On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane was shot down and Hutu militias began moving around Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, killing moderate politicians and journalists deemed a threat to Hutu power. Within a few hours of Habyarimana's death, the genocide against the Tutsi people in Rwanda had begun.
On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government began to expel and massacre Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. 1.5 million people were murdered.
This year, as we mark the 22nd anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, we are reminded of the immense failure of the international community to prevent and respond to genocide. As a result of our failure, hundreds of thousands of innocent lives were lost, families were torn apart, and irreparable wounds were inflicted.
As an international community, we have declared “never again” in the wake of these atrocities. Yet tragedies such as these continue to happen again and again with impunity. As we move deeper into the 21st century, the necessity to address these mass atrocities becomes ever clearer. While making “never again” a reality will be a long-term project with many struggles and failures along the way, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) took a big step toward “never again” with the introduction of the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act.
The bill was introduced in the Senate as a bipartisan effort to ensure that the United States makes genocide and atrocity prevention a top commitment in both foreign affairs and national security. The bill addresses three key aims: institutionalizing the Atrocities Prevention Board, authorizing the Complex Crises Fund, and mandating training in atrocities prevention for State Department personnel.
The Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) is an inter-agency entity tasked with monitoring and preventing genocide and mass atrocities through information-sharing and coordination among U.S. government officials. Each month, high-ranking officials from the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury, the CIA, FBI, USAID, and National Security Council convene to discuss emerging crises and threats of genocide in countries across the world. The APB itself has the authority to conduct early warning analyses in potential crisis zones and to recommend a coordinated, agency-specific government plan of action.
In the past four years, the APB has worked extensively and successfully to prevent further atrocities in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Burundi. In the Central African Republic, the APB is credited with the impressive speed at which the U.S. was able to respond to and mitigate further violence, and with ensuring that prevention remained a top priority on an international scale. Furthermore, based on the APB’s suggestions regarding Burundi, the U.S. deployed civilian conflict experts, supported various Burundian actors working for peace, and facilitated local and national dialogue to discourage the escalation of tensions and violence.
This essential bill will allow the U.S. government to engage extensively in the prevention of genocide and other mass atrocities and will allow the Atrocities Prevention Board to continue to yield tangible successes in countries across the world.
While both Illinois senators strongly support human rights initiatives, as evidenced by Senator Durbin’s advocacy in support of Syrian refugees and Senator Kirk’s position as the co-chair of the Human Rights Caucus, neither Senator has signed on to the bill. Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Mark Kirk have a responsibility to uphold American values by co-sponsoring the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act. As we collectively remember the atrocities committed in Rwanda twenty-two years ago, those committed during the Armenian Genocide 101 years ago, and those committed in countries across the world and throughout history, we must all take action to make “never again” a reality.
Francesca Freeman is a fourth-year in the College majoring in comparative race and ethnic studies and anthropology.