Days Before The Holocaust Remembrance Day, Trump Signs The Elie Wiesel Act
Yesterday marked the observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Forbes, Ewelina U. Ochab discusses the Elie Wiesel Act that President Trump signed earlier this month—“an act aimed at improving the US response to mass atrocities.” Among other measures, the act prioritizes the prevention of genocide as a matter of America’s national security interest.
The Act, as introduced in 2017, called upon the President to instruct the State Department to establish a Mass Atrocities Task Force, a new mechanism engaged with strengthening US efforts at atrocity prevention and response. Furthermore,
The Director of National Intelligence is encouraged to include in his or her annual testimony to Congress on threats to U.S. national security: (1) a review of countries and regions at risk of atrocity crimes; and (2) specific countries and regions at immediate risk of atrocity crimes, including most likely pathways to violence, specific risk factors, potential perpetrators, and at-risk target groups.”
However, this provision did not make it to final document.
Similarly, the provision establishing the Complex Crises Fund did not become the law. The provision was meant to:
enable the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to support programs and activities to prevent or respond to emerging or unforeseen foreign challenges and complex crises overseas, including potential atrocity crimes. Fund amounts may not be expended for lethal assistance or to respond to natural disasters.”
Despite being a lighter version of the document as introduced in 2017, the potential of the Act is great. As the Act will be implemented over the next months or years, one should bear in mind the words of Robert H. Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States at Nuremberg Trials, who, speaking on the Nazi atrocities, said that: “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated…Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.”
The 21st century cannot afford more mass atrocities. The ongoing genocidal atrocities in Syria, Iraq and Burma are examples of the ambitious and indecisive response that Jackson warned against. Atrocities like genocide do not just happen overnight. Genocide can develop from mass atrocities, for example, war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, this progression takes time and often happens with an attendant ignorance by the international community which gives the perpetrators license to continue.
Any failure on the part of states or the international community to act, and to act promptly, will often lead to the atrocities escalating until they reach the threshold of genocide. This may be why the international community hesitates to use the word “genocide”— as using the word means that the international community must accept its failure to prevent the escalation of mass atrocities into genocide.
On the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims, we should not only remember the victims of the Holocaust but also consider how to prevent similar atrocities from occurring. This includes scrutinizing the how the Nazi atrocities escalated to the Holocaust and how the legacy of the response to the Nazi atrocities could be used to assist in stopping or bringing to justice the perpetrators of the ongoing incidents of genocide. Civilization cannot tolerate these crimes either.
More: Read President Trump’s Proclamation for Holocaust Remembrance Day