Senate Delays Genocide Prevention Bill

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“Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.” – Elie Wiesel, Night

This past May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocity Prevention Act of 2018. It was the first piece of genocide legislation passed by Congress since 1988 when the body ratified the Convention on the Prevention andPunishment of the Crime of Genocide.The Convention’s ratification was a somewhat bittersweet action as it took so many years for it to come to fruition. Now, on the 70th anniversary of the Genocide Convention, we are at a strange standstill where the House passed this legislation nearly unanimously with a vote of 406-5, and yet the bill has now stalled in the Senate. It was introduced, revised, and then just set aside.

As of writing, more than 500,000 lives have been lost in Syria. The Rohingya continue to flee violence in Myanmar with nearly 900,000 refugees now living in makeshift camps in Bangladesh. According to the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, there were approximately 50,000 people killed in South Sudan between December 2013 and August 2015, “as the SudanPeople’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and armed rebels (SPLA-IO) perpetrated warcrimes and crimes against humanity, including widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, child abductions and sexual violence.”

The occurrence of genocide and mass atrocity crimes is not slowing in the world. It is essential the global community take seriously the responsibility of preventing and responding to these crimes. Americans are left to question why the Senate is so unmotivated to pass this legislation. Is there something in the bill that concerns them, or is it simply that some Senators do not think genocide prevention is important enough to bring to the floor?

What is the Elie Wiesel Act?

The Elie WieselAct is quite comprehensive. It calls for a greater focus on root cause prevention, early warning identification and response, finding current policy gaps, “enhance[ing] capacity of the United States to prevent and respond to atrocities,” being more multi-dimensional, coordinating better between agencies, and increasing spending on atrocity prevention. While not perfect, it is truly a bold step toward earnest atrocity prevention.

The Senate version has been watered down, adding in terms such as “where appropriate” and eliminating references to specific funding sources such as the ComplexCrisis Fund. Further, the Senate has specifically added text stipulating that this legislation cannot be used as justification for the use of force. While force is never the first choice, and prevention is always the goal, those familiar with atrocity prevention know the limitation this puts on this legislation by automatically taking it off the table.   

Further, theSenate version is more U.S.-centric. It is more concerned with American national security, and less concerned with the security of others. For some reason members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have also removed the definition of peacebuilding, cut the select committee on intelligence, cut instruction on early warning signs, and eliminated the acceptance of analysis of atrocity situations by outside groups. All of these are curious deletions, and make the legislation not nearly as powerful a tool as it could be.

There is very little time left in the 2018 Congressional Calendar, and it is clear there is no intention of getting this done before the holiday break. Very likely, this will have to become the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocity Prevention Act of2019. And while Democrats may have lost a few seats in the recent midterms, as you can see by the House vote, genocide prevention is a bi-partisan issue. So, ostensibly it shouldn’t matter who has the majority in the Senate come January.This legislation ought to still easily pass, which makes this delay even more confounding.

As Elie Wiesel reminded us in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “there is much to be done, there is much that can be done.” It’s true; we cannot stop all genocides with one piece of legislation. But we certainly cannot stop genocide by doing nothing. There are things we can do, there are things we should do. And the Elie Wiesel Act is a bold step in the right direction.

What Can You Do?

This legislation is currently in the hands of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It is up to this committee to bring the bill to the Senate floor. What they need now is the motivation to do so. Let’s get them motivated!

  • Email the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Let them know you care about genocide prevention, and you believe the United States ought to stand asa leader. You can find their contact information here.
  • Bring attention on social media. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard much about this bill. It’s floating dangerously below the radar. Let’s get it some attention!! Here are some potential Tweets and Facebook posts you can share:
  • Tell the Senate to pass the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018! It’s time to make atrocity prevention a priority. #GenPrev #AtrocityPrevention #Senate #ElieWiesel
  • Get people informed! Share this article with your friends and colleagues. Let people know that this legislation is just sitting there, waiting for the Senate to vote on it. All we need is citizens to let them know we care about it, and we want them to vote!!