Finally, a US Atrocities Prevention Strategy!
The genocide prevention community celebrated a significant victory in 2012 with the realization of the first ever national strategy for atrocities prevention and the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board to ensure that it is implemented. This fills a huge gap. As President Obama said when releasing a Presidential Study Directive on Atrocities Prevention in August 2011, “Sixty six years since the Holocaust and 17 years after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide.”
This progress is emblematic of a broader prioritization of the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide as “a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States”, a refrain confirmed in high-profile events by both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this year. In the coming year, anti-genocide activists look forward to the completion of an Executive Order further solidifying the APB as well as possible legislation to codify it into law.
As the famous Martin Luther King, Jr. quote goes, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. The year 2012 was a watershed year in international justice filled with firsts, as high-profile perpetrators of atrocities in the worst cases in recent history, from Sierra Leone to Srebrenica, finally faced justice.
Charles Taylor, the infamous former leader of Liberia, responsible for atrocities in Sierra Leone, became the first head of state convicted of egregious crimes by an international tribunal since the Nuremburg trials after World War II.
Thomas Lubanga, infamous for conscripting child soldiers in eastern Congo, became the first person convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which marked its 10th anniversary this year. [Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 brought unprecedented attention to another infamous perpetrator wanted by the ICC for similar crimes]
The ICC’s first Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo gave a strong final briefing to the UN Security Council calling on stronger measures to hold Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to account for charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. His successor, Fatou Bensouda, has taken up the torch with similarly strong criticism at the end of the year. [Despite the courts year-end failure to convict another Congolese war criminal, Matheiu Ngudjolo, it remains committed to pursuing justice.]
And the arc continues with Ratko Mladic, the so-called “Butcher of Bosnia” and three top leaders under Cambodia’s Pol Pot all facing trial for crimes against humanity in 2012. The year ends with the conviction of the last person to be tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, former government minister Augustin Ngirabatware, on charges of genocide.
From Syria to Sudan the so-called international community has brought into question whether there is anything of the sort. The UN Security Council, in particular, has exhibited a frustrating inability to unite to end violence against civilians in the worst places in 2012.
In Syria, over 40,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by ongoing and increasing violence, yet, Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions that would add pressure to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and Iran continues to provide money and weapons. With the coming winter, the added threat of the use of chemical weapons by an increasingly desperate regime, and the specter of revenge killings in a post-Assad Syria, 2013 does not bode well for the crisis.
In Sudan, nearly a million people have been displaced or severely affected by violence in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile and the Sudanese regime has continued indiscriminate aerial and ground attacks against civilians and maintained a blockage of humanitarian aid to the people most in need through the entirety of 2012. While the international community has shown greater unity in pushing agreements on Sudan, there has been little actual progress on the ground. The year 2013 will mark 10 years from the start of genocide in Darfur, where another 2 million people remain displaced, yet the same leaders remain welcomed abroad with impunity despite ICC arrest warrants for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
In many other places where civilians continue to suffer atrocities, including Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mali, the actions of the international community remain mixed.
The year 2012 will be remembered as one of both great progress and great frustration in the genocide prevention world. While there are more tools than ever before available for focusing on prevention and ensuring accountability, those tools are only as strong as the unity of the international community to bring them to bear. Here’s hoping that 2013 will move further in the direction of progress.