Preventing conflicts and atrocities must be our legacy

Preventing conflicts and atrocities must be our legacy
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When receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, Elie Wiesel ended his lecture with a plea: “Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.”

I thought of Wiesel, and his life’s work of building peace, while gathering with Nobel Laureates and political, spiritual, and non-profit leaders in Jordan last month. The Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit was a powerful experience: not because of the prizes and personalities but because of the shared belief that humanity can and should do better.

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Only a few hours drive away from the summit, 80,000 people in the Zaatari refugee camp are right now creating a new way of life and building their own city in the wake of tragedy. Jordanians have welcomed an astonishing number of refugees to their land and maintained stability. And we witnessed the courage of the women, men, and children who traveled to an unknown future and are adapting, innovating, and surviving.

While these stories should inspire, it is important that they also spur us to action. Unless we commit to prevent such conflicts and displacement, we fail the next generation.

Congress has an opportunity to further Wiesel’s legacy by acting on two important pieces of legislation. The first bill is the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act. If enacted, this legislation would give the United States better tools to more effectively prevent atrocities, saving countless lives.

The law would create a federal interagency task force to strengthen U.S. government efforts at atrocity prevention and response, along with providing training for Foreign Service Officers in preventing and addressing conflict and atrocities. It would also establish the Complex Crises Fund, providing the State Department and USAID greater flexibility to better prevent and respond to atrocity crimes. 

A second, equally important bill is the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act of 2018. This legislation requires the U.S. government to establish an interagency initiative focused on reducing and addressing the causes of violent conflict.

This initiative will concentrate efforts over a 10-year period in 10 pilot countries in collaboration with local actors, civil society, and other private, academic and philanthropic entities. This legislation draws from best practices from previous foreign assistance programs including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Such efforts to prevent conflicts are urgently needed. The recent reported chemical attacks on civilians in Syria is yet another tragic example of how our lack of prevention efforts have had unbelievably devastating consequences for many innocent people. Addressing violent conflict and mass atrocities after the fact often leaves the U.S. with few or no good options, and consumes a vastly disproportionate amount of resources and time. A far better option, both morally and fiscally, is to develop policies that focus on preventing these kinds of atrocities from happening before they ever take place. 

Working to prevent conflicts and better respond to atrocities is also necessary at a practical level as the scale of displacement becomes harder to manage globally. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, at this moment there are more people displaced around the world than at any time in history. The urgency is real and demands a response. The people at Zaatari, in Syria, and others displaced worldwide aren’t leaving their homes because they want to. They run so they are not killed because of who they are, where they live, or what they believe.

After surviving an unspeakable atrocity, Elie Wiesel devoted his life to peace. As a father, a foundation leader, a minister, and a human I take heed of his words. I, too, believe we need to leave a more peaceful world for our children.

We honor Wiesel by building bridges among champions of peace, by pledging that we will do better to advance human dignity. We can further cement his legacy by driving attention and resources to prevent suffering and violence. A simple first step is to support laws to prevent genocide and reduce the levels of conflict around the world. It is our gift to each other. 

Randy Newcomb is the president of Humanity United Action, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing new approaches to global problems long considered intractable like human trafficking and violent conflict. Humanity United Action is a 501(c)(4) affiliated with Humanity United.