9 December 2008


9 December 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Preventing genocide was an obligation owed to past victims, to those now endangered and to those who may find themselves in jeopardy in the years to come, Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State of the United States, said at Headquarters today.

“It is also a responsibility we have to ourselves and our own future,” she said added during a press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations, where she presented the final report of the Genocide Prevention Task Force on the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  Ms. Albright and former United States Secretary of Defence William Cohen, the other Co-Chair of the Task Force, made a case for giving top priority to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities.

Jointly convened by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Institute of Peace, the Task Force began its work last November with the goal of generating concrete recommendations on how to recognize and respond to the threats of genocide and mass atrocities.  Titled “Preventing Genocide:  a Blueprint for US Policymakers”, the just-released report would be presented to Zalmay Khalilzad, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, this afternoon.

The document’s central premise was that genocide was unacceptable, and more could and should be done to prevent it, Ms. Albright said, adding that the United States had both a duty and an interest in helping to show the way.  The report emphasized that, in trying to prevent genocide, there was a broad range of foreign policy options between standing aside and ordering in the Marines.  “The more diligent we are in detecting and addressing potential problems, the more favourable our options will be.”

Highlighting key areas of leadership, organization and funding, she went on to say that the Task Force was proposing a number of steps to strengthen early warning, facilitate preventive action, enhance diplomacy and widen the range of alternatives available to leaders if emergencies did arise.  It also addressed the vital goal of working with allies and friends to strengthen international institutions and norms.  “We believe the US Government should treat the prevention of genocide as a top foreign-policy priority, and that spirit should pervade both our national security agencies and the multilateral bodies in which we take part.”

She said the report also recommended the creation of a high-level inter-agency mechanism to focus specifically on stopping genocide before it happened and an annual appropriation of $250 million to finance a specially-tailored project in countries at risk.  Overall, the Task Force hoped that its report would attract further attention to what remained one of the great modern security and moral challenges.

“President Bush-41 used to talk about the new world order, and it has turned out to be a world of disorder in many respects,” said Mr. Cohen.  With genocide and mass atrocities taking place around the world, “we have to have conviction that this is a moral responsibility on the part of the United States and others, and that’s why we are at the United Nations today”.

It was also a matter of national security for the United States, and members of the Task Force would certainly raise it with the new Administration, he continued.  Genocide and mass atrocities could lead to failed-State status, and failed States could become the breeding ground for terrorists.  It was important to anticipate where genocidal practices might occur, take preventative measures, gather and disseminate information, and then try to take diplomatic initiatives.  Failing all else, it was important to have a military capability as a measure of last resort.

Stressing the need for policy, guidance and training on genocide prevention, he said he hoped that it would be “very much on the mind of the new Commander-in-Chief” as he looked at national security and national security strategy in a much broader way to take the modern world into account.  “This is not going to be easy.”  The incoming President had many issues on his agenda, but genocide should be among the priorities.  It would also not be easy to promote the idea of a military component.  The questions “What is the mission? Is it well defined? Is it achievable? What will be the cost, and what is the exit strategy?” must be answered.

Such questions had been asked, for example, in connection with Kosovo, he pointed out, noting that the issue of legality must also be addressed.  In the case of Kosovo, several European allies of the United States had insisted on going through the Security Council, but that was “a non-starter, because we’ll never get through the Security Council”.  For that reason, it had been proposed to use the Charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“In dealing with these issues, you have to have an identifiable interest, and then you have to have at least a stamp of legitimacy,” he continued.  Otherwise, countries will always find a reason to insist on non-intervention.  “We need to say, this is our business, this is the world’s business.”  Political leadership was needed from the President of the United States to make it clear that “from a moral point of view, we can’t be silent witnesses on the sidelines, just ignoring the fact that thousands of people are hacked to death, slaughtered or raped”.  It was doubtful that the United States could afford that as a nation that believed in democracy, freedom and human rights.  But ultimately, it was also in its security interests to prevent genocide.

At the same time, “we don’t want this to be seen simply as the United States attempting to take unilateral action,” he said.  “It has to be international.  This cannot be seen as Uncle Sam being called upon to try to intervene and be resisted by the virtue of that fact.”  Other countries needed to get involved.  Genocide should be seen as “everybody’s security issue”.

Asked about the lessons of Darfur, Ms. Albright said there was a sense that stronger action was needed, that the international community must deal with the issue and that the United Nations had a big responsibility.  “We have talked also about the responsibility to protect, which clearly is not happening by President [Omer Hassan al-]Bashir in Sudan.”

The Task Force had consulted with a very large group of eminent persons, many of whom were now either in the transition process or expected to have some role in the Obama Administration, she said in response to another question.

Asked to comment on the nomination of Susan Rice as the next United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, she said she could not be happier with the choice.  Ms. Rice was a very forceful advocate for a strong American foreign policy.  She and Secretary of State-designate [Hillary] Clinton would be “terrific partners in showing American support for the United Nations”.

Responding to several questions about the events in Rwanda during her tenure as Permanent Representative to the United Nations, she said various aspects of that tragedy “obviously weigh very heavily on all of us that had anything to do with it”.  While the study presented by the Task Force was not an historic one, it had incorporated some of the lessons drawn from Rwanda into its suggestions.  At the time, there had not been enough information coming in through the United Nations system, and the United States Government “was not set up to deal with the problem”.  That was why the Task Force had proposed an atrocities prevention committee to meet on a monthly basis.

Describing events in Rwanda as “volcanic genocide”, she said they had unfolded very quickly and that, while more should have been done to get troops into the country, it was doubtful whether they would have been able to arrive on time.  For those reasons, more training, better information and intelligence systems were important.  Based on the experience of Rwanda, it was important to deal with the aftermath of such events, including refugee camps and humanitarian assistance.

Regarding the definition of genocide, she said one had to be careful not to undermine the concept by making a lot of “definitional arguments”.  The issues involved the targeting of innocent civilians merely for belonging to a particular group.  In its report, the Task Force had tried to make it very clear that it was talking about genocide and mass atrocities.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.