Washington — President Obama has made preventing mass atrocities and genocide a core U.S. national security interest as well as a significant moral responsibility, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says.
Speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington July 24, Clinton said, “These crimes undermine stability in countries and across regions. They spark humanitarian crises and send refugees streaming across borders.”
Mass atrocities and genocide also reverse economic progress and stymie growth for generations; they create cycles of often bitter vengeance and retribution that can scar communities for decades, Clinton said.
“If a government cannot or will not protect its own citizens, then the United States and like-minded partners must act,” Clinton said. However, she added, that is not a call for military force, which must remain an action of last resort.
“In most cases, other tools will be more appropriate, through diplomacy, financial sanctions, humanitarian assistance, law enforcement measures,” she said.
Clinton was the featured speaker at a meeting called “Imagine the Unimaginable: A Symposium on Ending Genocide in the 21st Century” that is being held at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. One of the roles of the museum is to bring together scholars, academics, activists and other leaders in an effort to counter hatred and genocide among all peoples of the world through educational initiatives and symposiums.
Why the United States has acted to contain the violence in mass atrocities and genocide, and prevent even more terror, is not a difficult question to answer, Clinton said, but deciding when and how to act is difficult. That’s important because there is no one solution that works in every case; each situation requires a customized response, she said.
Clinton said the United States is developing several approaches to addressing the problem, including placing new emphasis on preventive measures, and is seeking to expand the range of partners to contribute to this cause because no single country can be effective alone. She noted that the U.S. response is based on a whole-of-government response, from the intelligence community to diplomacy.
One effort under way is training U.S. diplomats surveying at-risk countries to understand the warning signs, to provide accurate assessments of emerging crises, and to begin taking the first steps to prevent further violence, she said. Another part of the work involves putting technology to work in prevention efforts because technology has changed the way diplomats can detect and respond to mass atrocities.
Clinton said the U.S. State Department already has personnel trained to analyze conflicts and defuse potentially violent situations, but now those personnel will begin focusing on atrocity prevention. The United States has dispatched civilian response teams to countries across the globe in response to crises.
“We hope to train new teams to assess conditions on the ground, work with local governments to detect signs of impending atrocities, work with the local civil society and others who are representing populations at risk, and make recommendations to American officials on what we can do to prevent conflict,” Clinton said.
The United States also is deploying new tools through its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, because women are often the first to know when their communities are in danger, she said.
Clinton said the United States can pressure those who organize atrocities and cut off the resources they need to continue their violence. The United States is working to deter atrocities by making it clear that those who commit these crimes will be held accountable.
“We need to expand the circle of partners who can help prevent and respond to crises, because a problem of this scale takes the skills and resources of governments, the private sector and civil society all working together,” Clinton said.
Despite all that has been learned about mass atrocities and genocide, and all that has been accomplished in trying to halt it in the last 70 years, “never again” remains an unmet, urgent goal, Clinton added.