By Kathy Zager and Tommy Wrenn. Cross-posted on the FCNL website.
This past year marked important reforms for genocide prevention. President Obama introduced Presidential Study Directive 10, calling for a number of reforms including the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board, which FCNL lauded. You can read more about what’s happened over the past year here.
Nonetheless, when you work with a bureaucracy as large and plodding as the U.S. government, you learn a new language of progress, and you adjust your expectations for the pace of change.
So while it may not seem monumental to everyone, something happened earlier this month that we’ve been working on for years. For the first time since the Atrocities Prevention Board was created last year, members of the Atrocities Prevention Board briefed congressional staff on the record this month. This briefing was made possible by continued, consistent effort by the Prevention and Protection Working Group to facilitate such communication over the past year. The event was organized by FCNL, Humanity United, and the Prevention and Protection Working Group, and hosted on Capitol Hill by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL).
The briefing featured Victoria K. Holt of the State Department and Sarah Mendelson of USAID. Given their congressional audience, Holt and Mendelson expressed the crucial need for prioritizing atrocities prevention accounts in the federal budget: State and USAID lead the U.S. government’s international atrocity prevention efforts, but are consistently under threat of cuts to their already slim budgets.
Holt and Mendelson shared on the progress of the Board thus far, before a lengthy Q&A session. Holt, the deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, explained the APB’s nuts and bolts to congressional staff: APB staff meet weekly, and top-level APB representatives meet monthly. Mendelson, deputy assistant administrator at the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, discussed efforts toward creating a “toolkit” for best practices in working on atrocities prevention. Neither was able to discuss APB efforts in terms of specific countries due to various sensitivities, but the recent Kenyan elections were used as an example of success. Mendelson discussed the importance of translating such success into future applications in other nations through a vigorous lessons-learned process within the government.
The briefing was hopefully the start of increased communication between the Board and Congress, which should lead to stronger bipartisan support from the House and Senate on an issue which must transcend politics. It was encouraging to see both speakers express a genuine desire to continue the conversation with Congress. Regular communication between Congress and the administration are vital to the success of the effort to prevent genocide and atrocities—and save lives–worldwide.