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 CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungShelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences Grassley quarantining after exposure to coronavirus Rick Scott to quarantine after contact with person who tested positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Ind.), and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge North Carolina — still purple but up for grabs Team Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters MORE (R-N.C.) and Reps. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerDemocrats projected to retain House majority Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage Democrats seek wave to bolster House majority MORE (R-Mo.) and Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyBiden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond Business groups breathe sigh of relief over prospect of divided government Ocasio-Cortez glides to reelection 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 RoyceHere are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Young Kim takes down Democrat in California House rematch Advising Capitol Hill on insurance MORE (R-Calif.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' 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.