from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

"Atrocity Prevention is a Core National Security Interest for the United States"

March 5, 2014

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Over in Geneva, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall gave a speech yesterday to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It’s available at the State Department web site under the title noted above.  Here is an excerpt.

I would like to focus my comments on an immense aspect of prevention with which the United States has long been concerned, and that is the prevention of mass atrocities. Atrocity prevention is a core national security interest for the United States. In 2012, our government formalized an institutional structure to bring together numerous government agencies and departments to address these issues, with the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board. Since its creation, the Atrocities Prevention Board has helped U.S. government policymakers identify and address atrocity threats, while overseeing deeper institutional changes that will make us more nimble and effective in addressing, and in some cases responding to, these threats in the future....

Our key to atrocity prevention is a whole-of-government approach, bringing together a wide range of experts from different government departments....In our work we focus on the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information on early-warning indicators and trends of mass atrocity risks. Each agency has its own tools and trainings at its disposal, to ensure that all of our officers in Washington, as well as in the field, are prepared to gauge situations and identify risks well before they escalate to violence, or to react to conflicts immediately and effectively.

All of that verbiage would be acceptable, even boring, had it been delivered in 2011 or even early 2012. In March 2014 it is quite shameless. For over in Syria, a place Ms. Sewall never mentions, the Obama administration has watched largely passively while 150,000 have been killed, including with chemical weapons, and six million made into refugees and displaced persons.

So her claim that the administration does "react to conflicts immediately and effectively" is astonishing. I suppose somebody had to address the "High-Level Dialogue With Relevant United Nations Entities on the Promotion of Preventative Approaches Within the UN System" yesterday, though why our ambassador to the UN in Geneva couldn’t do it is a mystery. It certainly sounds like one of the innumerable, endless, and largely worthless UN meetings that make that body a byword for inefficiency and waste. But Under Secretary Sewall used the occasion to make statements that must taste bitter indeed to any Syrian watching America do next to nothing while atrocities continue in his country.

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