Briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary for Conflict and Stabilization Operations Robert Faucher On Release of the 2021 Congressional Report Pursuant to the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act
Robert J. Faucher, Acting Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations
Press Briefing Room
July 12, 2021
MR FAUCHER: Thank you, Secretary Blinken. It's an honor to have the Secretary announce the submission of the annual report to Congress pursuant to the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018.
Today, we honor the life and memory of Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who reminded us that our commitment to "never again" requires persistent determination.
As the Secretary mentioned, yesterday marked the 26th anniversary of genocide in Srebrenica. Atrocities unfortunately continue to unfold on our watch.
This report serves as a reminder that while we are making progress on preventing atrocity crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, we still have much more work to do.
This year's report details a few specific country cases where the department has determined or acknowledged that atrocities have occurred in recent years, and thus are at risk of further atrocities.
For example, the report draws attention to Xinjiang, where the People's Republic of China has committed and continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, against Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.
The report draws attention to the heinous acts of sexual violence and gross human rights violations that have been reported in Tigray, Ethiopia, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, medical personnel, and humanitarian workers.
And the report also calls attention to the brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors and human rights defenders in Burma by a military regime whose leadership includes many individuals responsible for ethnic cleansing against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya, and appalling violence against ethnic and religious minorities.
With the submission of this report, the United States reaffirms that atrocity prevention must remain at the forefront of international peace and security efforts. Atrocity crimes pose some of the gravest threats to the rules-based international order that has helped bring peace and prosperity for more than seven decades. Importantly, this report is about continuous improvement in U.S. efforts to uphold that order by preventing atrocities from occurring.
To carry out this important work, the White House-led Atrocity Early Warning Task Force continues to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to prevent, mitigate, and respond to atrocities.
In the three years since the Elie Wiesel Act became law, we have trained thousands of diplomatic, development, and defense professionals to do the crucial work of prevention. We are innovating by piloting new systems that uses – that use satellite imagery to give early warning of potential violent events to groups on-the-ground. And we have deployed life-saving aid to human rights defenders and civil society leaders threatened by and in danger from repressive regimes.
This report makes clear that the United States will continue to redouble its efforts to prevent, mitigate, and respond to atrocities with more timely and effective actions in coordination with likeminded partners in multilateral fora, such as the International Atrocity Prevention Working Group. We will continue to actively solicit vital input from civil society on atrocity risk analysis, prevention strategies, and methods to address grievances and community recovery.
These steps taken together move us one step closer to "never again."
The United States Government is committed to reducing the risk of future atrocities, and, with persistent determination, create conditions for a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Thank you, and I'm happy to take a few questions.
MR PRICE: Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah. So a lot of this talk here has been about early warning and prevention, and yet the countries that you've identified, it's kind of a – it's too late for early warning. It's already happened and you didn't prevent anything. So can you give us an example or two of a country in which there was – an early warning bell went off and you did something that prevented it? Yeah, that's —
MR FAUCHER: Sure. Let me try and answer that question. We working in – we are working in many countries where we have indicators that basically lead us to believe that there's a possibility of an atrocity event. These can range from a variety of kind of different kinds of situations. When we take that up, we talk to those countries, we develop programs in response to those indicators, and we work with our international partners to address that.
So, for example, in the Central African Republic we've been training women there in four states on conflict mitigation, trying to help them understand how to better bring their society together rather than let it divide itself among the people in that society.
QUESTION: Okay, but the situation in the CAR is pretty bad —
MR FAUCHER: It is pretty bad, and —
QUESTION: — as it is throughout West Africa. So can you give us an example of – I mean, I understand that this report is important. But again, I have to point out that every country that you named, with the exception of CAR just now, has already been through atrocities. So I don't see where the – where is the early warning system working?
MR FAUCHER: Well, the early warning can —
QUESTION: Because it hasn't – it might be —
MR FAUCHER: Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: You might be doing it in CAR but —
MR FAUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: — it hasn't stopped the atrocities from happening.
