By Sarah MargonEarlier today, on the heels of Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Obama gave a long-awaited speech on the U.S. government response to genocide and atrocities prevention. It was a remarkable speech that illustrated the unprecedented attention this administration — and this President in particular — has paid to addressing atrocities around the globe. Specifically, Obama’s speech illustrated the central role civilian protection has played within his foreign policy by noting that “national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your own people” — whether in Libya or Cote D’Ivoire.
The President outlined a number of important initiatives geared toward creating a more cohesive and effective government-wide strategy to combat atrocities. Some of these initiatives have been underway for some time — including the creation of the first-ever White House position dedicated to preventing and addressing war crimes and atrocities or the visa-ban issued to ensure human rights abusers do not enter the United States.
One of the newer initiatives the President announced today was the formal establishment of the Atrocities Prevention Board, or APB, created under the 2010 Presidential Study Directive which declared mass atrocities and genocide to be a “core national security interest and core moral responsibility.” The APB, comprised of senior government officials across nearly a dozen government agencies, will meet regularly to help identify and address atrocity threats. It will also help manage the governmental bureaucracy — and recommend any necessary changes –- to ensure a more effective and cohesive response. With its inaugural meeting later today, the APB emphasizes the centrality of atrocities prevention within President Obama’s foreign policy agenda.
Another notable new initiative is an executive order that authorizes sanctions and visa bans against those who commit or facilitate grave human rights abuses through information technology. For now this executive order is specifically related to the ongoing brutality in Syria and Iran but there is great potential for expansion, particularly because these sanctions target not just governments but companies who enable such abuse.