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Will the Atrocities Prevention Board Matter?

Samara Greenberg

Speaking at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC last week, President Obama announced the formal creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) tasked with “making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities.”

This new board — whose creation was ordered in August 2011 — convened last week for the first time. Its initial meeting followed the National Security Advisor’s review of “the U.S. government’s anti-atrocity capabilities” and recommendations to the president on how to fill found gaps. At the Holocaust Museum, Obama announced his approval of the recommendations and that his administration would be acting upon them.

President Obama and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel after lighting candles in the Hall of Remembrance at the Holocaust Museum in DC. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

According to the White House, the APB will include representatives from various government agencies who are at the Assistant Secretary level or higher. As members of the board, the representatives will meet monthly to “oversee the development and implementation of atrocity prevention and response policy”. After six months, the APB Chair “will begin preparation of a draft Executive Order” for the president that will, among other things, “include further measures for strengthening atrocity prevention and response capabilities.”

In short, the APB pools information from government agencies, ensures the president’s new anti-atrocity initiatives are going as planned, suggests further initiatives, and alerts the appropriate person of atrocities on the rise.

There’s one major flaw here, however: With each worldwide atrocity — from the Holocaust to Rwanda to Syria — the White House has been aware of the issue at hand. The knowledge of the world’s atrocities is present, even without a specific board. Indeed, what is needed during times of atrocity is the political will inside the White House to act quickly and decisively to such world problems. It’s hard to envision how another interagency, bureaucratic committee would assist in that regard.