MR FAUCHER: Well, at this point in the CAR, we haven't made any determination of atrocity occurring there. But in other countries, including those countries that are listed here that had a history of atrocity, our efforts are to stop atrocity either from recurring or from occurring at all. And so our efforts – as the Secretary said, this is a tough, tough challenge. These are not easy things to do. And we're trying to take all steps that we can using our entire toolbox of diplomatic, financial, and other resources to prevent these events from occurring in those – in whatever country we're talking about.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Thank you, sir. My question is really on the definition of atrocity. I think it covers war crimes, crimes against humanity, and so on. What is your definition? And are you, like, in tandem with the United Nations, other countries, and so on? And how do you go about enforcing this since you're not, let's say, a member of the ICC? Thank you, sir.
MR FAUCHER: Sure. First of all, the definition of atrocity – the Elie Wiesel Atrocity and Genocide Prevention Act – or Genocide and Atrocity Prevention Act defines atrocity very clearly as including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. And that's the definition that we are using for the work we're doing under that law.
Now, when we are facing those situations, we are working with our international partners basically to develop a response to countries or regions of concern where we think these things might be developing.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR PRICE: Other question? Yes, please. Please.
QUESTION: Thank you. You mentioned in the report that the administration is committing to combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Can you tell us if this constant attack by the pro-Iran militias, specifically in Iraq, is hindering your efforts to confront ISIS? And can you give us an assessment, if possible – I know it might not be your domain – on the strength of ISIS as we speak now?
MR FAUCHER: So for the latter point, yes, I'm afraid I'm – that is not my area of expertise, so I wouldn't be able to give you an accurate response, but we can refer that to our experts and we'll get back to on the strength of ISIS right now. But I think it's fair to say the attacks that are occurring in Syria at a minimum complicate our ability to work towards atrocity prevention and atrocity response that has occurred in that area. So it's definitely a very unwelcome development. It's something that we urge the parties to desist from doing.
MR PRICE: Kylie.
QUESTION: Could I just ask you with regard to prevention and also getting in the way of these atrocities continuing to be carried out, how important is it to deny the perpetrators of access to the U.S. economy?
MR FAUCHER: Well, we think this is one of the key tools that we have. This is more in response – or in response to atrocities that have occurred. Obviously, we want to hold the perpetrators accountable through transitional justice or international justice systems as well as prevent them from having access to U.S. markets or to the United States in general. And I think you'll see in the report itself this year the Department of Homeland Security mentions that they stopped at least 24 people from entering the United States who had been accused of atrocity crimes in the past.
QUESTION: And can I just follow up on that? Then specifically looking at the genocide in Xinjiang in China, we all know that solar panels are key to the Biden administration's energy plan, and so I know that there have been some restrictions put on companies operating in that region who exploit the Uyghur population there, but is there a policy at large that the Biden administration is going to implement that will deny any of those companies from selling their goods to the United States?
MR FAUCHER: It's very difficult for me to speculate as to what our policy will be if you're asking, "Where is the policy going?" But right now, yes, we have prevented certain products from Xinjiang from coming into the United States, and I know there is a consistent and constant review of those kind of policies and how they should be expanded or changed.
QUESTION: And why can't you just make a broad determination if that, as you said, is a key tool that can be employed and this has been defined as a genocide?
MR FAUCHER: I don't think I fully understand your question.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering why that isn't just kind of a holistic policy not to import any of the goods from those companies using Uyghur population if we know that a genocide is occurring there?
MR FAUCHER: Again, I think we have our specific policies that we put into place that are under review and will be adjusted as appropriate. I think other departments in the government are involved in those decisions as well as our partners. And its a – as you know, a very fluid and complicated situation. To date though, we don't have sort of a blanket policy that you're referring to. We have more specific policy.
