A Genocide Policy that Works

Sewall_34.5_clothesSarah Sewall in the Boston Review:

The Genocide Prevention Task Force is the latest high-profile attempt to address this dilemma by advocating for U.S. leadership to prevent mass killings. Chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, the 2007 effort was sponsored by three quasi-official institutions: the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the U.S. Institute of Peace. Its mission was to provide the next president of the United States with a blueprint for action to address genocide before it occurs. (Full disclosure: the principal financial backing for the Task Force came from the Humanity United Foundation, which also supports my mass atrocity research; I participated in the Task Force as an expert working group member.)

The fourteen-member Task Force consciously sought to avoid the debates associated with the legal definition of the word genocide, which requires sophisticated judgments about the intention of murderers and the effect of their actions upon the identity of groups. Instead, the Task Force concerned itself with genocide as “large-scale and deliberate attacks on civilians.” Despite the introduction of new definitional questions, this is a sensible approach since the fundamental problem is extensive violence against innocents, regardless of its purpose.