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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

MAY 2016

13

diplomatic posts in 660 cities around the

world. Yet a March 14 article from Foreign Affairs questions whether the traditional

embassy is still relevant.

Author Alex Oliver, a critic of the

“modern” embassy, writes that many for-

eign ministries have been slow to adopt

social media as a mechanism for carrying

out “digital diplomacy.”

“Governments now communicate

directly with their counterparts, and some

world leaders have become prodigious

users of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram,

speaking to huge domestic and foreign

audiences without even telling their

embassies,” Oliver writes.

Embassies are also behind local and

international news media—and even the

average civilian—in gathering and relay-

ing information.

But the biggest threat to the relevance

and efficiency of embassy work, in Oli-

ver’s view, is increased security. “Even

in less dangerous countries,” he writes,

“embassies are mired in security proto-

cols that restrict access by locals and often

confine embassy staff and diplomats to

semi-safe green zones—hardly a way to

get an accurate picture of events on the

ground. Some embassies, particularly

American ones, resemble elaborate

military bunkers more than diplomatic

outposts.”

Oliver’s point is not that embassies are

no longer important. They continue to be

the crucial face and point of contact for

their countries overseas, he writes, but

their functions may have to shift.

He offers several recommendations.

Instead of providing up-to-the-minute

information, embassies should focus on

providing context to news and informa-

tion, helping their governments sort out

relevant information from the media noise

and identifying key potential partners.

Governments must also accept that

risk is inherent to the diplomatic profes-

sion and allow diplomats to interact with

locals directly, Oliver states.

—Shannon Mizzi, Editorial Assistant

ISIS Actions Declared

“Genocide”

S

ecretary of State John Kerry

announced on March 17 that the State

Department, and by extension the Obama

administration, has determined that the

actions of the so-called Islamic State

group, ISIS, in both Iraq and Syria against

minority groups, including Yazidis,

Christians and Shiite Muslims, meet the

criteria to be designated “genocide. ”

The House of Representatives unani-

mously voted for a genocide designation

on March 14, giving the State Department

a March 17 deadline to decide on a dec-

laration of its own. The decision comes

on the heels of a prior declaration by the

European Union parliament, which deliv-

ered a similar unanimous vote on Feb. 4.

The United Nations Convention on

Genocide defines genocide as “the inten-

tional destruction, in whole or in part, of a

national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”

As media and nonprofit investigative

reports have shown, ISIS is responsible

for systematically executing thousands

of Yazidi and Christian men and elderly

women, and kidnapping thousands of

younger Yazidi women and girls, holding

or selling them into sex slavery.

This is only the second time the United

States has recognized an ongoing geno-

cide. The first was in 2004, when Secre-

tary Powell called attention to Darfur in

Sudan, but very little of significance was

done in the wake of that declaration.

Studies show, however, that events

labeled “genocide”—rather than “crimes

against humanity” or “ethnic cleansing”—

have elicited more forceful action from

governments historically, despite the fact