Early Warning Project: 2016 Results
After a decade of decline, civilian mass killings at the hands of government forces are once again on the rise. Sudan, Yemen, Burma, Nigeria, and Afghanistan are the five governments most likely to commit mass killing against their own people, according to a new assessment from the Early Warning Project. For the third year in a row, Sudan and Burma rank among the countries most at risk.
The Early Warning Project, a collaboration of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Dartmouth College, uses publicly available data to rank the likelihood of state-led mass killings. It seeks to save lives by helping policymakers, activists and affected communities understand and prioritize where to direct limited prevention resources to prevent new mass atrocities. Because mass killings are rare—fewer than two new cases occur each year on average—even the highest risk countries have less than a one-in-ten chance of having a new onset, according to our analysis.
Learn more, below, about the top countries at risk, countries with growing risks, and other notable threats. To read the full results, go to the Early Warning Project.
Civil war has been a fact of life for the people of Sudan for years. While the government of President Omar al-Bashir claims its targets are rebel groups in the Darfur region and South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, civilians are frequently the victims of bombings and violence. More than 3.2 million Sudanese people have fled their homes. In our latest assessment, high risks of coup or civil war—among other factors—drove Sudan to the top of countries at risk of a new episode of mass killing.
As the civil war continues between Houthi rebels and the predominantly Sunni forces of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, Yemen moved to second from tenth. While Saudi Arabia has perpetrated an extensive bombing campaign with horrendous effect on Yemeni civilians, our models focus on the risk of the government of Yemen killing its own people.
Despite its progress toward democracy, which motivated the US government to remove sanctions on Burma, the government and military continue to target the Rohingya, a Muslim minority known as “the most persecuted people in the world.” They are subjected to discriminatory laws and acts of violence that put them at risk of genocide. Recent reports of killings, widespread rape and destruction of villages by security forces targeting Rohingya are further evidence that state-led violence remains a great threat to Rohingya civilians. Burma ranks number three on our list.
Political tumult catapulted Burundi toward the top of the global risk list, from fifty-sixth to sixth. This dramatic shift reflects a failed coup attempt, a slide back into more openly authoritarian rule, and the resumption of violent civil conflict. A United Nations inquiry concluded in September 2016 that while open violence has declined from 2015, repression in other forms is more systematic and is increasing.
The increasingly authoritarian government of Turkey shot up in our rankings to thirteenth from thirty-first. The escalation of armed conflict between the state and Kurdish rebel groups is among the factors leading to higher forecasts. The July 2016 attempted coup in Turkey, which is not reflected in our current analysis, likely indicates a further increase in risk.
Other Notable Cases
Democratic Republic of the Congo (10)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, ranked tenth, remains at high risk. This year’s assessment comes as the government pursued a violent crackdown against protesters opposing President Joseph Kabila’s attempts to hold onto power. Our assessment was conducted before the government and opposition parties agreed to a plan—brokered by Catholic bishops—to hold democratic elections by the end of 2017.
Ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq are currently the victims of genocide and other atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State. The actions of the Islamic State, however, do not affect Iraq’s ranking in our system, which is focused on mass killings by state security forces or by other groups acting at the behest of government officials. Iraq ranks eleventh on our list.
Growing authoritarianism, longstanding feuds between political parties, and increasing extremism have fueled the growing risk of atrocities in Bangladesh. The government has arrested thousands of people, including political opponents, journalists, and members of nonprofit groups. Security forces claim the arrests are in response to a spate of attacks and murders of religious minorities, but human rights groups believe some may be politically motivated. Bangladesh ranks sixteenth on our annual list.
While Syria is experiencing state-led atrocities in both large numbers and at horrifying frequency, the country ranks 25th on our annual list, not as high as one might anticipate. The reason is that our statistical models assess the risk of a new episode involving a distinct target group, not the continuation of an ongoing violent campaign. Since it is extremely rare for a country to experience two distinct mass killing episodes simultaneously, countries in which mass killing is ongoing tend to rank lower than one might expect.
Top 30 Countries at Risk
- Central African Republic
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- South Sudan
- Sri Lanka
- Ivory Coast
About The Early Warning Project
Genocide is preventable. The Early Warning Project seeks to save lives by providing policymakers with the information they need to prevent mass atrocities. The system forecasts risks of new episodes of mass killing using public data and advanced methodologies built on 50 years of historical indicators.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum developed the project as part of its mission to provide governments, advocacy groups, and at-risk societies with reliable tools that provide advance warning and, thus, more opportunity to take action before killings occur.
Our system analyzes numerous risk factors, including the following:
- past episodes of mass killing
- regime type
- past coup attempts
- past political instability
- civil conflict
- discriminatory policies
- exclusionary ideology
- ethnic, linguistic or religious division
- low trade openness
- economic growth and infant mortality
We define an episode of state-led mass killing as the death of at least 1,000 noncombatant civilians over the course of a year or less due to deliberate actions of state agents or groups acting at their behest in a country whose population is at least 500,000.
Our risk assessment is derived from three models representing different ideas about the origins of mass atrocities. Our models learn from 50 years of historical patterns that can help us spot countries at risk of state-led atrocities today. More details on our methodology and links to where you can find all of the data used in our assessments can be found at: www.earlywarningproject.org/risk_assessments.
All of these models use publicly available historical data, with corrections made to some data to ensure consistency measuring countries across various data sources.
Our full 2016 analysis can be found at: www.earlywarningproject.org/2017/04/12/countries-most-likely-to-experience-state-led-mass-killing-statistical-risk-assessment-2016.