WASHINGTON – April is International Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, and U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has engaged in a full range of activities highlighting the need to strengthen U.S. atrocity prevention capabilities and to maintain a strong commitment to holding perpetrators accountable.
As author of the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2015 and the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2016, Cardin knows Bashar al-Assad, his regime, and its backers must answer for their ongoing atrocities against the Syrian people, which was put in stark relief just yesterday when it was reported that a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Aleppo had been bombed, killing dozens of civilians and medical personnel, including one of the city’s few remaining pediatricians.
Cardin mourned the loss of innocent life and said in part, “When all parties to a conflict do not adhere to or willfully ignore the standards of international humanitarian law and human rights, the resulting consequences mean the difference between life and death for innocent people. The international community must stand united against such atrocities and demand accountability, and call on the Syrian government and its backers to immediately commit to the cessation of hostilities and pursue a nonviolent pathway to a new day for Syria.”
Yesterday’s passage by the Senate of S.1635 authorized the Atrocities Prevention Board, an effort Cardin led. President Obama created the APB in 2012 in order for the United States to have effective mechanisms and tools in place to better prevent and respond to potential atrocities.
This week Cardin was presented with the Congressional Leadership Award by Refugees International for his commitment to humanitarian action, and he also spoke on the Senate floor to reflect on International Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, in part by noting the cruel irony of how many atrocities have occurred in our recent history during the month of April:
“In many places around the world, April is a month where we celebrate rebirth and renewal. But April has too often been, in T.S. Eliot’s words, “the cruelest month,” a month where some of the world’s darkest moments have cast shadows over our humanity.
“It was April 1915, when the Ottoman government began rounding up and murdering leading Armenian politicians, businessmen and intellectuals, a step that led to the extermination of more than a million Armenians.
“It was in April 1933, that the Nazis issued a decree paving the way for the “final solution,” the annihilation of 6 million Jews of Europe.
“In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Cambodia’s capital city, launching a four-year wave of violence, killing 2 million people. In April 1992, the siege of Sarajevo began in Bosnia, the longest siege in modern history, where more than 10,000 people perished, including 1,500 children.
“In April 1994, the plane carrying the president of Rwanda crashed, triggering the beginning of a genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in 100 days. When we talk about what happened in Rwanda, it is easy to begin think of genocide as a single, undifferentiated act of barbarism. In reality, it was made of many individual atrocities that took place over 100 days.
“In April 2003, innocent civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region were attacked, killing more than 400,000 and displacing 2,500,000 million in a conflict that continues to this day.
“And this past month, the State Department announced that the United States has determined that ISIS’ action against the Yazidis, Shiite Muslims, and Christians in Iraq and Syria constitutes genocide. Specifically, Secretary Kerry noted that in 2014, ISIS trapped Yazidis, killed them, enslaved thousands of Yazidi women and girls, “selling them at auction, raping them at will and destroying the communities in which they had lived for countless generations.”
“I rise here today, in April, not only to commemorate International Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month and pay respect to the innocents who were slaughtered, but also to speak about what the United States can and must do to prevent atrocities and genocide.