Friends Committee on National Legislation – 2011-09-10 22:58:17
(September 1, 2011) — Millions of people around the world live with the constant threat of armed conflict and human rights abuses.
Eight percent of the people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have perished from the violence, hunger, and disease that have accompanied ongoing war there. Civilians in Rwanda, the Balkans, and Darfur have also been killed in mass campaigns in the past 25 years. More recently, deadly violence erupted in Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Cote d’Ivoire.
The international community shares a global responsibility to help prevent mass atrocities and genocide. However, US policymakers all too often return to the promise of “never again” only after innocent lives are lost. If the United States is to effectively help protect civilians from such violence, adequate political will must be coupled with the tools and structures to identify emerging crises and implement effective policy before the killing starts.
On the eve of NATO’s 1998-1999 military campaign in Kosovo, the former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, observed, “What we are doing to our diplomatic capacities is criminal… By slashing them, we are less able to avoid disasters such as Somalia or Kosovo and therefore we will be obliged to use military force still more often.”
Unfortunately, since then Congress has radically increased US military spending to unprecedented levels and continued under-funding civilian agencies like the State Department and US Agency for International Development, crippling the US government’s ability to help prevent atrocities before violence erupts.
What Can the United States Do?
In 2008, the bipartisan Genocide Prevention Task Force led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen found significant gaps in US policy and abilities to help prevent atrocities and offered a blueprint for improvements. Some of their recommendations have been implemented, yet the practical policy steps needed to shift US policy from late military reaction to early prevention have not been taken.
Thanks to the work of FCNL and other organizations, though, Congress is beginning to act. In December 2010, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution (S. Con. Res. 71) calling for the US to improve capacities for helping prevent genocide and mass atrocities.
Congress now needs to pass binding legislation to ensure lasting changes in policy and government capacities. FCNL is leading a growing coalition of human rights, humanitarian, religious, student, and other groups that are lobbying for such a billâ€™s passage.
What Can Congress Do?
The gaps in US capacities to prevent atrocities are well-documented. Congress should pass legislation that would build better early warning systems, improve training and capacities of the US diplomatic corps, invest foreign assistance dollars to address root causes of conflict, support other countries in building effective civilian police and justice systems, and engage with international partners in preventive peacekeeping initiatives.
â€¢Early Warning Systems: US government agencies should be better able to help detect potential atrocities and support effective preventive action earlier rather than later. When diplomats and analysts flag troubling circumstances, relevant agencies should quickly begin a policy review and discuss response options.
The review should analyze the situation and coordinate with international partners to consider preventive options. Congress should be made aware of brewing crises as early as possible. The congressional foreign affairs committees need effective mechanisms for considering preventive options as well.
â€¢Diplomacy: Presently, the US diplomatic corps is under-funded and poorly equipped for addressing global problems. The United States needs to provide better training, incentives, and support for Foreign Service officers and State Department personnel and assign these diplomats more effectively. Training in conflict prevention and resolution, early warning, mediation, negotiation, post-conflict recovery, and multilateral cooperation should be broadly available and required for advancement to senior diplomatic posts.
â€¢Development Aid: Years of underinvestment, the prioritization of short-term political interests, and a maze of overlapping authorities and programs have left US foreign assistance in disarray. Effective development aid can help strengthen weak countries, support programs to reduce tensions, empower local civil society, and reduce the appeal of violent extremists. This can only happen if development aid is managed and sent to emphasize local civilian leadership and help mitigate existing conflicts.
â€¢Civilian Rule of Law: For countries with the political will to prevent mass atrocities, civilian security assistance is essential to help them protect their people. Unfortunately, US security assistance is more focused on military training than on building responsible civilian police and supporting the rule of law and reconciliation. Congress should refocus security aid to support effective local justice mechanisms and keep weapons out of the hands of human rights abusers.
â€¢International Cooperation: The United Nations routinely struggles to cobble together funding needed for an effective peacekeeping or peacebuilding mission. Regional organizations such as the African Union face even greater resource challenges. The United States should pay all its U.N. dues on time and in full and do its fair share to make multilateral peace operations more effective at protecting civilians and preventing deadly conflict before it erupts.
Strengthening all of these tools — early warning systems, diplomacy, development aid, security assistance, and international cooperation — would better position the US government to work with the global community to prevent atrocities.
What Can You Do?
Write your senators. Thank them for passing S. Con. Res. 71 last year, if they were in Congress, and ask them to support introduction and passage of comprehensive genocide and mass atrocities prevention legislation in the 112th Congress. Organize a letter-writing event with your local church, meeting, or community group. For more information and resources, contact Mary Stata.