of decreased engagement, we are also concerned that the Task Force will have challenges in effectively monitoring and responding to abruptly shifting conditions.
- Atrocity prevention trainings should be expanded. While these trainings have been expanded beyond the minimum requirements of the act, Treasury and Homeland Security Department personnel should also have access to a comprehensive training program. These departments should collaborate with the State Department, the Defense Department, and USAID to develop this expanded training.
- The U.S. government should release a list of countries to focus their prevention and response efforts on. These identified countries should especially benefit from early intervention to reduce conflict and prevent further violence. Providing an accessible list is important for coordinating interagency responses and planning.
- While we appreciate U.S. government’s engagement with civil society organizations based out of Washington D.C., it is important to also include local non-governmental organizations and communities that U.S. embassies can work with in conflict areas.
- While the release of the first report marks a crucial first step, it should be considered a baseline for future improvement. To build on this report, the administration must ensure that staffing levels of essential personnel across the relevant agencies are increased and prioritize the safety of communities threatened by violence.
The Elie Wiesel Act sets a higher standard for the U.S. government in responding to and preventing mass atrocities and genocide. Diplomacy is key to prevention. We at FCNL are committed to working collaboratively with the administration to reduce violence, address the root causes of conflict, and support prevention work more holistically.