Sunday, January 11, 2009

Albright-Cohen report proposes anti-genocide policy

First published in December 13, 2008

U.S. told to give higher priority to genocide prevention
Albright-Cohen report sidesteps Armenian-American concerns
by Emil Sanamyan and Nareg Seferian

William Cohen and Madeline Albright at the National Press Club on November 13, 2007, announcing the formation of the Genocide Prevention Task Force. Nareg Seferian for the Armenian Reporter

Washington, - The United States should establish early warning mechanisms and if necessary lead an international coalition that would take military action to prevent incidents of mass violence against civilians, says a report prepared by former senior U.S. officials and unveiled on December 8.

Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers, was prepared by a bipartisan panel for the consideration of the incoming administration of Barack Obama. The panel, the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), was co-chaired by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, secretaries of state and defense respectively in the Clinton administration.

The report called for $250 million in annual funding for the anti-genocide strategy and appointment of a senior White House coordinator for the policy.

The mechanisms recommended in the report include strengthening international humanitarian norms and institutions, monitoring and early warning about emerging crises, early diplomatic engagement to prevent escalation and mass violence, and resorting to military action as a last resort to halt the bloodshed.

The report also referred to a "growing understanding" around the world that "no government has the right to use national sovereignty as a shield behind which it can murder its own people."

"It is a good piece of work on the future of how the United States should organize itself for responding to emerging genocides in the future," former U.S. ambassador to Armenia John Evans told the Armenian Reporter.

At the same time, Mr. Evans said, the "largely ahistorical" approach taken by the task force "will be profoundly disappointing to people who expected more attention" paid to issues such as the Armenian Genocide.

But, he added, "we who care about the Armenian case should welcome this report for what it is, realizing that it is not the final word by any means on historical issues."

Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) acknowledged in a statement that "Albright and Cohen offered some worthwhile solutions" to genocide prevention.

"But," Mr. Hamparian went on to add, "Secretaries Albright and Cohen both have long track records, both as government officials and private citizens, of working to block American recognition of the Armenian Genocide," and they "remain very much part of the problem the Task Force set out to address."

Credibility questions

GPTF convened late last year under the auspices of the American Academy of Diplomacy, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

At the launch of the initiative in November 2007, Mrs. Albright and Mr. Cohen had their credibility on the issue of genocide questioned repeatedly (see the November 17, 2007, Armenian Reporter).

The two former officials were members of an administration that failed to address the genocide in Rwanda and opposed a clear U.S. condemnation of the Armenian Genocide.

Moreover, as recently as March 2007, they continued to publicly oppose congressional action that describes the Armenian experience in 1915-17 in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

In last year's presentation of the taskforce, one of the journalists present observed of the two secretaries: "It sounds as if both of you are saying that ‘if our friends do it, it's not genocide, if our enemies do it, it is genocide.'"

Asked if their opposition to genocide affirmation meant that the United States "shouldn't be taking action on future genocides because of what it could mean to U.S. interests," the former secretaries appeared to agree.

"There are no absolutes in this," said Mr. Cohen at the time. "There is an element of pragmatism.... I think anyone serving in public office necessarily has to have a set of balancing factors to take into account."

Euphemistic language

The task force consulted with representatives of the three Armenian advocacy organizations in Washington - the ANCA, the Armenian Assembly of America, and the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC) - as well as Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch, but remained equivocal in its references to the Armenian Genocide.

The GPTF says, "this task force is not a historical commission; its focus is on the future and on prevention."

The report claims that its authors "recognize the importance of learning from the past and the dangers of denying past crimes" and would like to "avoid definitional traps" when it comes to mass atrocities.

At the same time, the authors noted that the report contains "many references to specific countries and historical events in this report, not all of which necessarily fall into the category of genocide."

Among the historical events briefly mentioned in the report is the "forced exile of Armenians into unlivable conditions," as well as the U.S. failure to heed calls for action by its then ambassador to Ottoman Turkey Henry Morgenthau, as well as provision of assistance to Armenian victims.

The report also discusses the U.S. failure to adequately respond to outrages in Rwanda and, more recently, Sudan, and how that has undermined U.S. image around the world.

New age of humanitarian interventions?

"The time is right for these recommendations," Mr. Evans believes "because there will be greater awareness among the members of the incoming [Obama] team of the importance of not ignoring the trouble spots around the world" where genocidal threats exist.

According to a December 8 Washington Post story, the country where change in U.S. policy on genocide may be felt soonest is in Sudan.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague is currently deciding whether to issue an arrest warrant against Sudan's longtime ruler.

Since 2003, the country's Arab-dominated government has been accused of a genocidal campaign in its majority-black rebellious province of Darfur, where hundreds of thousands are believed to have died, with more than two million displaced.

Since 2004, the focus of fighting has shifted from government action against rebels to various rebel and pro-government factions fighting among themselves. Also last May, rebel forces staged a military raid on Sudan's capital of Khartoum, located 400 miles from Darfur, which left hundreds dead.

Although the Bush administration qualified Sudanese government actions in Darfur as genocide early on, the United States introduced only limited economic sanctions against the country.

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration cited humanitarian grounds for military action in former Yugoslavia, as well as in Haiti and Somalia, where the United States attempted to arrest state failure.

The December 8 story in the Post recalled that key Obama appointees have called for military action against Sudan - from enforcement of a "no-fly" zone suggested by Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton to airstrikes called for ambassador to United Nations-designate Susan Rice.

Last year, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joseph Biden, who is now Vice President-elect, said that he "would use American force now" to stop the killing of civilians in Sudan.

As a senator, Mr. Obama himself spoke of a "moral obligation" that the United States had to intervene to stop humanitarian catastrophes from unraveling around the world, although he did not advocated direct U.S. military action over Darfur.

Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is staying on with the Obama administration, and National Security Advisor-designate James Jones have argued the U.S. military is already stretched too thin with commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan to play any substantial role in places like Sudan.

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