A week after the commemoration of one modern genocide and a day before the anniversary of another, President Barack Obama toured the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington this week and invoked the legacy of the Shoah to pledge government action against future mass murder.
“Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Preventing genocide is an achievable goal,” the president declared after walking through the museum with Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, and Sara Bloomfield, the museum’s director. “We must tell our children. But more than that, we must teach them. ‘Never again’ is a challenge to all of us to pause and look within.”
The president’s appearance Monday at the museum, where he lit a candle in the Hall of Remembrance, followed Yom HaShoah, and preceded the Armenian community’s observance of the anniversary of the century-old genocide in Turkey.
Obama announced during his speech a series of new policies designed to help the U.S. respond to the threat of genocide around the world, including the formation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, chaired by Samantha Power, senior director of multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, and composed of high-ranking government representatives.
“It’s a bitter truth,” he said. “Too often the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale, and we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.”
The president also announced an executive order that allows U.S. officials to impose sanctions on foreign nationals who have used high-tech means to help carry out human rights abuses; the order specifically is aimed at companies and individuals that aid Iran and Syria.
“That does not mean,” he added, “that we intervene militarily every time there’s an injustice in the world. We cannot, and we should not.”
Wiesel, in his remarks, challenged the administration’s policies towards Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“How is it that Assad is still in power?” Wiesel asked. “How is it that the Holocaust’s No. 1 denier, Ahmadinejad, is still a president?”