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White House Delivers Update on Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention Efforts

President Barack Obama speaks at the Museum in April 2012. US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Just over one year since President Obama came to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to announce a wide-ranging strategy for preventing genocide and mass atrocities, the White House released a fact sheet (external link) as an update on the progress of these efforts.

As the fact sheet illustrates, preventing the world’s worst crimes requires a broad set of policies and actions.

To organize and coordinate these activities across government, the administration created the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) to act as a nerve center, a key recommendation of the 2008 report by the Museum-cosponsored Genocide Prevention Task Force. In addition, the fact sheet demonstrates efforts to: ensure early warning of at-risk situations around the world; increase pressure on perpetrators and enablers of mass atrocities through sanctions and other mechanisms; build capacity at home and abroad to carry out preventative actions; and deny impunity for those who commit atrocities by supporting accountability efforts.

The goal of the administration’s strategy is to make genocide and mass atrocity prevention part of the regular functioning of the US government. There are many tools available to policy makers and leveraging the right combination of prevention tools is most effective when they are used before the killing of civilians begins. By creating an organic process across different agencies involved in prevention, it will increase the ability to take action “before the wood is stacked or the match is struck,” as former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said when she spoke at the Museum last year.

As Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken noted on April 29 during a discussion at the Museum’s 20th anniversary celebration, establishing processes may not seem particularly important or innovative to those outside government. However, the APB is, in his words, a “major innovation,” precisely because it calls for regular examination of the risk of genocide and mass atrocities by agencies across the government that have the ability to take early action. One year since the creation of a government-wide prevention strategy, the administration has made important changes that should help prevent future crimes and can point to some notable successes. However, currently unfolding mass atrocities indicate that this work is far from over.