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FACT SHEET: President Obama Directs New Steps to Prevent Mass Atrocities and Impose Consequences on Serious Human Rights Violators

“The United States is committed to working with our allies, and to strengthening our own internal capabilities, in order to ensure that the United States and the international community are proactively engaged in a strategic effort to prevent mass atrocities and genocide. In the event that prevention fails, the United States will work both multilaterally and bilaterally to mobilize diplomatic, humanitarian, financial, and—in certain instances—military means to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities.”

–National Security Strategy of the United States, May 2010

President Obama is committed to strengthening the United States Government’s ability to prevent mass atrocities and serious human rights violations.  In 2010, he created the first-ever White House position dedicated to preventing and responding to mass atrocities and war crimes.  And in Kyrgyzstan, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Sudan, and elsewhere, this Administration has prioritized the protection of civilians and the prevention of mass atrocity and serious human rights violations, and employed a wide range of economic, diplomatic, and other tools in service of those ends.

Today, President Obama is directing a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities.  The President’s directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities.  Today he is also issuing a proclamation that, for the first time, explicitly bars entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights. 

The Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities, Presidential Study Directive-10 (PSD-10), is innovative and significant in several respects:

  • Presidential Prioritization.  In PSD-10, President Obama finds that:  “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.”  He directs agencies to participate in a comprehensive assessment, led by the National Security Advisor, of how best to accomplish this national security imperative.
  • Organization Matters.  The President notes that, “66 years since the Holocaust and 17 years after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide.”  The President orders the creation of an interagency Atrocity Prevention Board within 120 days from today so as to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to engaging “early, proactively, and decisively.”
  • Full Toolbox.  The President rejects the idea that, in the face of mass atrocity, our options are “limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing.”  He instructs his Administration to undertake a 100-day review – to take an “inventory” of the full range of economic, diplomatic, and other tools available to U.S. policymakers; to develop the appropriate governmental organization to try to ensure early and less costly preventive action; to improve the collection and processing of indicators of mass atrocity; to provide a channel for dissent to be raised during a crisis; and to appropriately train and prepare our diplomats, armed services, development professionals, and others.
  • A Global Responsibility.  The directive recognizes that preventing mass atrocities is a responsibility that all nations share.  Often other countries are better positioned than the United States to respond to particular crises or potential atrocities.  Recognizing that the burden for preventing mass atrocities must be appropriately shared by other countries, the directive calls for  a strategy for engaging key regional allies and partners so that they are prepared to accept greater responsibility for preventing and responding to crimes against humanity.

The President’s proclamation makes two key contributions:

  • Closing gaps.  The United States has long sought to ensure that our country does not become a safe haven for human rights violators or those responsible for other atrocities.  Existing U.S. law renders certain human rights violators inadmissible to the United States – such as participants in genocide, torture, extra-judicial killings, or certain violations of religious freedom.  However, before today, the United States did not have an explicit bar to admission on the basis of participation in serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law or other atrocities that do not otherwise fit into those categories specifically enumerated in the Immigration and Nationality Act.  This proclamation fills this gap by expanding the grounds for denial of entry into the United States to cover a broader array of recognized violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The proclamation will also cover participants in serious human rights violations, such as prolonged arbitrary detention, forced disappearances, slavery, and forced labor, as well as participants in widespread or systematic violence against civilians based on ethnicity or other grounds.
  • New deterrent.  By enumerating these grounds for denying admission to the United States, policymakers will have a new tool to deter would-be organizers of atrocities, serious human rights violations, and related abuses.  The President’s proclamation empowers the United States to warn groups that have carried out, or may be about to carry out, serious human rights violations or grave atrocities that their conduct falls within explicit standing bans on admission to the United States.  As such, we will be able to more effectively shame those who are organizing such conduct.  The proclamation also bans admission to the United States for those who are complicit in organizing these abuses – not just those who carry them out.  As such, it allows the United States to act before planned abuses and atrocities metastasize into actual ones.

The proclamation is being issued pursuant to the President’s authority under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which authorizes the President to suspend entry into the United States of aliens whose entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”  There are currently seventeen 212(f) proclamations in effect, including Proclamation 8342 (2009), which suspends entry to foreign government officials responsible for failing to combat human trafficking, and Proclamation 7750 (2004), which suspends entry of persons engaged in or benefiting from corruption.

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