Crimes against humanity and genocide
Obama’s Atrocity Prevention Board’s Silence: Where is the Action and Transparency?
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Over the past several years U.S. President Barack Obama has touted his administration’s concern vis-à-vis crimes against humanity and genocide and for its transparency. Pathetically, his administration has fallen sorely short on both fronts. There’s been some movement in the former, alright, but a lot of it has been more cosmetic than real.
In a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on April 23, 2012, President Obama hailed his establishment of the Atrocities Privation Board (APB) as a sea change in the way that the U.S. Government would deal with such issues as crimes against humanity and genocide. During the course of his speech, he proudly acclaimed: “Last year, in the first-ever presidential directive on this challenge, I made it clear that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” But is it really? If so, where is the evidence?
For well over eighteen months the Government of Sudan (GoS), the very government that committed genocide in Darfur earlier in this century, has bombed the Nuba Mountains people on a daily basis. The GoS has also carried out a scorched earth policy in the Blue Nile state in Sudan. And not only that but the GoS has denied international humanitarian organizations from providing desperately needed food and medical supplies to the people of the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile. And what has been the Obama’s Administration reaction? Largely silence.
And what has the Obama Administration done in a concrete manner vis-à-vis the ongoing murder and mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Or, in response to the ongoing crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Syria government against its own people? Or, the ongoing forced starvation of the people of North Korea by its own government? Talk, talk and more talk, and little more than that.
Granted, the U.S. cannot serve as the world’s policeman or get entangled on the ground in every massive human rights crisis across the globe, but what it can do is be a voice for action by the international community. It can lead the way by focusing a spotlight on such crises and human tragedies and argue for immediate and effective action. It can also lead by example in developing and implementing ratchet-tight sanctions, supporting the International Criminal Court in its indictment of perpetrators, and creating innovative ways to help those innocents who are facing death, starvation, torture, and other atrocities on a daily basis. Silence should not be an option. But for Obama and his minions it is.
In that same aforementioned speech, Obama asserted the following: “That does not mean that we intervene militarily every time there’s an injustice in the world. We cannot and should not. It does mean we possess many tools—diplomatic and political, and economic and financial, and intelligence and law enforcement and our moral suasion.” When, we want to know, when will the Obama Administration get serious and do exactly that —not half heartedly, not in a perfunctory manner –in concrete and effective ways in Sudan? Syria? The DRC? North Korea?
As the cliché has it: action speaks louder than words.
In a memorandum (“Transparency and Open Government”) to the heads of executive departments and agencies, Obama stated that “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” An excellent goal, but also a failed promise.
Take Obama’s Atrocity Prevention Board (APB), for example. Over the six months, a group of 50 plus scholars of genocide studies have sent four letters to four different members of the APB about the ongoing crises in Sudan, and have not received a single reply. The initial letter was sent to the then chair of the APB, Ms. Samantha Power, in mid December (2012). A second letter was sent to Ms. Power in January. In late February a letter was sent to Mr. Steven Pomper, Senior Assistant Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights; and on March 28th a letter was sent to Mr. Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID). Not a single reply.
As far as we can ascertain, the APB has not informed the public in anyway whatsoever as to what it has attempted, let alone, actually, accomplished in stanching the ongoing killing of civilians in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile in Sudan. It has no website, it has not issued any public reports, and now it refuses to respond to letters from some of the most noted scholars across the globe. Where is the transparency?
All of this flies in the fact of the president’s purported aims and proposes. Indeed, in the aforementioned memorandum on transparency and open government, the president said “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing…. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use…. Public engagement enhances the Government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions… Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. “
We, the human rights community and scholars of genocide across the globe, are waiting for the members of Obama’s Administration to catch up with his vision —and, actually, for Obama to honor his very own words and promises.
In light of the arrogance of many of the members of Obama’s Administration, including Samantha Power, who is now up for U.S. Ambassador to the UN, we, quite frankly, are not sure that is going to happen. In the meantime, sadly and unconscionably, millions of innocent people across this globe are suffering in the most horrific of ways.
Samuel Totten is Professor Emeritus at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He is the author of Genocide by Attrition: Nuba Mountains, Sudan (Transaction Publishers, 2012). He was last in the war torn Nuba Mountains this past December and January.
John Hubbel Weiss is Associate Professor of History at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York