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Preventing Genocide: A Conversation with Susan Rice

Last night in a special program at the Museum, Ambassador Susan Rice, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, made clear that the U.S. government has adopted benchmarks by which it will measure whether Sudan is making progress in meeting humanitarian and other obligations -- and they will be assessed quarterly. There has been some ambiguity about whether such benchmarks existed. The benchmarks are very specific and have been agreed on by "the highest officials, including the President of the United States, and by us at the principals level," Rice said. The status quo in Sudan, Rice insisted, was inherently unacceptable. Asked whether there had been consequences for the perpetrators in Darfur, Rice replied, "Not enough."

Marking UN Human Rights Day, the discussion at the Museum came at a meaningful time. Earlier in the day, during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, President Obama had spoken about the realities of achieving peace and vowed, "When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo or repression in Burma -- there must be consequences." This week also marked the adoption of the 1948 Genocide Convention, and the one-year anniversary of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, which the Museum convened with the U.S. Institute of Peace and The American Academy of Diplomacy.

The final report of the Task Force offered a blueprint for improving U.S. government response to threats of genocide and mass atrocities. Reflecting about her experiences on President Clinton's National Security Council in April 1994, as genocide swept Rwanda and Clinton's administration failed to act, Susan Rice spoke of the lessons she'd learned for improving government response:  

“I've often reflected that our greatest failure in the U.S. government -- and I think, frankly more broadly -- was not that we ever took a decision not to act. It was that we never confronted the question... Now that I am at the principals table, as opposed to a junior staffer, I think it's my responsibility and that of my colleagues and those in leadership responsibilities and in Congress and the public and the media to demand answers to those questions and not allow them to be unasked or unanswered.”

Visiting the Museum's new interactive installation From Memory to Action: Meeting the Challenge of Genocide before the event, Ambassador Rice wrote her pledge to help meet the challenge of genocide: "Speak the truth." And doing so loudly and emphatically, especially when it most matters.