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Obama’s Attempt to Prevent Mass Atrocities is Positive First Step

Recently the Obama Administration unveiled landmarklegislation which has the potential to strengthen how the US deals with theprevention of mass atrocities and serious human rights violations. The interagencyAtrocities Prevention Board (PSD-10) aims to close existing gaps in US law andprovide new economic, diplomatic, and political deterrents to ensure that the USresponds swiftly and unequivocally to all manner of human rights violators. 

I personallyhave investigated mass atrocities and human rights violations in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq,Liberia, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Algeria, Russia, andKyrgyzstan. For the last two years, much of my work with PHR has beenhelping to develop local forensic capabilities so the people of Afghanistan canaddress past abuses and begin the process of transitional justice, turning fromviolence to peace.PHRhas also been investigating human rights violations for 25 years and has been inAfghanistan since 1998, when we first focused on the abuses of women under therule of the Taliban.

There arecountless mass graves bearing testimony to Afghanistan’s history of abuses, yetmeaningful attempts to deal with the injustices of the past have been virtuallynon-existent. This is not only due to the ongoing hostilities, the precarioussecurity situation and the weakened status of many governmental institutions,but also because many of the perpetrators of past and present atrocities remainin positions of power within the government. Fault does not lie solely withAfghanistan, but also with the international community, which after the country’sinvasion failed to install a process based on the concept of “No peace withoutjustice.”

With PSD-10 and theestablishment of the Atrocities Prevention Board, President Obama issued a proclamation that “explicitly bars entryinto the United Statesof persons who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity,and serious violations of human rights.” While the United States already prevents somehuman rights violators from entering the country, will put greater pressure on thosethat have committed such crimes. PSD-1o could also impact some of the allegedAfghan war criminals and human rights abusers.

Fortunately, President Obama’s new directive alsocould empower groups in Afghanistanto be proactive in measures that will help prevent mass atrocities, such asengaging in transitional justice and truth seeking. PSD-10 addresses the needto adequately train and prepare those spearheading the fight against massatrocities and human rights violations. PHR has been doing just that in Afghanistan.  Recently, a PHR trained team of policeofficers, medical doctors, archaeologists, human rights officers and civilsociety representatives founded the Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization(FSO). The members of this team are trained on how to scientifically documentmass graves and evidence of past atrocities as a first step towards addressingthe violence of the past.

Truth based on fact is a cornerstone of justice. Afghanistanis but one example of a country where there can be no peace without justice.