"We who did not go their way owe them this. We must make sure that their deaths have posthumous meaning. We must make sure that from now until the end of days all humankind stares this evil in the face...and only then can we be sure it will never arise again." -Former President Ronald Reagan, 1988 Holocaust Memorial Museum
As the above quote from President Reagan illustrates, the United States has felt a moral responsibility for decades to prevent genocide. Our words, however, have not done enough. Just six years after President Reagan's remarks the Rwandan genocide occurred. The world has struggled in its efforts to prevent genocide since the end of World War II, but President Obama is now making an impressive attempt at turning those struggles into an effective effort. President Obama today issued a Presidential Directive on genocide and mass atrocities. The White House released a statement about this directive and specified exactly why preventing mass atrocities benefits American national security:
"Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States. Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods. America's reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide. Unfortunately, history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not come to fruition without concerted and coordinated effort."
Another vital accomplishment that comes from this directive is the establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board. The goal of this board is described in detail in the President's directive:
"The President's directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities."
The international community has a responsibility to sharpen its tools against mass atrocities because there is more that can be done to prevent genocide. One of the reasons President Obama created this directive was to broaden the government's ability to respond to genocide in an organized, preventative manner. There currently is not an institutionalized process for the United States to operate under once it is clear that a nation is on the verge of experiencing human rights atrocities. Even when the documentation of the acts committed is there, the communication of this information is not followed up with effective policy. This directive represents President Obama's attempt at allowing information received to inform policy so that preventative measures can happen in a timely manner. The protection of humanity does not rest solely on the United States, but we must do our part. Working to prevent human rights atrocities is something that Republican and Democratic presidents have both spoken in favor of; now we are seeing action to make genocide prevention a priority.
President Obama not only issued the directive to establish an Atrocities Prevention Board, but also announced plans to suspend any foreign government officials responsible for human rights atrocities from entering the United States.
"The President's proclamation empowers the United States to warn groups that have carried out, or may be about to carry out, serious human rights violations or grave atrocities that their conduct falls within explicit standing bans on admission to the United States."
All of these actions are welcome and will help strengthen the U.S. government's abilities to prevent future mass atrocities before they occur.