On July 24, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum released a fascinating poll on American attitudes toward genocide. According to the study, nearly 70% believed the U.S. should prevent or stop genocide or mass atrocities from occurring in another part of the world. The numbers are confirmation of the fact that Americans care about ending genocide and are willing for the United States government to take action to prevent atrocities.
The release was part of a symposium, Ending Genocide in the 21st Century, sponsored by the Holocaust Museum that brought together policymakers, experts and advocates. The conference featured a keynote address by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and discussion panels featuring notable academics and foreign policy practitioners. Participants took full advantage of social media by using the hashtag #endgenocide on Twitter. The topic even began trending in the United States.
The ongoing violence in Syria played a large role in the conversation, but Sudan and the Democratic Republic and Congo were also part of the discussion. At the event, there was a clear desire to learn from history—acknowledging past failures to respond to genocide in places like Bosnia and Rwanda—and a commitment to make “never again” a reality. As Secretary Clinton noted:
…despite all we have learned and accomplished in the last 70 years, “never again” remains an unmet, urgent goal. At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, we have seen campaigns of harassment and violence against groups of people because of their ethnic, racial, religious, or political backgrounds, and even some which aimed at the destruction of a particular group of people, fitting the definition of genocide.
In order to work toward the promise of “never again”, the symposium emphasized the development of structures and tools to raise the alarm early and enable action, ideally, well in advance of when violence is imminent. Since President Obama first announced genocide prevention efforts, like the establishment of the Atrocities Prevention Board and the Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities, the administration has continued its work to find ways to enhance early warning capacity, target perpetrators and coordinate with international partners.
In closing, Secretary Clinton acknowledged ongoing challenges, but was resolved that, together, change is possible:
Now we have laid out our course for turning our commitment into action, but we recognize the plan we have laid out leaves many questions to answer, many ideas still to be formulated, and innovations to devise. But I am convinced we can make progress together.
Pressure from anti-genocide advocates has been a critical force in bringing genocide and mass atrocity prevention to the forefront. While there’s certainly room for progress, it’s quite remarkable that both the President and Secretary of State have delivered speeches on genocide prevention in the past several months. We’re on the right path and, with continued support and advocacy, the United States and international community will continue toward the goal of a world without genocide.