I’m sharing here a graf from the conclusion of Fighting for Darfur that I feel much more hopeful about now than when I wrote it, with today’s fantastic announcement by the Obama administration of an Atrocities Prevention Taskforce which, according to the NYT, will “be assigned with coming up with a range of American responses to atrocities.”
Putting aside the question of whether to act, U.S. officials must do an enormous amount of work to position themselves to save lives if they do decide to act. Darfur was a particularly challenging case for the U.S. government at the multilateral level. But even in a future situation in which the United States has sufficient unilateral level to change the behavior of a government committing atrocities, it will not be in a strong position to do so unless U.S. officials have addressed the coordination and capacity deficits within the U.S. government in advance.
So no surprise that I feel today’s announcement is a great first step, provided the taskforce is empowered to “mainstream” atrocity prevention throughout the unwieldy bureaucracy that is the U.S. government. Too often these sorts of initiatives end up sidelined by the regional bureaus within the system. But this is something that citizen activists can, and should, work to ensure does not happen here.
The bigger problems however remain; namely that U.S.-centric solutions to atrocity prevention are out of date in the 21st century. I haven’t seen the detail yet of the taskforce’s mandate. What I hope for is a recognition of the need to develop, in advance, systems and structures to facilitate multilateral action following early warning. And in particular, comprehension of just how crucial both civil society actors, as well as states in the BRICS bloc, are within today’s atrocity prevention landscape. If the true goal is atrocity prevention, rather than alleviating American guilt over Rwanda, the taskforce must go beyond simply putting the U.S.-centric, 20th century, ‘lessons of Rwanda’ script into practice.
What I also hope is that this taskforce doesn’t end up in the politically-safe space that the UN Special Advisor’s Office on Genocide Prevention currently seems to operate in, where an obsession with perfecting early warning systems dominates the much more challenging and important work of figuring out how to move to effective action. Drawing from Fighting from Darfur conclusions again:
As has been clear for some years, and was true in the case of Darfur, a lack of information per se is not what accounts for the delay in responding to atrocity situations. The issue is the delay between when citizens and governments have the information and when they act on it – in the first case, by creating political incentives for action, given a crowded agenda, and in the second, by crafting policy responses.
I look forward to following the new taskforce’s work closely.