WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged greater political will to stop "the evil" of genocide Tuesday, as a poll found most Americans think global bodies are ineffective in halting atrocities.
Speaking at an event organized by the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Clinton told the audience that "despite all we have learned and accomplished in the last 70 years, 'never again' remains an unmet, urgent goal."
Pointing to events such as the killings in Rwanda, the fighting that tore apart the former Yugoslavia, more recent power struggles in Ivory Coast and Libya, Clinton acknowledged the task was not easy.
"We are struggling with some of the deepest and most difficult impulses of human beings to protect themselves, to obtain power, to dehumanize others in order to enhance their own position and standing," she said.
The State Department was using tools to try to predict situations that could inflame passions and spur hatred, such as monitoring websites and media, or watching government use of malicious software to target specific groups.
"Genocides and mass atrocities don't just happen spontaneously. They are always planned," Clinton insisted.
There were usually "organized, targeted propaganda campaigns."
"Hatred not only becomes acceptable; it is even encouraged. It's like stacking dry firewood before striking the match. Then there is a moment of ignition. The permission to hate becomes permission to kill," she added.
Clinton said peacekeeping and political missions backed by resources and personnel were necessary, but the overriding need was "the political will of member nations to back up these missions. That is often the most scarce commodity."
The poll unveiled Tuesday by the Holocaust Museum found that 55 percent of Americans think international bodies are not effective against genocide, while only 34 percent believe the International Criminal Court was a deterrent.
One in six Americans also said the United States should have intervened during the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed about 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis.
Clinton's husband, Bill, was president at the time and he has called the genocide the biggest failure of his two-term administration, even offering an apology to the Rwandan people.
The poll of 1,000 people carried out by telephone from June 30 to July 10 also found that 78 percent of Americans supported the US taking military action to stop genocide or mass atrocities, although a majority of 53 percent said multilateral action was the most effective path.
"Americans believe they have a moral responsibility to prevent or stop genocide around the world, even if it means putting boots on the ground," said Mark Penn, head of Penn Schoen Berland, which carried out the poll.
Michael Abramowitz, director of the museum's genocide prevention program agreed that "20 to 30 years ago, I think there was more ambivalence about this, thinking 'oh why is the United States getting involved.'
"But now because of the Internet, because of television, I'm not 100 percent sure why, but Americans are very aware of atrocities and genocide and they want the government to do something about it."
He told AFP the aim of the poll and the symposium at the museum had been to shine a spotlight on genocide prevention. "We thought we could really raise the visibility of this issue among the public, but also among policy makers," Abramowitz said.
Clinton argued that working to end genocide was not just "morally right" but also in national security interests as such crimes reverse economic progress, create huge refugee problems and undermine stability.
She also noted that not all mass killings were accompanied by gunfire and explosions, pointing to eastern Congo, where an estimated 1,000 women and girls are raped every day.
Clinton also highlighted the brutality of North Korean prison camps and the problem of female infanticide in countries where "their societies value only sons."
"Whatever form atrocities take, however society explains, rationalizes, even tries to justify, we must be committed to preventing and ending all of these actions that truly dehumanize all of humanity," she added.