QUESTION: Missy Ryan, Washington Post. I just wanted to ask, if possible, about the early warning system and Afghanistan. As the United States withdraws or ends its military mission in Afghanistan, there is a lot of concern about civil war and particularly the Taliban taking over areas of the country where previously in the 1990s they were accused of war crimes and targeting certain ethnicities and religious minorities, specifically the Hazara. And I'm just wondering what you guys are doing for – in regards to Afghanistan right now and how the State Department will do it given the reduced visibility that it probably is going to have in Afghanistan without the eyes across the country in different places.
MR FAUCHER: It is – the situation in Afghanistan is of grave concern for the United States. In terms of the activities of the Taliban, we are working with our international partners. We'll keep our eyes on their activities. We will call them out if they engage in kind of atrocity events as they are working in the country or fighting in the country. And we will bring all the diplomatic tools and other tools we have at our disposal to protest and to try to stop or prevent those things from occurring.
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: Thank you. You and also the Secretary were talking about how you're trying to improve the mechanisms or the tools that you have in order to stop genocide activity, and some of those means would be independent fact-finding missions. With regard to China, it seems clear that the Chinese Government has no inclination of allowing any sort of independent and fact-finding missions that would sort of satisfy both the U.S. State Department and also perhaps EU or Canada.
So what's the strategy then? If you're trying to improve the means by which the U.S. tries to stop what's going on Xinjiang, and if the Chinese Government is apparently completely stonewalling any attempt to get in there, what – is it just a matter of trying to let that pressure, international pressure, push them to eventually relent? If not, what – how can you get on the ground in Xinjiang?
MR FAUCHER: Sure. We – I think we totally regret the refusal of the Chinese Government, number one, to let people in to look at what's happening in that situation. We are maintaining, as you mentioned, pressure with our international partners on China both to let people in and to change its behavior so that we could stop what we consider to be the atrocities that are happening there from occurring or continuing to occur into the future.
So the strategy is a diplomatic strategy that continues to build pressure on China using whatever tools we have at our disposal. And it cannot be just by the United States alone. It has to be with our partners around the world.
MR PRICE: Any other questions? Shaun.
QUESTION: Sure. Can I ask you further about the situation in Tigray? I was wondering what your assessment right now of – I mean, and the report, of course, is talking about the grave concerns there, but in recent weeks, of course, there's been a change on the ground there with the – some of the government troops leaving. What's your assessment of how things stand now? Do you see any hope of resolution for this? And the Ethiopian elections, how if anything does that affect the situation there?
MR FAUCHER: Sure. Well, let me try and – first of all, the Ethiopia elections, I'm not the – obviously the expert on Ethiopia, so I feel reluctant to talk about that.
In terms of the situation in Tigray and what we – what's represented in the report, the report goes through May of this year, and there have been developments since May in Tigray and among – with the election and various other things that have occurred. We are still very concerned about the situation there. We're calling for all parties to respect the ceasefire. We're calling for full humanitarian access into that region. It is very concerning to see what's going on for the people there.
We are also asking for full cooperation with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the UN Human Rights Council – their investigations into the allegations that are being made about what is going on there. And at the same time, we want the Eritrean forces to withdraw and the full scope of the situation to basically be brought down several notches.
MR PRICE: Tracy.
QUESTION: This is a slightly procedural question and forgive my ignorance, but in your report, you name, I think, five or six cases. Does – is that it? Is that – is that all that you're studying in this particular report, or is there a broader review of other cases?
MR FAUCHER: The – under the law, the Congress has asked us to do a global assessment of atrocity risk throughout the entire world, so we're looking at the entire world. We wanted to highlight those six countries or those six instances in this report basically to show that we have had in the past the ability to make determinations that atrocities have occurred and that we have ways of responding to that.
We believe it's important, as I think the Secretary has said it several times, to shine – to put a spotlight on these activities. That's one of the best ways from preventing them from happening again in the future. And so this report is meant to put a spotlight on bad behaviors that we hope to stop.
MR PRICE: If nothing further, thank you Acting Assistant Secretary Faucher. Appreciate it. Congratulations on the report.
MR FAUCHER: Thank you. Thank you very – thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
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