Obama tackles mass atrocities; spotlights Syria, Kony

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Monday, April 23, 2012.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

(CBS News) President unveils new tools to prevent and respond to mass atrocities, calling it a national security interest and moral responsibility

President Obama Monday pledged that preventing and responding to mass atrocities across the globe would never be an "afterthought" in his administration, unveiling new tools to address the systemic violence plaguing places like Syria and Central Africa.

"Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America," President Obama said at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in his first appearance there as president. "That does not mean that we intervene militarily every time there's an injustice in the world. We cannot and should not. It does mean we possess many tools, diplomatic and political and economic and financial and intelligence and law enforcement and our moral suasion."

The president announced new sanctions against Iran and the Syrian government and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track citizens, targeting them for violence.

"These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them," he said. "And it's one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come -- the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people -- and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny."

Mr. Obama added that the U.S. and its allies will continue to use diplomatic pressure to further isolate the Assad regime, keep up sanctions and keep up a legal effort to document atrocities so that "killers face justice."

"The Syrian people have not given up, which is why we cannot give up," he said.

Additionally, Mr. Obama noted that the Atrocities Prevention Board, which he established last year, is meeting for the first time today at the White House. The board will bring senior officials from across government to focus on atrocities around the world.

"This is not an afterthought. This is not a sidelight in our foreign policy," he said.

The president said using the tools already in place, the U.S. has "save countless lives." He cited U.S. and international intervention in Cote d'Ivoire, South Sudan, Libya and against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Central Africa.

Last year, Mr. Obama ordered a small number of American advisers to help Uganda and its neighbors pursue the LRA and their leader Joseph Kony, who has since gained infamy in the U.S. thanks to a viral video.

"Today I can announce that our advisers will continue their efforts to bring this madman to justice and to save lives," Mr. Obama said of Kony. "It's part of our regional strategy to end the scourge that is the LRA and help realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family and no girl is raped and no boy is turned into a child soldier."

The president was introduced by Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor.

Mr. Obama said that "never again," the phrase that references the Holocaust and appeals for the prevention of genocide, "is a challenge to us all to pause and to look within... a challenge to societies."