The Department of State submits this annual report on the United States’ work to prevent and respond to atrocities. The United States is committed to promoting respect for human rights around the world and reaffirms atrocity prevention as a core national security commitment and core moral responsibility. This report highlights several countries of concern, the public release of the U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities, and illustrative examples of efforts coordinated by the Atrocity Prevention Task Force from June 2021 to May 2022. These examples represent a wide range of efforts in prevention, response, and recovery contexts through individual Department and Agency efforts as well as joint interagency efforts.
United States Response to Current or Recent Atrocities – Country Highlights
The following are illustrative examples demonstrating how the Biden Administration is working to prevent atrocities in a wide range of contexts.
On March 23, 2022, after a careful review of information from public and intelligence sources, Secretary Blinken announced the U.S. government’s assessment that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. There are credible reports of individuals killed with their hands bound, executions of Ukrainians attempting to surrender, torture, targeting of civilian objects, forced displacements of civilians to Russia and Belarus, and conflict-related sexual violence, as well as sexual violence perpetrated in view of children and family members with the apparent intent to traumatize them. This mounting body of evidence reflects a pattern of reports of atrocities. In concert with our partners, the United States supports a range of mechanisms to document these actions and pursue accountability for potential war crimes and other atrocities. This includes support to Ukrainian authorities, journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society actors along with international investigative and accountability-related mechanisms, such as those conducted by the International Criminal Court and the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry, and the OSCE Moscow Mechanism. USAID is continuing its long-term support, since 2014, for government and civil society efforts to document human rights abuse, including atrocities, support truth-telling efforts, strengthen the legal enabling environment, build capacity of legal practitioners to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and provide legal assistance to conflict-affected civilians to ensure justice and accountability, and put an end to impunity. The Department of State continues to support and coordinate with the Office of the Special Rapporteur of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and other relevant special procedures experts. The Department of State is reinforcing these efforts with initiatives, such as the new Conflict Observatory platform, supporting documentation, verification, and dissemination of evidence of Russia’s violations of international humanitarian law. The Department of State is also supporting teams of expert international criminal prosecutors and investigators to assist the War Crimes Units of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine in conducting investigations and prosecutions of atrocities.
The United States continues to support the Sudanese people’s desire to achieve a democratic transition under full civilian leadership and justice for past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses, including related to violence against protestors, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, unjust detentions, restrictions on freedom of expression, and recent violence in West Darfur. This includes the imposition of sanctions in connection with serious human rights abuse against protesters and the providing of foreign assistance to Sudanese civil society actors supporting the democratic transition (U.S. assistance to the government was suspended in response to the military takeover on October 25). The United States also works with civil society to buttress local peacebuilding efforts and advance transitional justice efforts; and supports local actors across the country to advance human rights monitoring, documentation, and advocacy for accountability when violations occur.
The United States is increasingly concerned over ongoing commission of atrocities, including reports of conflict-related sexual violence employed as a weapon of war, in South Sudan as well as increased inter-communal violence in Abyei, an area contested between Sudan and South Sudan. Recent clashes between the South Sudan People’s Defense Force’s (SSPDF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-In Opposition (SPLA/M-IO) in Upper Nile state and sub-national violence in Leer County and Unity State reflect an alarming rise in tensions. Recent violence in Abyei similarly highlights increased inter-communal tensions in that disputed region and carries with it attendant risks of atrocities. The Department of State also supports ongoing community conflict resolution efforts in the disputed Abyei region. The Department of State supports early warning and early response efforts in internally displaced civilian protection sites and in the border region with the Democratic Republic of Congo. To capture evidence of past and ongoing atrocities and pursue survivor-centered accountability efforts in South Sudan, the Department of State also underwrites civil society-led human rights documentation, psychosocial support, and strengthening local capacity to investigate and prosecute atrocity crimes. USAID also provides community-based support and technical assistance to launch and manage community peace and reconciliation processes between communities in conflict and supports civil society efforts and community-based trauma awareness activities meant to help communities manage and prevent cycles of violence and atrocities.
