Wanted: US Leadership to Prevent Genocide

December 8, 2008

Dear President-elect Obama,

As a candidate for president, you clearly stated how you will respond to mass atrocities and genocide:

“The United States has a moral obligation anytime you see humanitarian catastrophes. We are the most powerful nation in the world. We have the most stake in creating an order in the world that is stable and in which people have hope in opportunity. And when you see a genocide, whether it’s in Rwanda, or Bosnia, or Darfur, that’s a stain on all of us. That’s a stain on our souls. (…) We can’t say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again. And as President of the United States, I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.

With your victory in the presidential elections, you will soon have a chance to put your words into action. And that’s not where the good news ends. To tackle the challenges ahead, the Genocide Prevention Task Force, a group of experts including staff from Amnesty International, worked for a year to develop a practical framework to assist you in responding to genocide and mass atrocities. The task force, jointly convened by the United States Holocaust Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and US Institute of Peace, released its final report today. Co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, the report makes several key recommendations in the areas of early warning, preventive diplomacy, the use or threat of force and the power of international action.

However, all these areas are topped by one priority: “Nothing is more central to preventing genocide than leadership – from the president, Congress and the American people. Making progress requires leaders to summon political will not only after a crisis strikes, but also before one emerges.” Coming from a country in which genocide was perpetrated more than 60 years ago, I could not agree more.

In addition to carefully studying the report’s recommendations, I urge you to recall the following quote by Martin Luther King: “The greatest sin of our time is not the few who have destroyed but the vast majority who’ve sat idly by.”

I hope you get a chance to take a look at the report soon – I’d be happy to send you a copy. Let me know what you think!