Preventing genocide shouldn’t be a partisan issue

In this extremely divisive political climate there seems to be fewer and fewer opportunities to find common ground. Nearly everything today is politicized and partisan. But there is one issue that should have no opposition, no reason why we cannot garner widespread bipartisan support. That issue is genocide prevention.

Genocide is humanity’s worst crime. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” People who commit genocide have only one goal: to completely eliminate a specific population.

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April was designated genocide awareness and prevention month, because of the many commemoration days for past genocides that fall in April, including Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia and Rwanda. Each April, communities, organizations and individuals hold commemoration events across the country, raise awareness of contemporary issues, and urge others to advocate for an end to genocide and other mass atrocities, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. The month is a solemn reminder of what can happen when the world does not act in the face of genocide.

Until recently, genocide prevention has received bipartisan support. President George W. Bush’s 2006 National Security Strategy clearly stated, “It is a moral imperative that states take action to prevent and punish genocide,” and “genocide must not be tolerated.” The 2008 bipartisan Genocide Prevention Task Force report, "Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers," declared that “preventing genocide is an achievable goal.” The Blueprint also offered 34 recommendations for policymakers to better position the U.S. to make that goal a reality. President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaA sea change for sexual conduct on campus Anti-wall is not a border policy: How Democrats can sell an immigration plan Obama receives Robert F. Kennedy human rights award MORE acted on those recommendations and created a high-level interagency body known as the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), to help the United States government coordinate efforts to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities. In establishing the APB, Obama said, “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.”

Despite strong bipartisan support for preventing genocide, the rhetoric has not always matched reality. More action is needed, and, right now, Congress has an opportunity to act.

Last year, the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act was introduced in the Senate. The Act sought to codify the APB, support training of Foreign Service Officers to identify early warning signs of genocide and mass atrocities, and authorize funding for the Complex Crises Fund, which increases the capacity of the United States Agency for International Development to respond to unanticipated crises around the world.

Despite garnering 27 co-sponsors in the Senate, only four were Republicans, and in the Republican held Senate, the bill was never even brought up for a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

In an election year, sometimes even non-partisan, non-political issues can become politicized. Perhaps that is why the Act didn’t pass. Today, there is no excuse.  

The Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act will soon be reintroduced in the Senate as the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2017. This time Congress must pass it.

In light of the Trump administration’s “America first” rhetoric, and limited foreign policy experience, Congress must step up and ensure that preventing genocide and mass atrocities is a priority for the U.S. government. In a globally connected world, preventing genocide and mass atrocities is not only a moral imperative, but it is in our national security interest.

Preventing genocide and mass atrocities doesn’t just avert unnecessary loss of life, it prevents displacement and refugees, and decreases the need for humanitarian aid and costly military intervention. From Syria to South Sudan, Myanmar to Burundi, genocide and mass atrocities today have brought about the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen since World War II. 

With more than 65 million people displaced worldwide--most fleeing mass atrocities and genocide--and conflict-induced famine threatening the lives of millions more, we are witnessing firsthand what happens when the world fails to prevent atrocities.

The U.S. government must take concrete steps towards preventing genocide and atrocities no matter where they occur. Passing the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2017 is the first step.

Mike Brand is the Director of Advocacy and Programs at Jewish World Watch, a genocide and atrocities prevention organization based in Los Angeles, Calif. @miketheidealist. Claude Gatebuke is a survivor of Rwandan genocide, and is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN) in Nashville, Tenn. @AGLANglr.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.