This week we launched a statewide campaign here in Tennessee calling on Senators Corker and Alexander to cosponsor the Genocide & Atrocities Prevention Act (S.2551). This legislation is really exciting for a lot of reasons, one of the biggest being that it is a long overdue step in the right direction.
You've asked some great questions about this legislation and our campaign, so we wanted to answer them here for the benefit of everyone else in our movement as well. Let's get started!
1. What Is The Genocide & Atrocities Prevention Act?
First things first, we're going to refer to this legislation by its initials GAPA going forwards. It's faster and easier to read that way.
GAPA is new legislation that will ensure the U.S. government has the tools, training, and funding needed to save lives and promote peace when it becomes apparent that mass atrocity situations are becoming a threat somewhere in the world. You can read the full bill here, but we'll also provide you a quick summary as well. This legislation focuses on four major components:
- Permanently authorizes the Atrocities Prevention Board. The Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) is a high-level working group that coordinates government action to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities. It includes key government departments such as State, USAID, Defense, USUN, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security, CIA, FBI, & DNI. The bill also requires a report evaluating U.S. government efforts related to prevention, a global assessment of risks, and recommendations for strengthening efforts.
- Funds prevention through the the Complex Crisis Fund. The Complex Crisis Fund (CCF) provides flexible funding to USAID to prevent, mitigate, and respond to emerging crises.
- Requires training for Foreign Service Officers. The bill mandates training of U.S. Foreign Service Officers in conflict and atrocities prevention. This training ensures U.S. diplomatic personnel will have the skills to recognize early warning signs and be aware of the tools available to them.
- Requires a Director of National Intelligence Report. The annual report by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to Congress will include a review of countries at-risk of mass atrocities and genocide.
2. Why Is This Legislation Needed?
For years, the United States government has lacked the tools it needs to effectively prevent violent conflict and mass atrocity crimes before they begin. Decades after the Holocaust, the U.S. government still finds it almost impossible to bring about its full diplomatic, economic, and intelligence resources to halt brewing mass atrocity crises before they fully begin. A quick glance at the dismal situations in Syria and Sudan are ample proof of that.
But the need for GAPA to become law goes well beyond moral reasons. Responding to genocide and mass atrocity crimes is costly, can be extremely risky, and will always be less effective than preventing these crimes before they begin. Right now, over 60 million people have been displaced by conflict worldwide - the highest number since World War II. This has required growing expenditures to support humanitarian assistance programs and other forms of intervention.
In places such as Sudan, Syria, and more, ongoing mass atrocities are setting the stage for cyclic violence and negative global impacts, such as the proliferation of terrorism, in the years ahead. These threats to U.S. security and interests can be mitigated with stronger investments in early prevention. It makes sense to invest more heavily in preventative actions as more lives can be saved at a much lower cost by stopping mass atrocities before they begin.
Progress on this issue has been excruciatingly slow, but GAPA is an opportunity to take a huge leap forwards.
3. Got It. So Why Is GAPA Just Arriving?
GAPA is just the latest in a series of moves by the U.S. government to improve it's own capabilities in preventing mass atrocity crimes and genocide:
- In 2010, S.Con.Res.71 passed unanimously with bipartisan co-sponsors, urging the creation of what would become the Atrocities Prevention Board.
- In 2011, President Obama issued Presidential Study Directive 10 (PSD-10), declaring the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide to be a “core national security interest and core moral responsibility” of the United States. PSD-10 ordered the creation of a Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), directed the National Security Advisor to lead a comprehensive review assessing the U.S. government’s anti-atrocity capabilities, and recommend reforms that would fill identified gaps in these capabilities.
- In 2015, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the State Department Authorization Act, S.1635, which would authorize the Atrocities Prevention Board.
Both Congress and the White House agree that the U.S. can be doing a better job on these issues. GAPA is the next major leap forwards in that direction.
4. Will GAPA Survive Government Gridlock?
Yes, but only if your Senators hear from you about it!
Genocide and mass atrocity prevention is a bipartisan issue. Prevention is more cost-effective, saves more lives, and helps avoid costly interventions. It's smart governance that everyone can get behind.
5. Will My Senators Listen To Me?
Yes, your Senators want to hear from you! Their job is to represent you in Washington D.C., and they can't do that if they never hear from you.
For our Tennessee supporters, we have designed an easy-to-use Action Kit that will help you get in touch with our Senators offices and request that they cosponsor GAPA. A lot of the heavy lifting is already done for you!
Our Tennessee supporters have a very special role to play in ensuring this bill moves forwards. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His support of this bill by becoming a cosponsor is critical to making sure it becomes law. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) should also support this bipartisan effort.
About Operation Broken Silence
The people of Sudan are overcoming two of the greatest challenges facing humanity today: war and genocide. Operation Broken Silence, a Memphis-based nonprofit organization, is working to accelerate their ability to generate lasting change through storytelling, education, advocacy, and emergency relief programs.