United States Policy on Genocide
University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida.
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Unfortunately, the United States’s policies on genocide have most often been policies of chilling indifference, of benign neglect. In a few cases, it’s been worse than that. In a few cases, like Guatemala, our military training programs have actually trained the military forces that have later carried out the genocide. There have been some real ironies. In the case of Cambodia, we fought against the Khmer Rouge during the Vietnam War, and then turned right around in 1980 and started to vote to seat them in the United Nations after they’d been overthrown—this genocidal regime. It’s amazing, because of the balance of power of politics. Of course, in Rwanda, as you know, we voted to withdraw the UN peacekeeping forces right at the beginning of the genocide. And so, our policies in the past have been unfortunately policies of too little and too late. In the case of the Holocaust, as you know, we turned away a whole ship, a whole shipload of Jewish refugees from Germany who could have been saved. And we turned away literally hundreds of thousands of other Jewish people who could have been saved from our shores. And so, our history has not been one of consciousness of genocide and of active response to it, but we must change that. And I think we’re making some steps. David Scheffer’s office has created a genocide response unit. It is specifically tasked with trying to determine when genocide is going to occur in advance. I think that’s a step forward. I think that the war to stop the Serb aggression against Kosovo was a step forward. It was one of the first times that a genocide has actually been rolled back by military force. So, I think we are coming to some progress. I think there’s also been diplomatic progress. There’s been very active efforts by our State Department to try to stop further genocide in Burundi, for instance, through the diplomatic process; to bring peace in a number of other countries where genocidal conflict is possible: Ethiopia and Eritrea, for instance, and places like that. So, I actually have hope that we are coming to grips with this problem. I can only hope that, in the future, that the US will begin to take the lead on some of the other key issues, such as the International Criminal Court and a rapid response force for the United Nations.
I think the single most important steps that the world could take to stop genocide today are the creation of the International Criminal Court, and I think that’s going to happen; and the creation of a powerful international rapid response force for the United Nations. I think we are seeing the beginning of that, with the Standing High-Readiness Brigade that is being organized to respond to actions of the UN Security Council, but I think we need a far more powerful force, one that will be supported also by the United States and by the other great powers of the world. So I think those two things need to be done. And I think with them, we will have very important instruments to stop genocide.