US takes 'important step' on conflict prevention

By agency reporter
11 Jun 2009

For the first time in years, the US House of Representatives has passed legislation that will significantly boost US capacities to help prevent and respond to international crises, the Friends Committee on National Legislation reported today.

The Foreign Relations Authorization Act, approved by a vote of 235 to 187 today (Wednesday), authorizes a significant expansion of the Foreign Service to support US diplomacy and development, directs the United States to pay its debt to the United Nations and strengthens the United States' commitment to the prevention of deadly crises around the world.

Key provisions in the legislation would enable the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to hire 2,200 new Foreign Service Officers to fill vacancies in under-resourced embassies abroad and so better prevent crises from emerging.

The bill would also authorise hundreds of millions of dollars in new funds for a civilian response corps, as well as requiring the Secretary of State to develop a government-wide strategy to prevent genocide and mass atrocities, as called for by the Albright-Cohen Genocide Prevention Task Force.

"Too often in the past, the US response to mass atrocities has been ad hoc," says FCNL Executive Secretary Joe Volk. "A unified government strategy that focuses on early and effective prevention would enable the United States to truly say 'never again' to such human disasters."

However, the Quaker lobby group expressed disappointment at several sections of the bill which they said could have the effect of undermining the effectiveness of US strategies to prevent war. In particular, FCNL is concerned about language added to the bill on the floor of the House that could undermine the President's diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East and increase chances of a war with Iran.

FCNL is also concerned about the implicit endorsement of US military aid. But the campaigners did express support for human rights monitoring and reporting requirements included on military assistance sent to Mexican, Central American and Caribbean governments and the increased oversight of military aid.

"We appreciate this bill's effort to implement rigorous oversight of US military aid, including an assessment of the human rights impact of these weapons," said Lora Lumpe, an FCNL lobbyist.

"This an important piece of legislation," said Bridget Moix, a lobbyist for the Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict. "It fully authorizes the increases in diplomatic and development personnel that President Obama has requested, emphasizes the importance of crisis prevention and puts in place a strategy to truly avert mass atrocities and the deadly conflicts that lead to them. The House has taken a very important step. It is time now for the Senate to act."

The Friends Committee on National Legislation, the oldest registered religious lobby in Washington, is a nonpartisan Quaker lobby group. FCNL works with a nationwide network of tens of thousands of people from every state in the US to advocate for social and economic justice, peace and good government.

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