Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Press Briefing Room
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m very pleased that today Secretary Blinken is joining us to unveil the 2021 Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act Report. Secretary Blinken will have a statement. He’ll take a question or two before he has to depart. At that point, we’ll turn to Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations Rob Faucher, who will also make a brief statement and he’ll stay to take additional questions. After that, we will proceed to our normally scheduled program.
With that, over to you, Secretary Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Ned, thanks very much.
Good afternoon, everyone. Good to see you all. Let me just say, before turning to today’s report, I want to speak briefly to the situation in two countries in the hemisphere.
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets on the island to exercise their rights to assemble peacefully and express their views. The protesters called for freedom and human rights. They criticized Cuba’s authoritarian regime for failing to meet people’s most basic needs, including food and medicine.
In many instances, peaceful protesters were met with repression and violence. The Biden-Harris administration stands by the Cuban people and people around the world who demand their human rights and who expect governments to listen to and serve them rather than try to silence them. Peaceful protesters are not criminals, and we join partners across the hemisphere and around the world in urging the Cuban regime to respect the rights of the Cuban people to determine their own future, something they have been denied for far too long.
Second, the United States is in close consultations with our Haitian and international partners to support the Haitian people in the aftermath of the assassination of President Moise. We urge the country’s political leaders to bring the country together around a more inclusive, peaceful, and secure vision and pave the road toward free and fair elections this year. Yesterday we sent an interagency delegation to Port-au-Prince to assess the situation, which, together with our constant contact with Haitian officials and other stakeholders, will help determine how the United States can best support Haiti in a very difficult time.
I want to reiterate our deepest condolences to the family of President Moise and to the Haitian people and wish First Lady Martine Moise a swift recovery.
Now let me turn to the reason we’re actually here today.
Elie Wiesel said that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference.
The report that we release today represents a stand against indifference and a commitment to do more to prevent and respond to atrocities, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
It’s fitting that we’re meeting today. Yesterday was the 26th anniversary of the genocide at Srebenica, when more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim boys and men were slaughtered. The American people join the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina in solemn remembrance of those victims and in solidarity with their families. We’re reminded of how important it is to do all we can to prevent atrocities like this from ever occurring.
I want to thank Assistant Secretary Rob Faucher and the entire Conflict and Stabilization Operations team for leading the effort to produce this report, as well as the members of the interagency Atrocity Early Warning Task Force, led by the White House, and the hundreds of American diplomats around the world whose reporting, insights, and efforts are reflected here.
Let me just take a moment to put this report in context.
Over the past decade and a half, the United States has steadily and systematically increased our efforts to stop mass atrocities.
In 2008, a bipartisan Genocide Prevention Task Force, chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, produced a blueprint for U.S. policymakers, with 34 recommendations for how to identify and avert genocide.
In 2011, President Obama issued a presidential study directive on mass atrocities, writing, and I quote, “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.”
To deliver on that core interest, we created the Atrocities Prevention Board at the NSC – it’s now called the Atrocity Early Warning Task Force – and soon after, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations here at the State Department.
And in 2018, Congress passed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act.
It codified atrocity prevention as an American priority.
It directed the United States Government to enhance its capacity to prevent, mitigate, and respond to atrocities.
It required the State Department to provide additional training to our teams in Washington and around the world on how to spot warning signs of potential atrocities and early prevention steps to take.
And it mandated the annual report that we’re releasing today.
All this work – under both Democratic and Republican presidents, with bipartisan support from Congress – reflects our hope that, with the right tools, resources, and commitment, we can ward off atrocities before they lead to mass human suffering.
We want to change the story that we’ve seen play out too many times – that by the time senior policymakers are fully engaged, many people have died, the costs of taking action have risen, opportunities for early intervention have been missed.
I say all this with humility, as someone who has served in senior levels of government before, and has been in rooms when we grappled with what to do when political unrest somewhere in the world gave way to mass violence toward civilians.
This is an incredibly difficult challenge. My friend and colleague Samantha Power described it as a “problem from hell.” You’ll recall her groundbreaking book on the subject. And we haven’t cracked it yet. But we continue to believe that it’s possible, and that training, preparation, resources, cooperation – within governments and among governments – are key. And so, of course, is determination.
This year, for the first time, the report provides direct, detailed accounts of atrocities taking place in specific countries, including Burma, Ethiopia, China, and Syria. These places represent some of the toughest foreign policy challenges on our agenda, and we’ll keep working toward resolutions that reflect our commitment to human rights and democratic values.
We’ll use all of the tools at our disposal – including diplomacy, foreign assistance, investigations and fact-finding missions, financial tools and engagements, reports like this one which raise awareness and allow us to generate coordinated international pressure in response – in a whole-of-government approach to preventing and mitigating atrocities around the globe.
At our best, the United States helps bring peace and stability to places where people are suffering. Our work on preventing atrocities represents our highest ideals in action. And the Biden-Harris administration will build upon the work of past administrations to bring us closer to a future in which atrocities are never allowed to happen again.
Thanks very much.
MR PRICE: Shaun.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. Secretary. Could I follow up on your remarks on Cuba? I was wondering what implications this has for U.S. policy. There’s a policy review underway. Does this affect the timeline and when do you expect that to be finished? Ideas like remittances, travel, things that were – that took place under Obama, are those still on the cards now after this?
And on that note, the president of Cuba today said that the U.S. was provoking social unrest. Do you have any response to that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The policy review that you point to focuses on the political and economic well-being of the Cuban people, and obviously we’re looking carefully and closely at what has just happened, what indeed is happening. And as we stated many times, at the heart of the review and at the heart of the policy that would result are democracy and human rights. That’s core to our efforts. That will be reflected in the policy.
I think it would be a grievous mistake for the Cuban regime to interpret what is happening in dozens of towns and cities across the island as the result or product of anything the United States has done. It would be a grievous mistake because it would show that they simply are not hearing the voices and will of the Cuban people – people deeply, deeply, deeply tired of the repression that has gone on for far too long, tired of the mismanagement of the Cuban economy, tired of the lack of adequate food, and of course, inadequate response to the COVID pandemic. That is what we are hearing and seeing in Cuba, and that is a reflection of the Cuban people, not of the United States or any other outside actor.
MR PRICE: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: On Ethiopia, do you have an update on the assessment of whether to call events in Tigray crimes against humanity, genocide, or war crimes?
And if I may on Myanmar, can you update us on the review of whether genocide and crimes against humanity were committed against the Rohingya?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, appreciate it. Look, both reviews are ongoing. We’re bringing together the facts, the legal assessments, and both are being very actively considered.
MR PRICE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.