March 12, 2021
In late February, the Early Warning Project launched its latest early warning risk list, identifying Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as most likely to experience a new mass killing in 2020 or 2021.
The virtual event included remarks from Senator Ben Cardin and Senator Todd Young, country experts Dr. Arsène Brice Bado from Cote d’Ivoire and Dr. Chris Fomunyoh from Cameroon, and early warning experts from the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.
“We know that genocide and related crimes against humanity are not spontaneous,” said Naomi Kikoler, Director of the Simon-Skjodt Center. “If we take the idea of preventing genocide seriously, we must seek to identify risks before systematic attacks on civilian populations begin.”
According to Senator Todd Young, “The Early Warning Project has given policymakers a valuable tool to identify and prevent mass atrocities before they occur. It enables us to see warning signs early so we can raise the alarm, influence policy and trigger worldwide action before crimes occur.”
Senator Ben Cardin commented, “By highlighting countries that demonstrate these signs of vulnerability, the Early Warning Project helps international organizations, civil society groups, and policymakers like myself understand where to focus attention and resources in order to save lives.”
The Early Warning Project’s annual Statistical Risk Assessment was created by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Dartmouth College to identify countries at risk for mass killing, raise warning signs, and encourage policymakers to take action to prevent mass atrocities. Based on publicly available data, researchers built a model that asks, in effect, which countries today look like countries that have experienced mass killing in the past, in the two years before the violence began? This annual report is the cornerstone of the Early Warning Project, which was founded in 2014.
One of the uses of the risk assessment is to identify countries that merit additional analysis. For selected high-risk countries, the Simon-Skjodt Center undertakes deep qualitative assessments in partnership with country experts to better understand atrocity risk and opportunities for prevention. Former Côte d’Ivoire Early Warning Fellow Dr. Bado noted, “Our early warning report was the most quoted report about the 2020 presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire. It is critical to continue the work of the Early Warning Project in order to save lives by developing rigorous analyses that could prevent mass atrocities.”
Dr. Fomunyoh illustrated the consequences of failing to act on early warning in his remarks about Cameroon, where Cameroonians in the Anglophone region have endured violent conflict for four years. "We would not have suffered the number of casualties and destruction that have been done to the country and its people" had early warning signs been heeded. Dr. Fomunyoh went on to note that “moving forward this early warning process can serve as notice to policymakers—but also to perpetrators—that ultimately the world is taking notice and ultimately at some point they will be held accountable.”
Mollie Zapata, the Simon-Skjodt Center research manager for the Early Warning Project, walked through the risk assessment methodology and key findings from this year’s report. She emphasized that the risk assessment should be seen as a starting point for additional analysis and encouraged users to consider:
- Are countries at high risk receiving sufficient attention to those risks?
- What additional analysis would help shed light on the level and nature of atrocity risk in the country?
- What kinds of crises or events (e.g., coups, elections, leadership changes, protests, etc.) might spark large-scale violence by the government or non-state actors?
- What accounts for the discrepancy between the statistical results and experts’ expectations?
In addition to drawing attention to the highest-risk countries—Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Democratic Republic of the Congo—Zapata also highlighted South Sudan as consistently high-risk, Colombia as increasing in risk, and China’s crimes against the Uyghurs as meriting immediate action.
She concluded the presentation by noting what policymakers should do with the information in the risk assessment. “For those of you who are working at or with Executive agencies, at NGOs, and think tanks, you should bring attention to countries at risk through public statements condemning violence against civilians, share this risk report with regional colleagues to discuss opportunities for prevention, and make sure that you and your colleagues are aware of existing atrocity prevention resources.” She went on to encourage Congress to “ensure foreign, defense, and development budgets reflect the risk level in key countries and regions, advance legislation prioritizing atrocity prevention, and monitor implementation of the Elie Wiesel Act.”
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