Congress can act to prevent genocide and atrocities

 

As the civil war in Syria escalates again with another chemical weapons attack, the citizens of that war-torn nation continue to fight for their survival while the international community seems to be spinning its wheels trying come up with a viable way to stop the atrocities. The geo-political complexity of the situation means that any intervention may risk an even greater loss of life or contribute to a protracted regional conflict.

While more can and should be done with an eye toward reaching a political solution, it must also be recognized that the tools available once atrocities begin are increasingly limited in their number and effectiveness. This isn’t an excuse for inaction. Instead, it’s a compelling call take early action that can mitigate mass atrocities and prevent genocide from starting in the first place.

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Syria is not the only country that is facing a humanitarian crisis resulting from violence. The Central African Republic, where over one million people have been displaced by fighting since 2013, is one example where violence has resulted in a long-standing humanitarian disaster. It is also an example where early action by the United States was able to catalyze the international community to generate attention and respond to escalating atrocities. The lesson of U.S. engagement is that early American leadership can make a difference in mitigating and preventing genocide and other forms of atrocities against civilians.

Over the past six years the U.S. has made great strides in developing a foundation necessary to better prioritize the prevention of and response to genocide and atrocities. The Trump administration has taken on this work and made it their own.

Rather than turning back the clock, the administration reconvened the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) at the National Security Council and better integrated the APB’s work with other parts of the NSC. It isn’t perfect, but this groundwork is critical, and represents forward movement on a series of bipartisan recommendations.

Congress now has an important opportunity to take action and demonstrate leadership. Thanks to Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Dem senator: Trump accepts Saudi denials because he is 'enamored' with dictators Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (D-Md.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungMnuchin pulls out of Saudi conference On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference MORE (R-Ind.), and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October Kavanaugh tensions linger after bitter fight GOP fractured over filling Supreme Court vacancies in 2020 MORE (R-N.C.) and Reps. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerCongress should provide parents an opportunity to care for newborn and adopted children Paid family leave could give new parents a much-needed lifeline Vulnerable Republicans include several up-and-coming GOP leaders MORE (R-Mo.) and Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyPoll: Nearly half of millennial Democrats identify as socialist or democratic socialist For Capuano in Massachusetts, demography was destiny Carper fends off progressive challenger in Delaware primary MORE (D-N.Y.), there is growing bipartisan support for atrocities prevention in the Senate and House of Representatives. Last year, companion bills known as the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act were introduced in both chambers.

The Elie Wiesel Act provides legislative support for interagency efforts like the APB that ensure coordination among all the relevant departments of the U.S. government, so that prevention can be more effectively prioritized. The bill also requires training that is imperative to monitoring early warning signs, and authorizes funding that is key to catalyzing early action.

Amid the current scale of global violence, the question is not whether risks of future atrocities exist, but what leaders in Congress will do to mitigate these risks. The ability of the U.S. government to prevent atrocities and other forms of mass violence today will have a direct and significant impact on the scale of future crises. An important foundation for prevention has been developed, but without congressional action it remains tenuous and difficult to build upon.

Congress has a clear path to pass this legislation and demonstrate their leadership on this bipartisan issue. The companion versions of the Elie Wiesel Act currently sit in the House Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (R-Calif.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense: Trump shifts tone on Saudis | New pressure from lawmakers | Trump: 'Certainly looks' like Khashoggi dead | Pompeo gives Saudis days to wrap up investigation | Trump threatens military action on border to stop migrants Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan MORE (R-Tenn.). As both of these chairmen gear up for retirement, they have a compelling opportunity to add to their strong record of protecting global human rights efforts by strengthening America’s efforts to prevent the worst kind of violence against civilians.

Sitther is the legislative secretary for peacebuilding and Neville is the legislative manager for the prevention of violent conflict at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.