As history has shown, it is not enough to be against genocide and atrocities. It is imperative that we follow through with meaningful actions to prevent such heinous crimes against humanity from recurring. The late Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said it best:
“Wherever 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.”
Wiesel’s life work encompassed authoring 57 books and bearing witness to the Holocaust. He did not stop there. He championed human rights and spoke out against genocide and atrocities worldwide, including in South Africa, Nicaragua, Kosovo, and Sudan.
Passage and Significance of Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act (S.1158)
On Jan. 14, 2019, President Donald Trump signed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act into law. The Elie Wiesel Act states that the prevention of genocide and atrocities is a core national interest to our country.
The bill requires training of U.S. Foreign Service Officers on “recognizing patterns of escalation and early warning signs of potential atrocities, and methods of preventing and responding to atrocities, including conflict assessment methods, peacebuilding, mediation for prevention, early action and response, and appropriate transitional justice measures to address atrocities.” It obligates the government to mitigate threats to national security by taking practical steps towards atrocity prevention. The bill also calls on the president to write an annual evaluation of at-risk countries and atrocity prevention.
How Much has Humanity Learned from the Holocaust?
Not much is, unfortunately, the short and honest answer. Let us remember that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and 1.5 million of the Jews killed were children. Millions of others killed included Soviet civilians and prisoners of war, non-Jewish Polish civilians, Serb civilians, people with disabilities, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, repeat criminal offenders, German political opponents, resistance activists, homosexuals, and the so-called asocials. These groups were all targeted for extermination. All this bloodshed and suffering happened because the world watched too long and acted too late.
Raise Your Voice and Follow Through with Action
Passage of the Elie Wiesel Act will help the peace-building community to hold our government accountable for taking prevention measures and developing an implementation plan. Advocates must get louder in bringing attention to brewing conflicts and addressing their root causes before they become human tragedies.
Enacting the Elie Wiesel legislation represented a major victory for activists and advocates. But our work is not over. It is imperative that the government start taking more effective and more systematic preventive measures. Otherwise, the Elie Wiesel Act will become little more than a symbolic gesture.
Shukria Dellawar is The Friends Committee on National Legislation Legislative Representative for the Prevention of Violent Conflict and a Senior Fellow at The Center for International Policy.