Let me start with a warm thank you to Executive Director Pawnday and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect for inviting me to speak today. Congratulations on your tenth annual Focal Points meeting. The work you do is incredibly important to strengthening multilateral approaches to atrocity prevention and operationalizing the responsibility to protect.
I’d also like to thank our generous hosts, the Organization of American States, and Secretary General Almagro. Your leadership today exemplifies the critical role that regional organizations should play in atrocity prevention and the protection of vulnerable populations from harm.
It has been 17 years since the UN General Assembly adopted its World Summit Outcome Document, which included the responsibility to protect.
This document proclaimed that each state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
Unfortunately, we continue to see the perpetration of atrocities around the world against populations protected by international law. Genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – including conflict-related sexual violence– undermine societies, destabilize nations and regions, and threaten international peace and security.
The United States will continue to be a strong supporter of atrocity prevention, response, and recovery, including through meaningful accountability for perpetrators and justice for the victims and survivors of atrocities through appropriate mechanisms.
In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, and in July of this year, the U.S. government launched the first-ever U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities.
This strategy lays out a whole-of-government approach and outlines the purpose and composition of the interagency Atrocity Prevention Task Force.
While we are proud of these landmark accomplishments, much work remains to achieve preventive impact in countries at risk of or experiencing atrocities. Let me cite a few examples:
In April of this year, Nicaraguans marked four years since the government’s bloody crackdown on widespread popular protests against the misrule of Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo. During the April 2018 protests, Nicaraguans expressed their desire for democratic change – for a return of their civil liberties and an end to corruption that has enriched the Ortega-Murillo family and their inner circle.
Unfortunately, since 2018 the crisis in Nicaragua has only deepened. Nicaraguans have suffered worsening repression; the closing of all democratic spaces; and the self-exile of thousands of journalists, civil society members, human rights defenders, and opposition figures. A growing number of Nicaraguans are now refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants throughout the region.
These abuses are egregious and unconscionable.
We have and will continue to work in close consultation with a broad coalition of member states here in the OAS to urge the Ortega-Murillo regime to change course, immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, and take concrete action to restore democracy.
As President Biden has said, consistent with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the hemisphere needs to stand up for the democratic rights of the Nicaraguan people.
Nicaragua is not the only troubling country in this region from an atrocity prevention perspective.
The situation in Venezuela remains one of the worst crises in our hemisphere’s history.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner lists a litany of abuses, illegal detentions, and even killings and torture perpetrated by the Venezuelan government. The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela documented extrajudicial executions; enforced disappearances; arbitrary detentions; and torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, including sexual and gender-based violence, committed by Venezuelan state actors.
We are especially concerned about Maduro’s troubling treatment of indigenous populations who are exploited through harsh labor conditions, stripping Venezuelans of their resources through unregulated, dangerous, and environmentally disastrous mining practices.
The U.S. government remains firmly committed to the belief that Venezuelans have a right to democracy and deserve a government of their choosing that protects and defends their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Ukraine – Russia
I cannot conclude without decrying the horrific mass atrocities committed by the Kremlin and its forces against civilians in Ukraine. The international community needs to take collective action to put a halt to Russia’s human rights violations, including filtration operations, forced deportations, and other atrocities committed in Ukraine. And as
Kremlin’s full-scale invasion started, the United States is firmly committed to pursuing accountability for these crimes. The international community must ensure they do not go unpunished.
The United States supports the work of the Ukrainian national authorities as they investigate and prepare to prosecute war crimes cases in Ukrainian courts. We are funding a multinational team of experts and other war crimes prosecutors deployed to the region. The United States is also supporting a range of international investigations into atrocities in Ukraine, including those conducted by the International Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Furthermore, we support the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab’s Conflict Observatory, whose reports on so-called filtration centers where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been abused have accelerated documentation efforts in the pursuit of justice and accountability.
Today’s next discussion session will feature perspectives from survivor groups and affected communities, serving as a clear reminder of the work we have ahead. The United States refuses to accept that atrocities and human rights abuses are beyond global partners’ power to prevent and counteract, and we believe justice is both possible and incredibly necessary. We can do better. The world can do better.
Thank you for joining us today and for everything you do every day to make progress on these tremendously challenging and critically important issues.