On April 23, 2012, President Obama formally established the U.S. Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), a standing, inter-agency body responsible for coordinating policy on preventing mass atrocities and responding to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The President announced that the APB will help the U.S. government identify and address atrocity threats, and it will oversee institutional changes that will make the U.S. more nimble and effective on these issues. The intelligence community will collect and analyze information that allows the U.S. to improve its anticipation, understanding, and counters to atrocity threats. U.S. diplomats will encourage more robust multilateral efforts to prevent and respond to atrocities. The U.S. military and civilian workforce will be better equipped to prevent and respond to atrocities.
The APB also will promote new kinds of targeted sanctions; denial of entry to the U.S. of perpetrators of serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law or other atrocities; “surging” of specialized expertise in civilian protection on a rapid response basis in crisis situations; and blocking the flow of money to abusive regimes. In addition, the APB will monitor agencies’ compilation of after-action “lessons-learned” reports to record key innovations, areas of success, and issues requiring future work in the area of atrocity prevention and response. The USAID will award grants for innovative technologies that strengthen the U.S. government’s capacity for early warning, prevention, and response with respect to mass atrocities.
This presidential statement further announced efforts to hold accountable perpetrators of mass atrocities and genocide by strengthening the U.S. ability to prosecute perpetrators of atrocities found in the U.S. and to use immigration laws and immigration-fraud penalties to hold accountable perpetrators of mass atrocities.
In addition, the U.S. will support national, hybrid, and international mechanisms (including, among other things, commissions of inquiry, fact-finding missions, and tribunals) that seek to hold accountable perpetrators of atrocities when doing so advances U.S. interests and values, consistent with the requirements of U.S. law. This will include witness protection measures and technical assistance in connection with foreign and international prosecutions. The Administration will seek additional statutory authority to make reward payments for information that leads to the arrest of foreign nationals indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide by international, hybrid, or mixed criminal tribunals.
As the ad hoc international criminal tribunals and hybrid courts are nearing the end of their lives and as the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction over the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the APB has let it be known that it will be continuing the Obama Administration’s policy of positive engagement with the ICC by assisting the ICC in accordance with this presidential statement.
The Chair of the APB is Samantha Power, the U.S. National Security Council Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem from Hell, a study of the U.S. foreign-policy response to genocide. Other APB members are 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. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp will also work closely with the APB.
The APB met for the first time on April 23rs at the White House. This was followed by panel presentations by experts and government officials, as well as interactions with civil society. Earlier in the day at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, President Obama said that the work of the APB, the first of its kind, is “not an afterthought,” and that preventing atrocity crimes “is not a sideline in our foreign policy.”
The APB owes its genesis to an August 2011 Presidential Study Directive declaring that “[p]reventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility” of the U.S. Therefore, the Directive called for the establishment of the APB “to coordinate a whole of government approach to preventing mass atrocities and genocide.” The objectives of such a board were to “ensure: (1) that our national security apparatus recognizes and is responsive to early indicators of potential atrocities; (2) that departments and agencies develop and implement comprehensive atrocity prevention and response strategies in a manner that allows ‘red flags’ and dissent to be raised to decision makers; (3) that we increase the capacity and develop doctrine for our foreign service, armed services, development professionals, and other actors to engage in the full spectrum of smart prevention activities; and (4) that we are optimally positioned to work with our allies in order to ensure that the burdens of atrocity prevention and response are appropriately shared.”