The United States continues to work with allies and partners to call on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to end crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang. In July 2021, Secretary Blinken met with Uyghur internment camp survivors, advocates, and relatives of individuals detained in Xinjiang to express the U.S. commitment to accountability for atrocity crimes and PRC human rights abuses more broadly. This commitment is reflected in measures taken to promote accountability, including denying entry into the United States of certain PRC officials involved in repressive acts against members of ethnic and religious minority groups and religious and spiritual practitioners, as well as the imposition of financial sanctions and implementation of export restrictions. The Department of State and USAID also support investigation, reporting, NGO capacity-building, and advocacy efforts related to forced labor in Xinjiang. These efforts resulted in the publication of reports on forced labor practices that helped to discredit PRC disinformation aimed at diminishing these abuses and informed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act that President Biden signed into law on December 23, 2021. The United States continues to assist those fleeing state-sponsored forced labor, persecution, and other abuses in the PRC. The United States remains engaged in ongoing efforts to prevent refoulement of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups from Xinjiang back to the PRC. In the past year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) increased public outreach on PRC-backed transnational repression, to include launching public-facing websites and a threat intimidation guide for potential victims. In addition, federal authorities announced charges against six individuals working on behalf of PRC police and intelligence services in the United States to silence critics of PRC abuses.
The United States remains vigilant regarding the continued threat of genocide and other atrocities by ISIS, including against members of religious minority groups such as Christians and Yezidis, in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, the Department of State continues to support civil society-led documentation and investigation efforts. The United States also has provided support to the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability Against Da’esh (UNITAD) since its creation to collect, preserve, and store evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Iraq. In October 2021, the Department of State launched an analytic program on the political, economic, and military networks of armed groups in Sinjar district, the epicenter of ISIS’s genocide against Yezidis, which helped focus attention on factors that prevent displaced persons from returning home. The Department of State’s efforts supported broader work on atrocity prevention activities, including the recovery of members of religious and ethnic minority groups in Ninewa Provinces and other areas liberated from ISIS.
The United States continues to address atrocities by the Assad regime in Syria, which has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. These atrocities include torture, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and the use of chemical weapons. The United States continues to promote accountability, including through targeted sanctions against those connected to abuses in Syria. The United States supports the work of the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses, and to prepare files to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings in national, regional, or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes. The Department of State also continues to support civil-society and UN-led documentation and investigation efforts, the Survivors of Torture Initiative, and the integration and empowerment of women in transitional justice efforts to ensure that atrocities committed against women and girls are addressed in a survivor-centered manner.
The United States remains deeply concerned by reports of atrocities, including widespread reports of gender-based violence in northern Ethiopia. The Department of State supported the joint efforts of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations committed by all parties. USAID supported local non-governmental organizations and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission to monitor, document, and report violations and abuses of human rights and atrocities. The United States co-sponsored a Human Rights Council resolution establishing an International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia on December 17, 2021. Many of these ongoing efforts will help collect and preserve victims’ and survivors’ accounts to contribute to future accountability and reconciliation processes. The United States is also pursuing robust diplomacy to support the humanitarian truce and advance a peaceful resolution to the conflict, an inclusive and credible national dialogue, and comprehensive and inclusive transitional justice.
On March 21, 2022, Secretary Blinken announced his determination that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya, most of whom are Muslim. The United States is committed to justice for victims, survivors and their families, and to accountability for those responsible for past atrocities, as well as prevention of future atrocities against any group. This commitment includes extensive documentation of abuses against Rohingya and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups before the 2021 coup, as well as support for the people of Burma to achieve truth, justice, and accountability. Coinciding with the genocide and crimes against humanity determination, the United States announced a contribution of $1 million to support the mandate of the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law. The United States has shared information with The Gambia in connection with the case The Gambia has filed against Burma under the Genocide Convention before the International Court of Justice. The United States seeks swift and full implementation of the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus call for the immediate cessation of violence in Burma. The United States has also imposed financial sanctions on certain Burmese military-related revenue-producing enterprises, and financial sanctions and visa restrictions on those involved in abuses against Rohingya and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups. The Department of State and USAID are supporting large-scale efforts to provide emergency support to human rights defenders, document human rights violations and abuses, and help prevent and respond to human rights abuses and atrocities. In October 2021, USAID began a $45 million program focused on human rights and atrocity prevention in Burma.
