"America's reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide." - Presidential Study Directive 10, April 4, 2011
I sat down this week to write about the progress of the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), an interagency experiment introduced by President Barack Obama on April 23, 2012. It is the aim of this board to create better strategies for the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide around the world. Seen by many in the human rights community as an encouraging move by the Obama Administration, the APB has the potential to bring about real change for those in dire need of protection from deadly harm. If successful, it could ostensibly serve as a catalyst for a global movement.
The need for progress in civilian protection and atrocity prevention should not be underestimated. The international community has continually floundered in its attempts to implement principles such as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). One of the main reasons for this has been the struggle to create and actualize realistic prevention strategies. Failed preventative measures are becoming almost a given in our global fight against genocide and crimes against humanity. Far too often situations are left to build until it is too late, and our only course of action is to react to the atrocities that are already underway. This is a failure that needs to be addressed, and one that the APB was specifically created to address.
Sadly though, after hours of scouring the web I was left asking myself whether the board even still existed. Obviously the answer is yes, the board does still exist. Yet, one would be hard pressed to find any evidence of this outside of a handful of articles and blog posts from last spring, and the White House Fact Sheet. This experience left me concerned about what if any progress the board is making, and wondering why the American public is not being kept in the loop.
I would argue an entity such as the APB serves two main purposes. First and foremost, it must work toward the creation of realistic prevention strategies. This will be an ongoing process that will require unending commitment from the agencies involved. Genocide prevention is no simple feat, and the difficulty of this task should not be taken lightly.
The second reason for the APB is highlighted in the quote at the top of this post, taken from the Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities that prompted the creation of the APB. The basic sentiment of which is that if the world views the U.S. as complacent when it comes to preventing mass atrocities, we lose our ability to lead on the global level. Thus, it is just as important for the APB to prioritize communication and transparency as it is for it to focus on the actual prevention of atrocities. It is vital for the board to share the progress they are making, even if only in the form of an occasional blog post from a board member. To put it simply, the Atrocity Prevention Board is the ad campaign for America's commitment to atrocity prevention. If they are hidden and silent, so is America's commitment.
Honestly, there are a few incredibly simple steps that I cannot believe have yet to be taken. Where is the board's website? Why is there no Twitter account? One wouldn't think this would be a discussion you would have to have with the Obama administration, but they absolutely need to implement at least a basic online communication strategy. American citizens and the world at large need to see America's commitment to human rights and civilian protection. In the absence of communication from the APB, we are left to assume the U.S. is not committed to these things.
Follow Corrie on Twitter @corrie_hulse
Barack Obama, Genocide, Humanitarian Intervention, R2P, Syria