Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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“Atrocity Prevention is a Core National Security Interest for the United States”

by Elliott Abrams
March 5, 2014


Over in Geneva, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall gave a speech yesterday to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It’s available at the State Department web site under the title noted above.  Here is an excerpt.

I would like to focus my comments on an immense aspect of prevention with which the United States has long been concerned, and that is the prevention of mass atrocities. Atrocity prevention is a core national security interest for the United States. In 2012, our government formalized an institutional structure to bring together numerous government agencies and departments to address these issues, with the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board. Since its creation, the Atrocities Prevention Board has helped U.S. government policymakers identify and address atrocity threats, while overseeing deeper institutional changes that will make us more nimble and effective in addressing, and in some cases responding to, these threats in the future….

Our key to atrocity prevention is a whole-of-government approach, bringing together a wide range of experts from different government departments….In our work we focus on the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information on early-warning indicators and trends of mass atrocity risks. Each agency has its own tools and trainings at its disposal, to ensure that all of our officers in Washington, as well as in the field, are prepared to gauge situations and identify risks well before they escalate to violence, or to react to conflicts immediately and effectively.
All of that verbiage would be acceptable, even boring, had it been delivered in 2011 or even early 2012. In March 2014 it is quite shameless. For over in Syria, a place Ms. Sewall never mentions, the Obama administration has watched largely passively while 150,000 have been killed, including with chemical weapons, and six million made into refugees and displaced persons.
So her claim that the administration does “react to conflicts immediately and effectively” is astonishing. I suppose somebody had to address the “High-Level Dialogue With Relevant United Nations Entities on the Promotion of Preventative Approaches Within the UN System” yesterday, though why our ambassador to the UN in Geneva couldn’t do it is a mystery. It certainly sounds like one of the innumerable, endless, and largely worthless UN meetings that make that body a byword for inefficiency and waste. But Under Secretary Sewall used the occasion to make statements that must taste bitter indeed to any Syrian watching America do next to nothing while atrocities continue in his country.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Sheila Novitz

    Of course Elliott Abrams is right. The USA is inactive, but this is not new. It knew all about the Shoah, the Holocaust, the murder of more than 6,000,000 Jews in the 1940s (documents attesting to this knowledge are extant), and did nothing. So the USA does nothing when it comes to Arabs either. But the problem here is : Who is committing the atrocities, the mass murder? How can the correct bunch be singled out without error? With the Nazis it was almost perfectly clear: Germans, Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Ukrainians, Rumanians, Hungarians were all committing atrocities. But now? How does one distinguish one side from the other, or one side out of 7 or 8? A huge puzzle. But I still think that Abrams is correct: Jews and Arabs don’t matter all that much to the USA.

  • Posted by Mike Jacob

    Regarding Sheila’s last sentence, Arabs (i.e. Palestinians) do matter to Obama since he believes that Israel is responsible for their plight.

  • Posted by ah

    @Mike Jacob – Israel IS responsible for their plight, that much is obvious, as they are very clearly the country occupying Palestinian land, despite Israeli propaganda efforts claiming the contrary.

  • Posted by DiaKrieg

    You think Sewell’s statement is astonishing? Consider this:

    Steven Spielberg to Honor President Obama at USC Shoah Gala

    “President Obama’s commitment to democracy and human rights has long been felt,” said Spielberg in a statement announcing the news. “As a constitutional scholar and as president, his interest in expanding justice and opportunity for all is remarkably evident.”

    “The president’s recent appointment of the first special envoy for Holocaust Survivor Services in United States history demonstrates his staunch commitment to honoring the past while building a better future,” the director continued. Spielberg will present Obama with the Ambassador for Humanity Award.”


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