The United States has repeatedly called on the Taliban to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially for women and girls, members of ethnic and religious minority groups such as the Hazara, and other marginalized populations in Afghanistan. U.S. delegations led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West engaged Taliban leaders on several occasions from October 2021 to March 2022 to press for an inclusive and consultative process among Afghans on the country’s political future, respect for human rights, reversal of restrictions on women and girls, protection of members of minority communities, and accountability for atrocities. The United States coordinated closely with international partners and allies to issue joint statements calling on the Taliban to respect the human rights of Afghan women and girls, allow girls’ access to education at all levels, and end retaliatory killings. Special Representative West and Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri continued to consult with Afghan civil society, women leaders, and representatives of ethnic and religious minority groups to discuss challenges facing their communities and ways the international community can support them. Foreign assistance programs by the Department of State and USAID supported efforts to promote respect for human rights and to provide emergency support to human rights defenders. The United States supported a renewed mandate for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the appointment of a new United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in Afghanistan, advocating for a focus on the human rights of women, girls, and members of religious and ethnic minority groups in their respective mandates.
Notable Milestones in 2021-2022 towards Accountability for Past Atrocities
In 2021, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) identified and indicted 34 persons “most responsible” for war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred during the armed conflict in Colombia. In April 2022, the JEP organized a public admission by ten military officials and one civilian of culpability for war crimes and crimes against humanity against at least 120 civilians connected to extrajudicial killings. These followed the JEP’s landmark rulings in 2021 that “false positives” of 6,402 innocent civilians as combatants were systematic crimes perpetrated by the army, and that the FARC kidnapped or took hostage 21,396 persons for fundraising and strategic advantage in cases that sometimes also involved torture, sexual abuse, and forced disappearance. In April 2022, the JEP ruled that 5,733 persons were killed or disappeared in retaliation for participation in the Union Patriótica political party. Moreover, the Truth Commission will publish its final report this year, which will document the truth of Colombia’s five-decade conflict and provide recommendations to prevent future conflicts. In addition to foreign assistance to the transitional justice system, the United States supports victims’ organizations to engage transitional justice mechanisms, including the locating and identifying missing and disappeared conflict victims.
The Guatemalan justice sector and civil society actors took important legal steps, such as in the “Diario Militar” case and the Maya Achi case, which helped pursue justice for the families of victims of atrocities committed during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. While the United States is deeply concerned about attacks on judicial independence in Guatemala and threats against independent justice actors, the United States supports an independent, fair judicial process that ensures victims and survivors can seek accountability for claims of atrocity crimes through fair, independent judicial processes. The United States has used public diplomacy and programming to support the efforts undertaken by those in Guatemala’s domestic judicial system, civil society, and victim representatives who fairly and independently investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate historical crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Courts in Germany convicted two individuals in connection with atrocity crimes against Yezidis in Iraq by ISIS. With Department of State support, UNITAD supported the successful prosecution in a German court of Taha al-Jumailly, a 29-year-old Iraqi citizen for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes after joining ISIS in 2013. A German court sentenced al-Jumailly to life in prison. In a separate trial in 2021, al-Jumailly’s wife, German citizen Jennifer Wenisch, received a ten-year sentence for crimes against humanity. Al-Jumailly’s conviction was the world’s first genocide conviction of a fighter for the Islamic State. It was also the first trial ever of an ISIS fighter based on the principle of universal jurisdiction. The following year, a German court also convicted Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian regime official, of crimes against humanity. Raslan was found responsible for torture, rape and sexual assault, the arbitrary detention of at least 4,000 Syrians, and complicity in the murder of at least 27 people. The IIIM provided evidence to support the court in the Raslan case, and Departmental grantees provided evidence and testified publicly.
Strategic Prevention Initiatives
The United States is committed to the prevention of destabilizing violence, the promotion of human rights globally, and the pursuit of robust atrocity prevention and response efforts. The below strategic prevention initiatives comprise a holistic, whole-of-government approach in furtherance of these goals.
U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities
The Elie Wiesel Act calls on the United States government to pursue a strategy to “identify, prevent and respond to atrocities” in coordination with international, civil society, and local partners. In July 2022, the Atrocity Prevention Task Force publicly launched the U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities. This whole-of-government strategy offers an evidence-based approach to addressing inherent challenges in preventing and responding to atrocities. The strategy orients the Task Force’s use of early warning assessments and input from civil society and Congress to guide the Task Force’s response in coordination with international partners and through multilateral fora.
