In Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, the death of hundreds of thousands of people in the country's Darfur region is almost invisible. When I visited recently, the Sudanese government was so successful at controlling news from the country's western provinces that it claimed, incredibly, to be looking after the people of Darfur by providing humanitarian aid.
The truth is that the government is largely responsible for the widespread atrocities its citizens have suffered. Hiding the truth is a common trick of governments who commit murder against their own population.
The killing in Darfur is no secret outside of Sudan, but international action to stop it has been weak and ineffective. What is to be done?
The Genocide Prevention Task Force answered that question this month in its report "Preventing Genocide: a Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers." The goals of the task force, led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, are: 1) to urge that the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities be considered a national priority, and 2) to develop practical policy recommendations to enhance the capacity of the U.S. government to prevent and respond to such events.
The bipartisan task force released its report during the week that marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. American leadership made the declaration a reality and put human rights high on the agenda of countries around the world. There is no greater violation of human rights than genocide.
Mass killing of civilians also threatens our national interests. It destabilizes countries and fuels fear. It has dangerous spillover effects that are difficult to contain. In addition, failing to prevent genocide undermines U.S. credibility and leadership.
Genocide and mass atrocities are complex problems with no simple remedy, but they are not the mysterious result of "ancient hatreds." They are calculated political strategies that require planning and organization. This means they can be prevented or, if prevention fails, disrupted and stopped using diplomatic, legal, and sometimes military means.
Preventing genocide is achievable. The task force made 34 recommendations for coherent, government-wide policy guidelines. They can be grouped into four key requirements.
Leadership. From the president on down, preventing genocide and mass atrocities must be a national priority. Historically, high-level attention has been hard to mobilize and maintain. This time might be different. The "Preventing Genocide" report has gotten the attention of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team. Several of the task force members and people consulted for the report are on the transition team or under consideration for positions in the Obama administration.
Organization. The Obama administration should create an interagency atrocities prevention committee at the National Security Council to analyze threats of genocide and mass atrocities and consider appropriate preventive action. In large, bureaucratic organizations like the U.S. government, sustained attention requires a designated advocate built into the institutional structure.
Money. The task force calls on the U.S. government to invest $250 million in new funds for crisis prevention and response. That is less than one dollar for every American each year to address the most horrendous crimes against humanity. The ability to rapidly allocate funds to deal with emerging crises is an essential part of the plan.
International partners. The United States cannot prevent genocide on its own. The new administration should launch a major diplomatic initiative to create an international network for information sharing and coordinated action to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. This includes promoting a strong global norm against mass atrocities. In addition to working with governments, the U.S. should seek to make international and regional organizations more effective vehicles for preventing mass atrocities.
The task force was supported by five "expert groups" dedicated to early warning, prevention, diplomacy, military options and international action. I was privileged to serve in the group that looked at military options.
We recommended that the secretary of defense and military leaders develop guidance on genocide prevention and response and incorporate it into policies, plans, doctrine and training. There is a wide range of military strategies and tactics -- such as surveillance, enforcing arms embargoes and arresting war criminals -- that can be used to support diplomatic, political and legal efforts.
When facing the threat of genocide, we have a much wider range of options than doing nothing or sending in the Marines.
The first step is to build a reliable intelligence process to provide early warning of potential mass atrocities that would trigger a policy assessment. Early warning must be paired with early prevention. The United States should engage with international partners to develop institutions and strengthen civil society in high-risk countries, with the goal of reducing the capacities and motivations for mass violence.
Long-term prevention will not always work and sometimes preventive diplomacy will be needed. The atrocities prevention committee would better equip the government to mount coherent and timely diplomatic strategies during a crisis. Military actions can support preventive diplomacy but especially are necessary to stop killing after it has begun.
The Genocide Prevention Task Force report is pragmatic and visionary at the same time. To prevent and stop genocide and mass atrocities will take leadership and consistent, dedicated effort. The cause is worth it.
Taylor B. Seybolt is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the author of "Humanitarian Military Intervention: the Conditions for Success and Failure"( email@example.com ).