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Let’s agree that ‘preventing genocide’ is a bipartisan priority

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On too many occasions and throughout many administrations, the United States government has waited too long to respond to threats of genocide against ethnic and religious communities around the world. A more proactive approach would have saved countless lives and would have minimized the resulting threats these circumstances almost always present to global security.

We are heartened that Congress aims to fix this problem through the bipartisan Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act (S. 1158), and we write to express our collective support for it.

{mosads}The bill’s namesake, Elie Wiesel, whose advocacy and leadership against genocide as a Holocaust survivor remains etched in our national memory, wrote “[whenever] men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

However, our “never again” sentiments are expressed in vain when we reflect on the tragedies that occurred in Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebrenica or hear the horrific testimonies of a Rohingya Muslim woman who wept as she uttered, “[t]hey threw my baby into a fire” or an Iraqi Christian Bishop who warns us that “without an end to this persecution and violence, there is no future for religious pluralism in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East.”

When will we learn?

In many cases, the U.S. has responded to several of these crises as they spiraled out of control rather than with the urgency and priority that they merited. There is a pressing need for the government to respond to atrocities in a quicker and more effective manner.

The Elie Wiesel Act (S. 1158) would mandate that the government take a more swift and holistic approach to addressing mass atrocities. The bill, which passed the House in July, would require annual reporting from the White House to Congress on atrocities prevention in order to facilitate needed policy updates and improvements. Importantly, it would also enact training for U.S. Foreign Service Officers so that they may recognize early warning signs of potential atrocity outbreaks.

The bill implements recommendations outlined in the 2008 bipartisan Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), which noted, “preventing genocide is a goal that can be achieved with the right organizational structures, strategies and partnerships.”

The GPTF’s recommendations were instrumental in the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) in 2012, a group credited with facilitating government interagency collaboration, allocating emergency funding and streamlining a quick government response in multiple international crises.

It worked.

Within a week of the Central African Republic collapsing into sectarian and political violence in 2013, the U.S. was able to provide the country with immediate aid. In Burundi, the APB identified indicators of increasing polarization in society ahead of its June 2015 election and proactively provided emergency funding for atrocity prevention programming. And when ISIS threatened annihilation of the Yezidis on Mount Sinjar, the APB helped galvanize a U.S. military and humanitarian intervention.

The Elie Wiesel Act (S. 1158), if passed, will also strengthen interagency government cooperation and funding for atrocities prevention programming so that we can have more success stories of U.S. Government response like the Central African Republic, Burundi and Mt. Sinjar.

Finally, lest the phrase “preventing genocide” be lost on some Americans, let us put it succinctly. “Preventing genocide” means saving hundreds-of-thousands of innocent lives who would be massacred solely on account of hatred and discrimination. Those lives are often the lives of women and children whose eventual deaths are normally preceded by other forms of inhumane treatment, including rape, torture and modern-day slavery.

We appeal to the Senate to pass this legislation, which has drawn wide bipartisan support.

This is a piece of legislation that represents the best of what America can contribute to the world that ought to present to our Congress a wonderful moment of solidarity in a time of great, political division.

As representatives of our Jewish and Christian communities, we believe that the image of God is in every, human being. Every life deeply matters to God, and to us.

There is no greater way to honor the legacy of Elie Wiesel than to ensure that the United States will, in perpetuity, work intentionally to prevent future atrocities.

Saperstein served as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom under the Obama administration, Moore serves as an informal advisor to the Trump administration, and Nassif is the Executive Director of In Defense of Christians.

Tags Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act Genocide Genocide of Yazidis by ISIS

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