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< Preventing Genocide

US Government and Atrocity Prevention: Policy, Process, and Practice

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The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, through the work of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, supports policy-relevant research into the causes, triggers, and responses to genocide and mass atrocities. The insights and lessons from this research help the Simon-Skjodt Center pursue its goals of stimulating timely global action, including by the US and other governments, to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities.  

We advance these research objectives through a number of complementary approaches and differing perspectives:

  • We engage former senior government officials soon after they depart to reflect on their experiences as government “insiders” to draw lessons, determine best practices, and create an informal record of the actions taken and processes followed so that future generations of scholars and officials can learn from these efforts and apply those lessons to future cases.
  • We support “deep dive” examinations of critical policy responses to genocide and mass atrocity, using first-person interviews with the policy makers involved, government archives, and public accounts to create a more complete understanding of particular cases to create “lessons learned” documents for future use and scholarship.
  • We enlist outside academics and researchers to evaluate government practices in responses to cases of genocide and mass atrocities to provide critical feedback to future generations of government officials and policy practitioners to improve future responses.

In 2017, the Center supported three fellowship projects to help learn lessons from recent US government experience:

  • An “after action” analysis of the Obama administration’s overall efforts to prevent mass atrocities by Stephen Pomper, former special assistant to the President and senior director for African affairs, multilateral affairs, and human rights at the National Security Council, where he chaired the Atrocities Prevention Board from 2013-2016;
  • An analysis of the growing nexus between atrocity prevention and counterterrorism and its implications for the use of force to protect civilians, by Colin Thomas-Jensen, former senior advisor to the US ambassador to the United Nations;
  • A policy brief that encourages closer connections in US international development policy between the atrocity prevention and fragile states agendas, by David Yang, former deputy assistant administrator at the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.

To facilitate wide ranging and ongoing debate for this growing field, the Center has compiled a partial list of other resources—reports by the Museum and other organizations, official government documents, academic papers, and public commentaries—on US government policy, process, and practice in specific cases.

Museum Reports

Since the release of the Genocide Prevention Task Force report in 2008, the Simon-Skjodt Center has conducted research about a wide range of topics related to the US government’s role in preventing mass atrocities and genocide, from analysis of specific cases like the Rwandan genocide and the conflict in Syria, to reports about the Atrocities Prevention Board and other mechanisms of atrocity prevention policy. These publications include:

Policy and Process

Practice in Specific Cases

US Government Resources

Different branches and agencies of the US government have developed official resources for policymakers and program officers responsible for preventing and responding to mass atrocity crises. Some of these resources are listed below:

Reports by Other Organizations

Think tanks and NGOs have taken the lead in evaluating new atrocity prevention tools and strategies. Since the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board, organizations like the Center for American Progress, the Global Public Policy Institute, and the Experts Committee on Preventing Mass Violence have recommended steps to improve US atrocity prevention policy. Some of these reports are listed below:

Academic Papers

Public Commentaries

Public commentators have also critiqued US atrocity prevention policy and offered recommendations for new and improved tools and strategies. Some of these opinion pieces are listed below: