Title

Preventing Mass Atrocities

Thursday, May 13, 2021
9:30am
United States
Members: 
Name: 
Senator Ben Cardin
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Senator Roger Wicker
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Richard Hudson
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Senator Tina Smith
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Steve Cohen
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Marc Veasey
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Professor Timothy Snyder
Title: 
Richard C. Levin Professor of History
Body: 
Yale University
Name: 
Naomi Kikoler
Title: 
Director, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide
Body: 
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The mass atrocities and genocides committed in twentieth-century Europe spurred a worldwide consensus that there is a responsibility among states to both prevent and punish such heinous acts.

The U.S. Helsinki Commission convened its first hearing of the 117th Congress on May 13, 2021 to examine the interests of the United States in taking an active role in preventing mass killings, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide; review warning signs that indicate risks for atrocities; and discuss the challenges of building and sustaining alliances among states in support of atrocities prevention.

Presiding over the hearing, Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) emphasized the international consensus behind the legal obligation to prevent and punish mass atrocity crimes—large-scale and deliberate acts on civilians that constitute acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes—and the responsibility of the United States to recognize and act on early warning signs.

Witnesses included Timothy Snyder, the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and Naomi Kikoler, the director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Snyder offered four recommendations to shape prevention-based policies against mass atrocities. First, foreign correspondents should be present abroad to provide reliable information, as widespread disinformation campaigns often take place before mass atrocities. Second, policymakers should aim to stem panic and assure that citizens can attain necessary resources—at the beginning of a mass atrocity, there is often a sense of scarcity and urgency. Third, prevention policies should focus on strengthening governments and civil society, as mass atrocities often occur in weak states. Fourth, the United States must embody human rights; in recent history, the weaponization of history has increased the risk of mass atrocities.

Once states resort to military force to stop mass atrocities, Snyder noted, it is already too late. Therefore, prevention is key.

Kikoler testified that mass atrocities are preventable, and effective action based on early warning signs can track, disrupt, and prevent such crimes. Kikoler pointed to troubling signs in the OSCE region, including hate speech targeting ethnic and religious minorities, existing armed conflict, and the rise of authoritarian governance. She also differentiated between upstream risks and imminent warning signs.

Kikoler also explained that atrocity prevention is in the best interest of the United States, as mass atrocities can have a devastating destabilizing effect on entire regions. She noted that although the U.S. leads the world in developing tools for atrocity prevention, these tools can still be improved.

Discussing the importance of holding those responsible for atrocities accountable, Snyder explained that accountability should extend beyond prosecution to include reputational and financial costs. Kikoler stressed the need to identify gaps in the atrocity prevention architecture, including those in domestic legislation criminalizing the commission of crimes against humanity.

Chairman Cardin asked the witnesses for suggestions on improving implementation of the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act and for suggestions for legislative change.

Kikoler recommended that when the next report is released, Congress should convene a hearing and ask the Department of State to review prevention strategies established to address the risks articulated for given states in the report. In addition, she proposed an annual briefing by the intelligence community to Congress on countries that may be at risk of genocide, and expanded atrocity prevention training for Foreign Service Offices in countries deemed at-risk.

With support from Kikoler, Snyder suggested an award from American journalists who report on genocide and genocide prevention, or a fellowship providing funding to young Americans interested in reporting on countries at risk. Both witnesses drew attention to the courageous examples of Gareth Jones and Jan Karski, who reported on the Soviet-made famine in Ukraine and the Holocaust, respectively.

To conclude the hearing, Chairman Cardin discussed the importance of learning from accurate history, understanding the role of non-governmental organizations in providing information on local communities, and correctly identifying the victim. He also reiterated the responsibility of policymakers to make atrocity prevention a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

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Ahead of meetings with State Department officials and Washington-based NGOs, he told U.S. lawmakers that supporting Belarusian civil society -- and not holding out hope that Lukashenka will reform -- is the only way to effect change. "I'm absolutely sure that Lukashenka is ready to defend his power by all possible means. Unfortunately, we can compare Lukashenka with [former Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi. So I urge the United States, the European Union, and the international community not to trust another game of liberalization badly played by the regime," he said. "Cooperate only with independent civil society in Belarus: nongovernmental organizations, both unregistered and registered, independent newspapers and media, and democratic activists." Analysts say Lukashenka has long employed the tactic of pledging to loosen to grip on the country in exchange for a reprieve from sanctions -- a tactic that has worked in the past. Observers say he has also sought to capitalize on rifts between the United States and the EU, as well as between neighboring Russia and the West, to inhibit united action against his regime. After testifying, Mikhalevich told RFE/RL that he hoped the United States would more fully take on the role of "bad cop" if the EU, which borders Belarus and relies on it as a transit country for gas from Russia, hesitates to do so. "I'm absolutely sure than in order to succeed, the international community should have both the good cop and bad cop. Someone should play the role of the bad cop, and unfortunately, the European Union would not play this role. So I hope that the United States will be ready to do it," Mikhalevich said. Mikhalevich also offered a harrowing account of what he called "constant mental and physical torture" during his two months in custody, including being "stripped naked and forced to assume various positions." "Our legs were pulled apart with ropes and we could feel our ligaments tear," Mikhalevich said in his prepared remarks. Smith appeared visibly moved by account. "Rather than calling them the KGB, it ought to be called the KGB 'P' for 'perverts.' Masked men who strip other men naked, and women, presumably, as well -- those are acts of perversion that should not go unnoticed by the international community," said the Congressman. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill sponsored by Smith that would strengthen existing sanctions against Minsk. It is awaiting consideration in the Senate. Smith told RFE/RL that Western attention on the situation in Belarus had been "obscured" to some extent by the events of the Arab Spring, and especially by the global economic downturn. He said that pushing for ICC action would be a sign that human rights are not "taking a back seat." 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"And you never know how this regime will develop -- and how many victims we will have next year."

  • From Arab Spring to Coptic Winter: Sectarian Violence and the Struggle for Democratic Transition in Egypt

    On Sunday, October 9, 2011, 25 people were killed and more than 300 injured when the Egyptian military attacked a peaceful group of Coptic Christians protesting the burning of a church in Aswan. In what has been deemed the “Massacre at Maspero,” referring to the location of the demonstration, witnesses say the army fired on the demonstrators with live ammunition and plowed into the crowd with armored vehicles. The military denied the use of live ammunition and claimed that their soldiers were attacked by an armed mob. The military has arrested at least 28 people, almost all Copts, including prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, and brought them before military prosecutors. The hearing focused on violence perpetrated against the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the implications of the events for that community and the current Egyptian leadership, and prospects for the consolidation of democracy in Egypt.

  • Belarus: The Ongoing Crackdown and Forces for Change

    Nearly one year after the brutal post-December 19, 2010, election crackdown, the human rights picture in Belarus remains bleak. Brave and committed individuals who attempt to promote a democratic future for Belarus continue to be crushed by the dictatorial Lukashenka regime. Civil society continues to be under assault, with NGOs facing ever greater constraints, and freedoms of assembly and expression are severely curtailed. Yet the ongoing economic turmoil has produced growing disaffection, as manifested in Lukashenka’s plummeting popular support, and a changing domestic and international environment. The hearing will focus on the extent and impact of the crackdown on the lives of its victims and on the larger society, and what more can be done by the U.S. and our European partners to promote democratic change in Belarus.

  • Labor Trafficking In Troubled Economic Times: Protecting American Jobs And Migrant Human Rights

    This hearing brought attention to the extremely lucrative criminal enterprise of human trafficking. Specific attention was focused on those who were most likely to be victims (i.e. people who were poor, had lost their jobs). Therefore, human trafficking, which involves forced labor, profits more in times of economic decline.

  • Senator Cardin’s Response to Rep. King’s U.S. Anti-Muslim Hearings

    Mr. President, I rise today to share my thoughts on the hearings held last week in the House of Representatives called "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." Congressional hearings are supposed to serve as an important role of oversight, investigation, or education, among other purposes. However, this particular hearing--billed as the first of a series--served only to fan flames of fear and division.  My first concern is the title of the hearing--targeting one community. That is wrong. Each of us has a responsibility to speak out when communities are unfairly targeted.  In 1975, the United States joined all the countries of Europe and established the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now known as the OSCE. The Congress created the U.S. Helsinki Commission to monitor U.S. participation and compliance with these commitments. The OSCE contains commitments in three areas or baskets: security, economics, and human rights. Best known for its human rights advancements, the OSCE has been aggressive in advancing these commitments in each of the OSCE states. The OSCE stands for religious freedom and protection of minority rights.  I am the Senate chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. In that capacity, I have raised human rights issues in other countries, such as in France when, in the name of national security, the Parliament banned burqas and wearing of all religious articles or when the Swiss restricted the building of mosques or minarets.  These policies were restrictive not only to the religious practice of Muslims but also Christians, Jews, and others who would seek to wear religious symbols and practice their religion as they saw fit.  I have also raised human rights issues in the United States when we were out of compliance with our Helsinki commitments. In that spirit, I find it necessary to speak out against the congressional hearing chaired by Congressman Peter King.  Rather than constructively using the power of Congress to explore how we as a nation can use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent future terrorist attacks and defeat those individuals and groups who want to do us harm, this spectacle crossed the line and chipped away at the religious freedoms and civil liberties we hold so dearly.  Radicalization may be the appropriate subject of a congressional hearing but not when it is limited to one religion. When that is done, it sends the wrong message to the public and casts a religion with unfounded suspicions.  Congressman King's hearing is part of a disturbing trend to demonize Muslims taking place in our country and abroad. Instead, we need to engage the Muslim community in the United States.  A cookie-cutter approach to profile what a terrorist looks like will not work. As FBI Director Mueller recently testified to the Senate:  “... During the past year, the threat from radicalization has evolved. A number of disruptions occurred involving extremists from a diverse set of backgrounds, geographic locations, life experiences, and motivating factors that propelled them along their separate radicalization pathways.”  Let us remember that a number of terrorist attacks have been prevented or disrupted due to informants from the Muslim community who contacted law enforcement officials.  I commend Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Mueller for increasing their outreach to the Arab-American community. As Attorney General Holder said:  “Let us not forget it was a Muslim-American who first alerted the New York police to a smoking car in Times Square. And his vigilance likely helped to save lives. He did his part to avert tragedy, just as millions of other Arab-Americans are doing their parts and proudly fulfilling the responsibility of citizenship.” We need to encourage this type of cooperation between our government and law enforcement agencies in the Muslim community.  As the threat from al-Qaida changes and evolves over time, the piece of the puzzle is even more important to get right. FBI Director Mueller testified before the House recently that:  At every opportunity I have, I reaffirm the fact that 99.9 percent of Muslim-Americans, Sikh-Americans, and Arab-Americans are every bit as patriotic as anyone else in this room, and that many of the anti-terrorism cases are a result of the cooperation from the Muslim community and the United States.  As leaders in Congress, we must live up to our Nation's highest ideals and protect civil liberties, even in wartime when they are most challenged. The 9/11 Commission summed up this well when they wrote:  The terrorists have used our open society against us. In wartime, government calls for greater powers, and then the need for those powers recedes after the war ends. This struggle will go on. Therefore, while protecting our homeland, Americans must be mindful of threats to vital personal and civil liberties. This balancing is no easy task, but we must constantly strive to keep it right.  I agree with Attorney General Holder's recent speech to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, where he stated:  “In this Nation, our many faiths, origins, and appearances must bind us together, not break us apart. In this Nation, the document that sets forth the supreme law of the land--the Constitution--is meant to empower, not exclude. And in this Nation, security and liberty are--at their best--partners, not enemies, in ensuring safety and opportunity for all.” Actions, such as the hearing held last week, that pit us against one another based on our religious beliefs, weaken our country and its freedoms and ultimately do nothing to make our country any safer. Hearings such as the one held last week only serve as a distraction from our real goals and provide fuel for those who are looking for excuses to find fault or blame in our way of life.  Let's not go the way of other countries but instead hold dear the protections in our Constitution that safeguard the individual's right to freely practice their religion and forbid a religious test to hold public office in the United States. Our country's strength lies in its diversity and our ability to have strongly held beliefs and differences of opinion, while being able to speak freely and not fear the government will imprison us for criticizing the government or holding a religious belief that is not shared by the majority of Americans.  On September 11, 2001, our country was attacked by terrorists in a way we thought impossible. Thousands of innocent men, women, and children of all races, religions, and backgrounds were murdered. As the 10-year anniversary of these attacks draws closer, we continue to hold these innocent victims in our thoughts and prayers, and we will continue to fight terrorism and bring terrorists to justice.  After that attack, I went back to my congressional district in Maryland at that time and made three visits as a Congressman. First I visited a synagogue and prayed with the community. Then I visited a mosque and prayed with the community. Then I went to a church and prayed with the community. My message was clear on that day: We all needed to join together as a nation to condemn the terrorist attacks and to take all necessary measures to eliminate safe havens for terrorists and bring them to justice. We all stood together on that day regardless of our background or personal beliefs.  But my other message was equally important: We cannot allow the events of September 11 to demonize a particular community, religion, or creed. Such actions of McCarthyism harken back to darker days in our history. National security concerns were used inappropriately and led to 120,000 Japanese-Americans being stripped of their property and rights and placed in internment camps in 1942, though not a single act of espionage was ever established.  The United States should not carry out a crusade against any particular religion as a response to 9/11 or other terrorist attacks. The United States will not tolerate hate crimes against any group, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, and we should not allow our institutions, including Congress, to be used to foment intolerance and injustice. Let's come together as a nation and move forward in a more constructive and hopeful manner.

  • OSCE 2010 Informal Ministerial: Kazakhstan Persistence Earns a Summit in Astana

    By Winsome Packer Policy Advisor Kazakhstan hosted its long-sought OSCE Informal Ministerial in Almaty July 16-17, 2010, the realization of a key aim of its Chairmanship. A second important objective of the Kazakh Chairmanship: a summit on Kazakh soil during 2010, came closer to realization during the meeting. An Astana Summit would be the OSCE’s first since the 1999 Istanbul Summit, which yielded the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces Treaty. Early and persistent calls for “substance before summit” by the U.S. Delegation and other participating States had put in doubt both the informal ministerial and the summit for months. However, a number of the participating States argued for the high level attention to wide-spread security challenges in the OSCE region and the erosion of OSCE values in some quarters. Ten years after the last OSCE summit, they argued, necessitated a meeting of heads of states and governments to reaffirm the participating States’ commitment to the organization’s values and agree on a way forward to tackle the challenges confronting the region today. Thus, six months of, at times, heated informal Corfu dialogue on security challenges in the OSCE region, which was mandated by the Athens Ministerial Declaration, yielded more than 50 “food for thought” papers from the participating States, the Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE Secretariat, the Partners for Cooperation, think tanks and non-governmental organizations. The thematic papers evolved into an Interim Report during June, which incorporated the proposals submitted within the Corfu Process. It formed the basis for the agenda at the Almaty Informal Ministerial and for the Summit which will be held in Astana December 1-2, 2010. The Almaty Informal Ministerial saw the participation of more than forty foreign ministers, including from the Russian Federation, France, Germany, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Georgia, Turkey, Austria, and Ukraine. The Parliamentary Assembly’s delegation included President Petros Efthymiou, and Secretary General Spencer Oliver. The U.S. delegation was headed by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg who, in a bilateral meeting with the Kazakhstanis on July 16, affirmed U.S. support for an OSCE summit this year. The joining of consensus on the summit decision by the United States elicited private expressions of relief from many delegates, and heightened expectations for the summit which would reflect the outcome of the Corfu Process: a declaration and an action plan. The Chair-in-Office requested that the OSCE delegations work toward these aims throughout the summer. During the meeting, delegates voiced support for the summit, to be held in Astana. A majority of the participating States urged OSCE support for Kyrgyzstan, in particular, through the deployment of a police mission. The United States and many delegates stated that the substance of the summit should be based upon the four proposals put forward by the European Union to: (1) bolster the OSCE’s capabilities in all three dimensions to promote early warning, conflict prevention and resolution, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, including in relation to the protracted conflicts; (2) strengthen implementation and follow-up of OSCE norms, principles and commitments in particular, human dimension commitments covering human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the media; (3) enhance the conventional arms control framework, including confidence and security building measures, through updating the 1999 Vienna Document and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty); and (4) increase attention to transnational threats in all three OSCE dimensions. Some delegates also called for a summit to: focus on instability in Afghanistan; intensify efforts to resolve protracted conflicts in the region, and address nuclear terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction. The United States called for greater military transparency, implementation of human dimension commitments and addressing inter-ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. delegation also expressed support for the expeditous deployment of a police force to Kyrgyzstan and for an action plan for the future work of the participating States. In addition to supporting the European Union’s four summit process proposals, the United States also expressed support for a focus on Afghanistan. A Chair’s Perception Paper, resulting from the informal ministerial, incorporated these concerns. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russia’s support for the summit “this year.” He urged the involvement of other regional and sub-regional leaders in addressing the Kyrgyzstan situation. He expressed hope that action would be taken on Russia’s proposal for a European Security Treaty (EST) and that it would not merely remain a “subject for discussion.” Lavrov said that the summit document should reflect the post Cold War situation and the security system that emerges should be “free of dividing lines.” He said that Russia was studying NATO’s response to the EST proposal and underlined that the summit should give strong, political impetus for supporting Kyrgyzstan. Concurrent with the Informal Ministerial, draft decisions on the holding of an OSCE summit during 2010 and draft decisions on the agenda and modalities of the summit and agenda and modalities for a review conference were circulated. The review conference would be held in Vienna, Warsaw, and Astana. Negotiations on the draft decisions began on July 19.

  • Instability in Kyrgyzstan: The International Response

    The purpose of this hearing was for Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings and others to analyze the causes of a violent and fatal revolt against Kyrgyzstan’s president in April of 2010, as well as the subsequent internecine violence that took place in the southern part of the country two months later; and to look at and discuss the prospects for better news in Kyrgyzstan’s future. Kyrgyzstan’s turbulence was traced to its history of corrupt authoritarian rule.

  • OSCE Holds Conference in Astana on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

    On June 28 and 29th, Kazakhstan, the OSCE Chair-in-Office for 2010, hosted a “High Level Conference on Tolerance and Nondiscrimination” in Astana, preceded by a one-day civil society forum. At the opening session, President Nursultan Nazarbayev called for 1) the establishment of an OSCE centre on tolerance and non-discrimination and 2) an OSCE High Commissioner on InterEthnic and Interreligious Tolerance. Kazakhstan Foreign Minister and Chair-in-Office Saudabayev concluded the meeting with a statement that he dubbed the “Astana Declaration.” More than 600 people registered to attend the conference. A large number of countries were represented by their bilateral Embassies in Astana and/or by their representatives to the OSCE from Vienna. There were no reports of NGOs having difficulties registering or gaining access to the meeting site. OSCE officials participating included Janez Lenarcic, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights; Knut Vollebaek, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities; and Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. The three Personal Representatives appointed by the Chair-in-Office tasked with dealing with these issues all attended and participated: Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the Chair-inOffice on Combating Anti-Semitism; Senator Adil Akhmetov, Personal Representative of the Chair-in-Office on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims; and MEP Mario Mauro, Personal Representative on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, also focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of other Religions.

  • Global Threats, European Security and Parliamentary Cooperation

    From nuclear security to climate change, global terrorism to anti-corruption efforts, this hearing examined what parliamentarians can do to work together on some of the most significant challenges facing the world. Members addressed European and Central Asian security concerns, including unresolved conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere, and considered how international parliaments can cooperate to address challenges related to trafficking, tolerance, and democratic development, including elections and media freedom.

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