August 4, 2011
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today welcomed the White House announcement of a new presidential directive (external link) aimed at strengthening the U.S. government’s ability to prevent genocide and mass atrocities.
“This directive has the potential to save countless lives in the future,” said Tom Bernstein, Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. “Tragically, during the Holocaust, no such mechanisms existed, and in the many decades since then, the United States and other governments have lacked the policies, structures and political will to prevent such unspeakable crimes from being committed again. Today’s presidential directive is an important step that the U.S. is taking toward realizing the vision of Never Again,” he continued.
In the Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities, President Obama noted that “sixty-six 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 directive seeks to address this through the creation of a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board. This board would have the authority to develop prevention strategies and assure that threats of genocide are elevated to the very top levels of the government. The president also recognized that preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a “core national security interest” of the United States.
“We are gratified by the recognition that stopping genocide is not only a moral imperative but a crucial element of U.S. national security interests. Taking such a bold step firmly establishes America’s leadership in the world on this critical issue,” said Michael Chertoff, Chairman of the Committee on Conscience that directs the Museum’s genocide prevention program, and a former secretary of Homeland Security.
Such a presidential statement and a new interagency process for preventing mass atrocities were key recommendations of the 2008 Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF) co-chaired by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, and convened by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. Institute of Peace and The American Academy of Diplomacy. The co-chairs today issued a statement commending the directive.
Other recommendations of the Task Force, a nonpartisan group of policy experts and former government officials, that have been adopted include the creation of a high-level position in the White House on mass atrocities, greater planning for mass atrocities at the Pentagon and State Departments and increased focus on threats of genocide in the intelligence communities.
Bernstein commended the Administration for taking the GPTF recommendations seriously but also noted that the true test will come in making sure a strong Atrocities Prevention Board is not only created, but that it is effectively used to address future threats of genocide. “We are hopeful that the new structure will give this and future administrations the tools they need to prevent mass atrocities, and that they will wisely use them to save lives—which is the ultimate test,” he said.
Part of follow up efforts to the GPTF is the working group on the Responsibility to Protect, also co-sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the U.S. Institute of Peace, along with the Brookings Institution, and co-chaired by Madeleine Albright and former Special Envoy to Sudan, Ambassador Richard Williamson.
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Federal support guarantees the Museum’s permanent place on the National Mall, and its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.