Yvette K. W. Bourcicot is a Senior Advisor for Atrocity Prevention and Response for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy) in the United States government. She is a medically retired Air Force JAG and holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center as well as an A.B. in English Literature from Princeton University. Ms. Bourcicot attended AIPR’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, Global edition, in November of 2015.
What advice would you give to an official just entering the field regarding effective work on prevention?
Read everything about atrocities prevention you can get your hands on, and talk to everyone in atrocities prevention who will stand still. With the numerous threats to civilians around the world, there is no time to reinvent the wheel on prevention and response. There are many willing, seasoned professionals (including myself) who will gladly serve as resources for enthusiastic newcomers.
Which actions and/or policies do you feel are the most effective in the long-term prevention of mass atrocities?
Daylight and oxygen.
The daylight: senior government leaders need to be aware of the risks of mass atrocities.
The oxygen: senior government leaders need to be willing to take affirmative steps to confront those risks.
The United States is making significant progress on this front. In 2011, President Obama took steps to establish the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), which gathers senior leaders from various U.S. government agencies on a monthly basis to coordinate effective efforts to prevent and respond to mass atrocities. The APB identifies countries that are at risk and considers what diplomatic, development, political, financial, and security sector tools it may bring to bear in global hot spots. I think that the APB’s concentration on upstream prevention and facilitation of cooperation with non-governmental organizations and international partners make it a model for national mechanisms dealing with long-term atrocity prevention.
For you personally, what was the most important element of your visit to Auschwitz?
The guided tours of Auschwitz profoundly affected me. Of course, during my education and professional development, I had read extensively about the Holocaust and its survivors, watched numerous WW II documentaries, and visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. However, nothing was as real as standing in the crematoria, touching the monuments, and looking at the photographs of the victims. I was struck by how peaceful the grounds seemed, knowing the horror and inhumanity the walls had contained 70 years earlier. It helped to deepen my understanding of the Holocaust, and inform my work on current situations.
Who or what motivates you and inspires you in your work?
In law school, after I took a course on international criminal law, I read Samantha Powers’s “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” for the first time. It ignited my desire to enter this field. It made me want to help shape policies to prevent mass organized violence and to ensure its victims can find justice.
Since then, many things have fed that desire, including the hair-raising reports of human rights abuses from government sources and NGOs I read every day, meetings with survivors bravely sharing their tragic stories, and the unrelenting energy of my colleagues. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in a position to make a difference in an area that means so much to me.