On April 23, 2012, President Obama announced the formation of the Atrocities Prevention Board and other steps to help the United States prevent and respond to mass atrocities. USIP’s Jonas Claes discusses the impact these initiatives will have on U.S. atrocity prevention efforts.

April 23, 2012

On April 23, 2012, President Obama announced the formation of the Atrocities Prevention Board and other steps to help the United States prevent and respond to mass atrocities. USIP’s Jonas Claes discusses the impact these initiatives will have on U.S. atrocity prevention efforts.

What is the significance of President Obama’s announcement for the U.S. Government’s atrocity prevention policy?

Since the Rwandan genocide, consecutive U.S. administrations have expressed their frustration about our collective ill-preparedness to prevent genocide and mass atrocity crimes. In today's speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, President Obama confirmed that atrocity prevention is "a core national security interest and core moral responsibility." The President's speech outlined an unprecedented effort to institutionalize normative commitments to atrocity prevention by creating a high-level interagency Atrocities Prevention Board, the APB, under the chairmanship of the National Security Council’s Senior Director of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Samantha Power. The Board will meet on a monthly basis, starting today, with rotating attendance by senior representatives across the relevant Departments at the Assistant Secretary level or higher. Apart from identifying threats, the Board will oversee the development and implementation of atrocity prevention and response policy. The President's announcement also represents an important step in the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect at the national level.
 
How can this new interagency board contribute to the prevention of atrocities on the ground? Will the new board be able to prevent future Syria-type situations?
 
The creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board will not result in the immediate cessation of ongoing atrocities. Recent events in Syria and Sudan reveal once again that atrocity prevention is extremely challenging. Particularly when a country’s political or military leadership is responsible for the atrocities, the international community may have limited leverage to alleviate the humanitarian burden within the existing international legal frameworks. Addressing early signs of atrocities in countries that do not make the headlines may present an even more daunting challenge for the Board. Over the long-term, the APB may enable the U.S. Government to move away from its traditional ad hoc approach to imminent or ongoing atrocities. When confronted with a specific atrocity context, the Board will assess the utility of available tools at the national and international level to present senior decision-makers with a range of integrated and timely response options. In addition, new tools will be introduced, including targeted sanctions against those using information technology to commit grave human rights abuses. It remains to be seen how the APB will operate in practice, but its plans to link its risk assessments with the development of interactive preventive strategies and train civilian and military personnel on an interagency basis would represent a significant step forwards.
 
How does this initiative relate to the work of the Genocide Prevention Task Force and the U.S. Institute of Peace?
 
The Atrocity Prevention Board is a direct result of the Genocide Prevention Task Force's recommendation to create 'a dedicated, high-level interagency committee'. Following their inaugural session at the White House, the APB members emphasized the role of early warning mechanisms and multilateral approaches, and announced the development of new doctrine and planning efforts by the Departments of State and Defense and within the intelligence community, steps and themes that echo the recommendations of the GPTF.
 
As a follow-up to the work of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, the U.S. Institute of Peace continues its efforts to enhance the U.S. capacity to respond to emerging threats of mass atrocities through its Working Group on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), co-chaired by former Secretary Madeleine K. Albright and Ambassador Richard Williamson. Jointly organized by the United States Institute of Peace, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Brookings Institution, this Working Group seeks to increase understanding of R2P and identify concrete steps to bolster the political will of U.S. decision-makers to respond in a timely manner to threats of mass atrocities. The U.S. Institute of Peace will also continue to support relevant actors within the U.S. Government and the U.N. system in the development and fine-tuning of tools for the prevention of violent conflict and mass atrocity crimes.

Related Publications

With Syria’s Last Aid Crossing on the Line, Can U.S., Russia Make a Deal?

With Syria’s Last Aid Crossing on the Line, Can U.S., Russia Make a Deal?

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

By: Mona Yacoubian

A crucial deadline that will determine the future of humanitarian aid to Syria looms this week, as the authorization for the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkey-Syria border expires on July 10. The crossing is the last with a U.N. mandate allowing aid to be delivered directly, without having to first go through the Assad regime in Damascus. While Washington has been insistent that the crossing should remain open, with a senior official calling it a matter of “life and death,” Moscow has said the cross-border aid undermines Syria’s sovereignty. Russia has used its veto power in the Security Council to prevent extensions of three other such aid crossings.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy; Human Rights

Despite the Sham, Syria's Election is Still Significant

Despite the Sham, Syria's Election is Still Significant

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

By: Mona Yacoubian

In the face of international pushback, the Assad regime is going forward with plans for a presidential election on May 26. While the outcome is in no way uncertain — Assad will win amid deeply unfair election practices — the decision to proceed with the vote has major implications for international efforts to resolve the decade-long civil war. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian looks at how the election might affect the situation on the ground in Syria, what it means for the U.N.-backed Geneva peace process and how the Assad regime’s renewed stranglehold on power could affect regional tensions and U.S. interests.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Democracy & Governance

What Can We Learn from Syria’s Devastating Decade of War?

What Can We Learn from Syria’s Devastating Decade of War?

Monday, March 15, 2021

By: Mona Yacoubian

As the Syrian conflict marks its 10th anniversary, the protest movement from which it emerged stands as perhaps the most consequential of the Arab uprisings. The March 2011 peaceful protests that erupted across Syria have since evolved into the world’s most complex conflict. Equally significant, the conflict’s trajectory provides important insights into the complexity of the challenges that lie ahead in Syria, with significant ramifications for the region and the broader international community.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

What is Russia’s Endgame in Syria?

What is Russia’s Endgame in Syria?

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

By: Mona Yacoubian

Five years into Russia’s military intervention in Syria, understanding Moscow’s endgame could provide critical insights into the decade-long conflict’s trajectory, as well as Russia’s posture in the Middle East and beyond. Although still evolving and subject to internal debates, Moscow’s Syria strategy appears to be centered on a “spheres of influence” model. In this model, Syria is divided into distinct realms under the sway of competing external patrons.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications