President Obama issued a directive and a proclamation last Thursday which had human rights advocates celebrating.
The Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities mandates a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities which is “a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” It also establishes a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making. This will enable the U.S. to be more responsive to and prevent potential atrocities overseas.
The Presidential Proclamation, entitled “Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons Who Participate in Serious Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Violations and Other Abuses,” explicitly bars entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights. It ensures that the country does not become a safe haven for human rights violators or those responsible for other atrocities.
The Council for Global Equality, an international coalition of human rights activists, foreign policy experts, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) leaders, philanthropists and corporate officials, praised the directive, which the group sees as giving the president and the Secretary of State “an important tool to use in dissuading extremist actions that are prejudicial to basic human rights, and in encouraging the development of inclusive laws and societies.”
Human Rights First, an international human rights organization based in New York and Washington, D.C., sent out a release commending the president for his “action plan to avoid mass atrocities” such as those currently taking place in Syria, Cote d’Ivoire, and the South Kordofan region of Sudan.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, told the Washington Blade that the proclamation can, in principle, “be used to justify the exclusion of hate-promoting politicians like Ugandan parliamentarian David Bahati, who introduced a ‘kill the gays bill’ in a previous legislative session in Uganda and may do so again.”
Bahati and others worldwide who choose to violate the basic human rights of groups of people because of their race, nationality or ethnicity, religion, disability, or gender orientation and identity will not allowed to spread their hate and bigotry in this country. Governments that codify and perpetuate the systemic abuse of a minority will be called to task by the U.S. government, its allies and partners.
Mr. Obama clearly outlines how his administration intends to keep America’s commitment to basic human rights and humanitarian law. He empowers action abroad and declares in no uncertain terms that those who oppress others are not welcome to our shores.
We certainly have a ways to go in treating immigrants, people of color, and gay, bisexual and transgender women and men equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Many of us are striving for the ideal though – including our president. This is a start.