Frequently Asked Questions:

What is Presidential Study Directive 10 (PSD-10)?
PSD-10 was an August 2011 directive by the President of the United States declaring the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide to be a “core national security interest and core moral responsibility” of the United States. PSD-10 ordered the creation of a Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). It also directed the National Security Advisor to lead a comprehensive review to assess the U.S. government’s anti-atrocity capabilities, and recommend reforms that would fill identified gaps in these capabilities.

What is the Atrocities Prevention Board and why does it matter?
The Atrocities Prevention Board is a new interagency body formed on April 23, 2012 to ensure that genocide and mass atrocity prevention are a priority at the highest levels of the U.S. government. It is meant to provide a comprehensive whole-of-government approach to identify and address atrocity threats and oversee institutional changes to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. The Atrocities Prevention Board seeks to fill a major gap in U.S. foreign policy. As President Obama explained when calling for the Board’s creation 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.” With PSD-10 and the new Atrocities Prevention Board, the U.S. government now has that framework.

Who is on the Atrocities Prevention Board?
The Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) is made up of representatives from several agencies including the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, and Homeland Security, the Joint Staff, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, The Central intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Vice President – all of whom are at the Assistant Secretary level or higher. It is chaired by the National Security Staff’s Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights.

How will the Atrocities Prevention Board work?
The Atrocities Prevention Board will meet at least monthly to oversee the development and implementation of policy to prevent and respond to atrocities. It will also meet on an ad hoc basis to deal with urgent situations as they arise. To ensure senior-level participation on the work of the APB, the Deputies will meet at least twice a year and Principals once a year to review the work of the APB. The Chair will report on this work annually in a memorandum to the President. After six months of operations, the Chair (in consultation with the Board) will begin preparation of a draft Executive Order for consideration by the President that will, as appropriate, publicly set forth the structure, functions, priorities, and objectives of the Board. It will also provide further direction for its work, and include further measures for strengthening atrocity prevention and response capabilities as identified.

What new tools did President Obama introduce for preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocities?
In addition to setting up the Atrocities Prevention Board, the review of U.S. government capabilities to prevent atrocities resulted in several new tools including:

  • Intelligence Report: First-ever National Intelligence Estimate on the global risk of mass atrocities and genocide
  • New Targeted Sanctions: New Executive Order authorizing sanctions and visa bans against those who commit or facilitate grave human rights abuses via information technology (“GHRAVITY sanctions”) in Syria and Iran
  • Visa bans: Visa ban denying perpetrators of serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law, or other atrocities, entry to the United States
  • Civilian Surge: Increased ability of the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to “surge” specialized expertise in civilian protection on a rapid response basis in crisis situations.
  • Military planning: An appendix on mass atrocity response operations will be included in the Joint Staff’s Joint Publication on Peace Operations and exercises for such situations will be routinely conducted.

What countries will the Atrocities Prevention Board be working on?
The APB met for the first time on April 23 followed by a consultation with non-governmental organizations. The countries that the APB is working on will change depending upon current crises and emerging threats. At present, given current conditions and recent statements, it is likely that the APB will cover the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Syria as well as pursuit of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa. It is also believed that the APB will focus on crises in their earlier stages—before widespread atrocities have broken out — in order to prioritize prevention.

What does the Atrocities Prevention Board mean for Sudan, Syria, or other places where atrocities are already taking place?
Internal U.S. government working groups dedicated to Syria and Sudan have been functioning well before the creation of the APB. While the APB will provide an additional high-level forum for addressing these crises, they will continue to be dealt with under current structures on a daily basis. The APB is meant to provide better early warning of situations that threaten to break out, to enhance policy coordination between various agencies, and to allow more tools to be applied earlier so that all steps can be taken to prevent crises from reaching the level of violence seen in Sudan and Syria.

Will this mean that the United States is more likely to intervene in crises, particularly militarily?
No. If the APB functions as intended, possible atrocity situations will be caught earlier. The sooner atrocity situations are recognized and addressed, the more policy options will be available and less drastic measures will be needed to stem violence. In practice, the APB may actually lessen the instances in which more robust intervention would be needed.

Another important aspect related to PSD-10 and the APB is an increased emphasis on civilian-based resources and tools. For years, insufficiently funded civilian agencies have lagged behind the military in terms of crisis response. By enhancing the capacity of agencies like the State Department and USAID, they will be better able to respond and shift the balance toward an increased emphasis on civilian tools.

How did the Atrocities Prevention Board come about?
The creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board can be traced back to a key recommendation of the Genocide Prevention Task Force chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. The Task Force report published in December 2008 called for the creation of an “Atrocities Prevention Committee”. In 2010, President Obama created the first-ever White House position dedicated to preventing and addressing war crimes and atrocities and in August 2011 President Obama released Presidential Study Directive 10 calling for the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board.

What does the Atrocities Prevention Board and new strategy mean for genocide prevention activists?
The APB and other new tools are a big victory for genocide prevention activists who sent hundreds of thousands of emails, made countless phone calls, hosted events, and pressed their members of Congress to pass a Senate Resolution on genocide prevention. However, this work is not yet done.

Continued support from activists is needed to ensure that the new structures and tools function as intended and are made permanent. As of right now, there is nothing that would mandate the continuation of the APB under future administrations. Even if the structure prevails, nothing will be done without the political will generated by those who care about preventing genocide and mass atrocities. Ultimately, the effectiveness of these efforts will depend on the anti-genocide community.

For further information see the White House Fact Sheet: A Comprehensive Strategy and New Tools to Prevent and Respond to Atrocities