On Wednesday, November 15, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson officially declared the Rohingya's plight in Myanmar ethnic cleansing. Slamming the country's military and local vigilantes for causing "horrendous atrocities" and "tremendous suffering" in a campaign to eradicate the ethnic minority group from Myanmar's northern Rakhine state (where the Rohingya population is most concentrated), Tillerson threatened economic sanctions and further action.
While Tillerson's actions are commendable and his declarations appropriate, there are still hotspots of similar conflict across the globe. The United States needs to take a much stronger and consistent role in addressing these mass atrocities, and the proposed Elie Wiesel Genocide & Atrocities Prevention Act (GAPA) is the way to do that.
GAPA has three primary components. First, it establishes a Mass Atrocities Task Force. This interagency group would include high-level representatives from multiple departments, and would be responsible for conveying information and policy recommendations to the Secretary of State with regards to assessing global risks, preventing atrocities, and strengthening preventative efforts internationally. Second, GAPA would institute mandatory conflict and atrocities prevention training for Foreign Service Officers. This would ensure they are more familiar with the warning signs associated with violence and mass atrocities, and are equipped with the tools they need to mitigate the violence. Lastly, GAPA would formally establish the Complex Crises Fund, which is used as flexible funding for responses to unpredictable, emerging conflicts. This funding has historically been crucial in reducing the risks in countries like the Central African Republic, Guinea, and Jordan.
The U.S. needs to do something about the mass atrocities and genocide being perpetrated across the globe. The U.S. was the first country in the world to sign the 1948 Paris Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and has since been a world leader in the field. Letting that leadership slip would have disastrous effects on the international effort to prevent and end mass atrocities, and greatly reduce the U.S.'s influence in the global sphere.
There are also economic incentives to invest in genocide prevention. A study by UN Development Programme (UNDP) found that for every $1 spent on prevention, the world saves $10 in recovery costs. Another organization, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), estimates that the international community would save $2.94 trillion over 10 years if it increased funding to reduce risks of future violence, and if countries in conflict received increased funding for peacebuilding activities.
Preventing mass atrocities is not only a humanitarian cause, but a vital national security interest. While the World Bank now recognizes conflict as the primary cause of poverty and human suffering (with 80 percent of humanitarian aid going to those whose lives have been turned upside down by conflict), preventing atrocities also protects American troops who otherwise would have been sent abroad to fight preventable wars and reduces the risk of power vacuums and violent extremism.
Passing GAPA is the right thing to do, from any perspective. This is why it is imperative that we do our best to make it happen. Call your senators and tell them to support the legislation. Write an op-ed for your local paper. Donate to STAND's #RiseForRohingya campaign. We as American citizens have a moral obligation to help those in need, and words aren't always enough. In the words of Elie Wiesel himself, "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."