U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security: The Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Act made the United States the first country with a comprehensive domestic law on WPS. WPS is a cross-sectoral issue which requires interagency coordination to help ensure that the implementation of the WPS Act, the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, and the Global Fragility Act are mutually enforcing and beneficial to assist and protect survivors and their families of atrocities, gender-based violence, and conflict related sexual violence.
U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability: Consistent with the Global Fragility Act, on April 1, 2022, the United States launched the implementation of the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability with five partner countries and region, including Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, and Coastal West Africa (Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo). The Strategy outlines a ten-year, evidence-based effort to foster peace and long-term stability through locally driven solutions. The Strategy references the importance of civilian protection and transitional justice as a critical part of addressing fragility and the underlying causes of conflict, and it requires that the work of the Atrocity Prevention Task Force is integrated into country and regional plans where appropriate.
Current Efforts by Sector
The United States uses a wide range of programmatic, financial, diplomatic, and transitional justice actions to prevent and respond to atrocities. Utilizing Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 funding, the Department of State and USAID reported approximately $54.41 million for atrocity prevention programming in FY 2021, including $2.5 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF), and $2.5 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) earmarks for atrocity prevention. The significant growth in reported funding, from $6.2 million in FY 2019 to $54.41 million in FY 2020, reflects increased reporting of programs that support atrocity prevention objectives, especially in Iraq.
Diplomacy and Foreign Assistance
Over the last year, the Department of State utilized ESF directed for atrocity prevention programming, including the above noted ESF earmark for atrocity prevention, to support context-tailored and community-based early warning and early response systems to protect at-risk communities and monitor human rights violations and abuses especially in the Sub-Saharan Africa and South-Central Asia regions. These programs also bolstered the engagement of local civil society and survivors in a range of truth, justice and reconciliation initiatives to overcome community-level divisions, intolerance, and violence. These initiatives contributed to breaking the cycle of impunity that often drives atrocities and developed the capacity and resiliencies of local civil society and survivors to identify risk factors in their communities and employ violence prevention strategies to mitigate those risks and contribute to local-level peacebuilding. The Department used INCLE funds to strengthen criminal justice system capacity to address atrocity crimes, including through training for law enforcement and justice professionals on how to recognize and respond to early warning signs of potential atrocities. INCLE funds supported research on the connection between atrocities and related criminal justice topics such as organized crime, corruption, terrorism, and women, peace, and security; findings and recommendations from this research are being made available online to criminal justice practitioners. INCLE funding also engaged justice institutions to strengthen awareness of and accountability for gender-based violence as both a driver and component of atrocities. Given the link between corruption, human rights abuses, and atrocity risks, Treasury hosted the 3rd Annual Partnership to Combat Human Rights Abuse and Corruption in October 2021.
USAID supports atrocity prevention programming around the world, focused on prevention, response, and recovery related to atrocities. During this reporting period, USAID implemented rapid response activities to respond to atrocity risks in a matter of weeks, long-term development programs in a range of sectors designed to reduce risks of atrocities, conflict and human rights programs to respond to atrocities underway and reduce the risk of recurrence, and atrocity-informed planning and policies to ensure USAID’s entire development portfolio is addressing atrocity risks wherever possible.
Defense and Security
The Department of Defense published Joint Publication 3-07 on Joint Stabilization Activities in February 2022. This manual provides joint doctrine to plan, conduct, and assess the military contribution to stabilization efforts across the competition continuum and addresses atrocity prevention through a protection-of-civilians lens.
In FY 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) arrested seven individuals for human rights-related violations, facilitated the removal of 18 individuals known or suspected to be involved in human rights violations or abuses, and stopped an additional 20 individuals from entering the United States. DHS is investigating over 160 human rights cases involving suspects from 95 countries and DHS is pursuing nearly 1,700 additional human rights-related investigative leads. The FBI’s International Human Rights Unit supported accountability for perpetrators of crimes such as genocide, war crimes, and torture.
