April: The Cruelest Month?
By Mary Stata on 04/11/2012 @ 02:00 PM
For most, the month of April conjures images and thoughts of springtime flowers, Easter celebrations, and preparations for summer. Over the past century, however, the world has witnessed a series of genocides and other mass atrocities that all began in April. In April 1933, the Nazis took power in Germany which ultimately led to the deaths of six million Jews throughout Europe. In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Pnomh Penh, marking the beginning of the Cambodian genocide which left two million dead in three and a half years. In April 1992, the four year siege of Sarajevo began that eventually claimed 10,000 lives. In April 1994, an airplane carrying Rwandan President Juevnal Habyarimana was shot down triggering a genocide that left over 800,000 dead in 100 days. Violence erupted in Darfur in 2003, displacing millions and killing at last 200,000.
The Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur all share tragic anniversaries during this month. It’s for this reason that activists have dedicated the month of April to genocide prevention. Even though the United States and international community have had access to intelligence on each escalating crisis over the past century, they failed to prevent these atrocities. More recently, warning signs of impending violence in places like Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Cote d’Ivoire went largely unheeded until violence already was underway. And now the world is watching ongoing violence in Syria that only seems to worsen by the day.
As painful as it is to examine the cruel events of Aprils past, it’s important to note that the U.S government is making important steps toward preventing future genocides and atrocities. Individuals at the highest levels of the Obama Administration carry a personal commitment forged through direct experiences, particularly with the genocide in Rwanda, to improve U.S. policy and government systems. Important initial steps have now been taken, including creation of a bureau in the State Department devoted to the prevention of deadly conflict and a Presidential Study Directive that establishes an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board.
As Congress remains focused on slashing the State Department's budget, however, funding for this new Conflict Stabilization Operations bureau is vulnerable. You can take action by urging your Member of Congress to fully fund this new bureau.
Further, the Obama Administration has yet to officially form this new Atrocities Prevention Board and explain how it will operate. In the face of ongoing atrocities in Syria and South Sudan, however, the need for this interagency structure is even more urgent to prevent future violence against civilians.
Despite the good intentions of the Obama Administration, significant gaps and challenges remain. Greater pressure from Congress and the U.S. public is needed to ensure that these new structures remain beyond any one Administration and receive adequate funding.
In the years to come, I hope that the month of April will not only commemorate lives that have been lost, but also recognize the progress that governments and citizens have made to stop the killing before it starts.