by Ailih Weeldryer, OPW Intern for International Issues
This July marked the 25th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, a turning point in the Bosnian War that many agree qualifies under the international definition of genocide. For Bosnian Muslims, the memory of the massacre and campaign of ethnic cleansing enacted by Serbian forces looms large. Many Americans, too, whether a part of the Bosnian diaspora or simply concerned global citizens, hold the genocide and the lead-up to it clearly in their memories. In name, mass atrocities and major crimes against humanity like the Srebrenica massacre remain ingrained in collective memory as warnings against future occurrences. And yet, those without a close personal experience of such horrific events seem to quickly forget all that goes into creating the conditions for mass atrocities. As a global society, we pledge “never again,” though powerful actors in the international community have not historically prioritized the prevention of mass atrocities or protected vulnerable communities. The work of atrocity prevention is long-term, with few visible “success stories,” as success means no international headlines, no debates over foreign military intervention, no moral outrage. And yet the work of atrocity prevention in government, in civil society organizations, and on the international level is crucial to ensuring a peaceful world.
The PC(USA) engages in the work of making “never again” a reality through the Prevention and Protection Working Group (PPWG). The working group is coordinated by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a partner of the Office of Public Witness on many issues. Alongside FCNL, the Prevention and Protection Working Group includes many other human rights, religious, humanitarian, anti-genocide, and peace organizations. This coalition dedicates itself to improving U.S. government policies and the capacity of NGOs and civil society to prevent violent conflict, avert mass atrocities, and protect communities vulnerable to such crises. The working group focuses most of its collective energy on U.S. government structures, seeking to enhance resources and support for policies of prevention and protection. Members also collaborate to advocate for policies that protect civilians at risk around the world, including engagement with international crises in Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Libya.
Much of the PPWG’s long term advocacy goes towards lobbying Congress to increase funding for peacebuilding and atrocity prevention programs. These programs, in comparison to other foreign policy efforts, are greatly underfunded. In 2019, U.S. government entities working on atrocity prevention under the State Department and USAID received around $12.5 million to operate a myriad of peacebuilding programs, whereas Department of Defense funding for unmanned drones alone exceeded $3 billion in that year. Peacebuilding efforts by U.S. entities and their partners could achieve much more if allotted resources that matched the significance and scope of such programs. Ultimately, the PPWG seeks a transformation of the United States’ national security agenda from one of over-militarization to one that recognizes that peacebuilding in unstable regions, rather than military action or other forms of influence, ultimately creates a more stable world and benefits U.S. national security. For only when the U.S. government and other powerful international actors reevaluate their practices of hyper-militarization and redistribute resources to important peacebuilding efforts will “never again” become a reality.
If this issue speaks to you, please explore the work of the Prevention and Protection Working Group by clicking here.
About the Author:
As the fall intern for International Issues at the Office of Public Witness, Ailih will attend monthly PPWG meetings to learn about the long-term work of atrocity prevention from experts within the government, the advocacy community, and beyond. In addition to these meetings, she will look to understand the role of faith actors in atrocity prevention – historically, in the present, and how we might improve in the future. After studying international politics and human rights for her undergraduate degree, including doing research on the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, Ailih grew interested in the work of atrocity prevention. She believes that the continuing occurrence of mass atrocities and genocide is a horrendous lapse in the international community’s commitment to human rights. The world, and specifically the United States, can and should do more to contribute to building peace and preventing mass atrocities. This fall, Ailih is excited to be engaging in this work through the Office of Public Witness, observing the power of faith-based advocacy first-hand, and deepening her belief in the necessity of speaking out about injustice.