WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama enshrined in law a genocide prevention board with an executive order, citing what his officials said were its successes in Africa and Burma.
Obama’s May 18 executive order makes legally binding the Atrocities Prevention Board created by a directive he issued in 2011 and which was welcomed by much of the Jewish organizational world at that time.
Top administration officials speaking on background said the board, with the participation of a broad array of military, diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, has helped prevent mass atrocities since its inception in Burundi, the Central African Republic and Burma.
The board meets periodically to review intelligence on potential atrocities and may deploy civilian or military personnel to a region to prevent mass killings.
The senior officials described actions taken in the Central African Republic, which faced unrest in 2013. A special envoy was deployed, Obama sent a direct message to the country’s leadership and the United States assisted local authorities with stabilization measures, including engaging urban youth who typically carry out violence.
Executive orders do not have the weight of laws passed by Congress. They are, however, legally binding until a president reverses them.
Enshrining the board in an executive order just months before he leaves office means that Obama’s successor would have to consider the political price of ordering the dismantling of the board, rather than quietly reversing Obama’s earlier non-binding directive.
Obama may also be seeking a legacy in the area of genocide prevention, after facing criticism for inaction in the face of mass killings in recent years in Syria and Iraq.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum welcomed the executive order.
“Provisions in the Executive Order to prioritize intelligence collection of at-risk countries and populations; to develop specific government training programs in the early warning indicators of atrocities; and to dedicate greater resources to prevention programs all draw on Task Force recommendations and remain essential elements to realizing these commitments well into the future,” said the May 19 museum statement.