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

How Will New U.S. Sanctions Impact Syria’s Conflict?

How Will New U.S. Sanctions Impact Syria’s Conflict?

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

By: Mona Yacoubian

After nearly a decade of civil war and strife, Syria’s long-troubled economy is in tatters with spiraling hyperinflation, food shortages, and widespread unemployment. The Syrian pound has less than a fifth of the currency’s value from this time last year. These economic woes have led to new protests in areas long controlled by the regime. Amid this economic turmoil, the U.S. Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act comes into force today, targeted at key internal and external pillars of support for the Assad regime. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian looks at what led to the economic collapse, how the regime is responding to the protests, and the implications of the new U.S. sanctions.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment; Global Policy

Coronavirus and ISIS: The Challenge of Repatriation from Al-Hol

Coronavirus and ISIS: The Challenge of Repatriation from Al-Hol

Thursday, May 28, 2020

By: Julia C. Hurley

It was just over a year ago, in March of 2019, that the United States and coalition forces declared the territorial defeat of ISIS following the fall of its last stronghold in Baghouz, Syria. Male fighters over 15 were placed in Kurdish run detention centers throughout northeast Syria, while tens of thousands of women and children who were living among the terrorist organization streamed into the al-Hol camp, giving rise to an unprecedented mix of humanitarian and security challenges. If left unaddressed, the camp could easily serve as the breeding ground for the next generation of ISIS, which is already beginning to reemerge in parts of Syria and Iraq.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Health; Violent Extremism

After Nine Years, Syria’s Conflict Has Only Become More Complicated

After Nine Years, Syria’s Conflict Has Only Become More Complicated

Thursday, March 12, 2020

By: Mona Yacoubian

In March 2011, as the Arab world was roiled by demonstrations, protests broke out in Syria to demand political reform after four decades of Assad rule. Nine years later, the Assad regime is on the offensive against the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, with Russia, Turkey and Iran all heavily invested in the conflict. The humanitarian consequences for Syrians cannot be overstated and a political solution to conflict seems as distant as ever. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian discusses the dreadful toll on the Syrian population and what the battle for Idlib means for the trajectory of the conflict.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Human Rights

View All Publications