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Introducing a New Framework for Assessing and Mitigating Risks for Genocide and Mass Atrocities

The influential 2008 report of the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF) calls for new and improved tools and frameworks to provide early warning for mass atrocities and to intervene in at-risk situations before they reach the crisis stage. Since the report’s release, there has been significant progress in creating the kind of “watch list” (external link) it envisioned of countries that are at risk for mass atrocities. As the GPTF report notes, once such risk has been identified in a particular country, prevention efforts should be based on sound analysis of the country-specific factors and dynamics that are driving the risk.

In order to promote this type of analysis, the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide provided a visiting fellowship to Dr. Annie Bird, a policy advisor at the US State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) and a recognized scholar on mass atrocity prevention. Dr. Bird used her two-month fellowship to consolidate and expand on existing work by CSO and the US Agency for International Development.

The result is the working draft Atrocity Assessment Framework: Supplemental Guidance to State/USAID Conflict Assessment Frameworks (external link). The draft is publicly available on the website of the Department of State.

The framework provides guidance for assessing a specific situation where there is risk for atrocities—or where atrocities are underway—and for identifying and prioritizing options to reduce the threat of deliberate violence against civilians. Dr. Bird identifies several key factors that distinguish the Atrocity Assessment Framework from existing US government conflict analysis tools, such as the Interagency Conflict Assessment Framework (external link) and the USAID Conflict Assessment Framework (external link). She provides guidance for analyzing how key actors, core grievances, social and institutional resiliencies, and windows of risk and opportunity affect mass atrocity risk in a particular situation. The framework guides the user to employ this analysis to understand the dynamics that could lead to mass atrocities, identify factors and trends to monitor, and develop specific recommendations for prevention or response.

Genocide and mass atrocities have common characteristics, but the factors that lead to mass violence in each individual event are unique. In a high-risk situation, prevention efforts that are not tailored to the factors specific to that case are unlikely to succeed and may even backfire. The atrocity assessment framework developed by Dr. Bird and her colleagues is a valuable tool for conducting the detailed and rigorous analysis of case-specific risk factors that should inform atrocity prevention policy making. Although it was developed for use by US government officials, the framework’s analytical approach can be useful for any effort to understand and address specific situations in which mass atrocities threaten or are already occurring. We hope this framework will assist current and future policymakers as they strive to prevent and respond to mass violence against civilians worldwide.