One Step Closer to “Never Again”
Holocaust survivor, author and teacher Elie Wiesel died in 2016, but his legacy will live on through the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, signed into law in January. Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images
By Beth McDaniel
The world said “Never Again” after the Holocaust, but then 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days in Rwanda in the mid90’s, ethnic violence in Bosnia in 2005 and Darfur in 2003, which continues today. The world has witnessed the horrors of Syria for the past seven years, the genocide of the Iraqi Yazidis, and the ongoing genocide in Myanmar.
Clearly, good intentions and platitudes like “Never again” are not enough to prevent the deaths of millions over the past few decades alone. But something just happened that may put us closer to that goal.
While earlier versions of this act were introduced in previous congresses, dating back to 2011, President Donald Trump signed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act into law Jan. 14.
So, what does the law provide?
First and foremost, and very importantly, this new law provides that it is U.S. policy to regard the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes as a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility. Never before have we had this as a national policy.
The law provides for the establishment of an interagency Mass Atrocities Task Force and the training of Foreign Service officers in genocide prevention.
It recommends the Director of National Intelligence to review countries and regions at risk of atrocity crimes, pathways to violence, specific risk factors, potential perpetrators and at-risk target groups.
It establishes the Complex Crises Fund to support programs to prevent or respond to emerging atrocities, but not to be used for lethal purposes.
In short, this act is a blueprint for monitoring and responding to emerging crises that are likely to progress into mass atrocities. The response is diplomatic, pragmatic and extremely economical, as compared to the cost and effort required to respond to a mass atrocity after it has occurred. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, they say.
The act would send in mediators to help resolve tribal conflicts, or a trained Foreign Service presence on the ground in a country that is undergoing what we perceive to be a potentially violent election. With this law in place, the United States will have the capacity and initiative to react to powderkegs before they blow.
Individuals helped make this act a reality. Over the last seven years, people from the Austin community sent thousands of postcards in support of this law, or the versions that preceded it, to U.S. Senators and Congressmen. Austinites encouraged Rep. Michael McCaul to co-sponsor the act, which he did. Petitions were signed, sermons were made, students lobbied, social media was engaged. Yom Hashoah events recognized current genocides and made information available about ways to support this legislation, and community members put their thoughts and beliefs into action.
While this law is a win for the community and for the future, the enacted law is a watered-down version of the original, which included more specific interagency actions and an Atrocities Board. This bill, while far from perfect and stripped of most of its teeth, sets a good foundation. At a time in history when nationalistic policies are rising in the United States, this global-minded legislation received almost unanimous bipartisan support, and was signed into law by a conservative president.
The act is not the end of the fight and the community cannot be complacent about combating and preventing genocide and mass atrocities. However, it is still a significant step forward in having the political will and resources to intervene in conflicts before they become a mass atrocity. Bills like the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act, H.R.5273—115th Congress (2017-2018), are a great next step.
“America’s strength around the world is rooted in our values. It is in our national interest to ensure that the United States utilizes the full arsenal of diplomatic, economic, and legal tools to take meaningful action before atrocities occur,” said Senator Cardin, who introduced the bill in the Senate. “Tragically, these atrocities are happening today; we simply cannot wait to act. The Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act will help ensure that United States can do a better job of responding earlier and more effectively to these heinous crimes.” ■
Author Beth McDaniel is an activist with Pathways to Peace (formerly the Carl Wilkens Fellowship), an organization that advocates and builds political will to end and prevent genocide in the United States and around the world.