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Originally published Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 4:40 PM

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Guest: Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board appears idle while Sudan bombs its people

President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board, tasked with the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide, remains idle, according to guest columnists John K. Roth and Samuel Totten.

Special to The Times

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FOR 22 months now, the government of Sudan has carried out hundreds of bombings against the people of the Nuba Mountains. Having fled into the hinterland and mountain caves, hundreds of thousands do not have access to their farms and are suffering severe malnutrition and starvation.

And yet, President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board, tasked with the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide, remains idle.

During a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in April 2012, the president announced the establishment of the Atrocities Prevention Board and spoke about the Holocaust: “We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen — because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent.”

Ironically, it is Obama’s very mechanism to fight genocide, the Atrocities Prevention Board, that is silent today.

Obama also said in that speech, “Last year, in the first-ever presidential directive on this challenge, I made it clear that preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” On May 1, a fact sheet issued by the board highlighted its activities but included nothing about the ongoing atrocities in Sudan.

Wanting to ascertain whether the board was actually doing anything to help prevent crimes against humanity, some 60 scholars of genocide studies and human-rights activists from across the globe sent a letter to Samantha Power, then-chair of the board, in December. Power never responded. They sent her a second letter in January, and again received no response.

When Power resigned in late February, they sent a letter to Steven Pomper, who assumed Power’s position as senior director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. He, too, never replied. On March 28, a letter was sent to another member of the board, Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator of USAID. Again, no response. In early April the scholars wrote to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice about this situation. To date, she has not responded.

President Obama has repeatedly touted his administration as one of the most open and transparent in the history of the United States. He has said, “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.”

A grand promise. But when the rubber hits the road, both the words and promise seem hollow, at least when it comes to the Atrocities Prevention Board.

Not only do board members refuse to respond to legitimate concerns, but the board does not have a website, a Twitter account or even list email addresses for its main office or its members. Where’s the “unprecedented” transparency?

The APB should publicly post quarterly reports on the prevention and intervention of crimes against humanity and genocide. It should also issue a strong recommendation to the White House to prod the U.N. Security Council to force the government of Sudan to halt its daily bombings of the Nuba Mountains, and immediately allow for the creation of an international humanitarian corridor to get desperately needed food and medicine to the people of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.

While the Atrocities Prevention Board sits in silence, hundreds of thousands in the Nuba Mountains go without food and face daily bombings by the Sudanese government.

That is unconscionable. President Obama seems oblivious to both the tragedy itself and to the lack of attention to the humanitarian crisis by the board he created.

John K. Roth, of Winthrop, far left, is professor emeritus at Claremont McKenna College and author of “Will Genocide Ever End?” Samuel Totten is professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and author of “Genocide by Attrition: Nuba Mountains, Sudan.”


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