Within the Department of Justice, the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) primarily investigates and prosecutes cases against human rights violators and other international criminals. HRSP investigates and prosecutes individuals for genocide, torture, war crimes, recruitment or use of child soldiers, female genital mutilation, and for immigration and naturalization fraud arising out of efforts to hide their involvement in such crimes. Successful past cases have involved the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Guatemala, and other countries. Ongoing cases involve human rights abuses that have occurred in Estonia, The Gambia, Ethiopia, and Liberia. Additionally, the Office of International Affairs (OIA) works with domestic and foreign partners to extradite or lawfully remove criminals sought for prosecution in the United States or abroad for human rights related offenses. Furthermore, the Criminal Division’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT) and its International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) provide capacity-building to countries throughout the world, as well as training, advice, and assistance to prevent human rights abuses, as well as how to investigate and prosecute human rights violations when they occur.
Atrocity Prevention Training
The Department of State provided two courses on atrocity prevention; a total of 272 participants enrolled between January 1, 2021 and May 1, 2022. Course participants came from 164 overseas posts and 56 bureaus, offices, and interagency partner organizations. USAID updated its atrocity prevention training to shift from early warning to early action. In 2021, 65 USAID staff, including 50 Foreign Service Officers, participated in Atrocity Prevention training, including a dedicated training course conducted for USAID and Department of State staff in Ethiopia.
The Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS) incorporated atrocity prevention and response themes into its Rule of Law seminars. These and similar courses trained 815 foreign partner participants in FY21 and 320 participants in the first half of FY22. DIILS courses included lessons on genocide, gender-based violence, protection of civilians, and transitional justice as a means of restoring and maintaining post-atrocity peace, as well as examination of how breakdowns in military discipline can result in the commission of atrocities. DHS and FBI also delivered capacity-building programs through their component offices to partner governments that support law enforcement and security professionalization.
The interagency Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center offered training related to its justice and accountability mission. For example, in FY2021, Homeland Security Investigations trained over 1,900 personnel about combatting female genital mutilation, and the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit provided more than 45 training events related to the investigation of war crimes, genocide, torture, and other human rights offenses. DOJ’s offices of HRSP, OPDAT, ICITAP, and OIA provide training to U.S. government and foreign partners on the tools that can be used in support of accountability for atrocity crimes and on the methods by which foreign partners can prepare requests for evidence production and extradition or other lawful return of fugitives.
Multilateral and External Engagement
The United States continued to expand its atrocity prevention work with likeminded partners and the Offices of the UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide and the UN Special Advisor for the Responsibility to Protect. The United States resumed its membership in the UN Human Rights Council, which took numerous steps to promote respect for human rights and accountability for atrocities in FY2021, including a resolution establishing an Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. The United States also secured broad, cross-regional support for language on atrocities by members of Russia’s forces in Ukraine in the United Nations General Assembly and in other UN bodies, at the G7, NATO, and in other multinational venues. The United States worked closely with partners to draw attention to atrocities in Burma and Ethiopia that were inadequately addressed in other fora and convened partners across the UN and civil society to coordinate efforts and share emerging best practices and supportive technologies, including as part of the International Atrocities Prevention Working Group. DOJ, FBI, and DHS maintain observer status at the Eurojust Genocide Network, which promotes close cooperation between European national authorities investigating and prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other crimes.
The Atrocity Prevention Task Force prioritized outreach with civil society, in particular the Prevention and Protection Working Group, and Congress. This collaboration led to revisions of the Atrocity Assessment Framework and informed the dissemination of innovative technologies and tools for protecting lawyers and activists in unstable environments, and the release of multilateral statements drawing attention to atrocities in Burma, and Ethiopia.
Recommendations for the Coming Year
The Atrocity Prevention Task Force has taken concrete steps towards its 2021 recommendations, including integrating atrocity prevention into Global Fragility Act implementation, incorporating gender into atrocity assessments and prevention tools, and proposing revisions to country strategies based on assessed atrocity risks. In 2022, the Atrocity Prevention Task Force will continue to implement the 2021 recommendations and will prioritize the following, based on consultations with Congress and civil society:
- Identify and respond to select priority prevention cases, where longer-term drivers of atrocity risk can be effectively addressed in permissive environments.
- In priority cases, map gaps in assistance against identified risks and seek to streamline assistance, where possible, to respond to those gaps and more effectively apply a holistic prevention approach.
- Monitor progress of the implementation of the U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities and further refine monitoring, evaluation, and learning across the atrocity prevention architecture. Particular emphasis will be placed on atrocity prevention training for officers covering countries at-risk of atrocities.
- Apply the Atrocity Assessment Framework to inform country and regional strategies to unique aspects of prevention, response, and recovery stages.