By Anjie Zheng
The U.S.’s new Atrocities Prevention Board, a standing, inter-agency body responsible for forming responses to mass atrocities and working to prevent future war crimes and crimes against humanity, met today for the first time at the White House, followed by panel presentations as well as interactions with civil society. In a speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum earlier today, President Obama said that the work of the Board, the first of its kind, is “not an afterthought,” and that preventing atrocity crimes “is not a sideline in our foreign policy.” The speech highlights the Obama administration’s unprecedented work on human rights and international justice.
The APB was created in August 2011 under a Presidential Study Directive partially out of necessity: Sixty years after the Holocaust and 17 years after the Rwandan Genocide, the U.S. still “lack[ed] a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding inter-agency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide,” crimes prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. Many situations (particularly Sudan and Uganda) in which the APB is interested are those where the ICC is working to achieve accountability. The APB could create opportunities for NGOs and civil society to engage with the administration on issues relating to the ICC.
Samantha Power will chair the APB, which comprises other senior officials from the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security, and government entities such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Vice President. Among those on the Board is Don Steinberg, Deputy Administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp will also work closely with the Board. The Board will meet regularly in the future to help formulate a systematic approach to identify and respond to mass atrocity threats.