Start of Main Content

Programmatic Guide

Guide to Criminal Justice and Preventing Mass Atrocities
Download the Guide

Title: Guide to Criminal Justice and Preventing Mass Atrocities 

Published by: US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Publication: June 2023

Available in: English, French

The Guide to Criminal Justice and Preventing Mass Atrocities is an educational resource for program implementers and criminal justice professionals who seek to strengthen the role of criminal justice in preventing mass atrocities. The Guide provides essential content to inform criminal justice approaches before, during, and after mass atrocities, defined as “large-scale, systematic violence against civilian populations.” It describes mass atrocities, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing; explains atrocity risk and resilience, and how they connect with criminal justice; and offers a range of criminal justice prevention tools applicable inside and outside the justice sector at different stages of risk and violence.

How to Use the Guide

This Guide brings together research and experience from the fields of criminal justice, rule of law, mass atrocity prevention, transitional justice, Holocaust studies, and leadership education and development. Weaving these threads, this Guide provides an overview of key concepts and tools to assist program implementers and criminal justice professionals in leveraging the potential of the justice sector to lead in preventing mass atrocities.

The chapters of this Guide build on each other to support understanding and skills in evaluating risk and resilience, identifying criminal justice prevention tools, and honing a plan and professional commitment to implement those tools to their greatest effect. With this Guide, criminal justice professionals can see their work through an atrocity prevention lens, experts in atrocity prevention can expand their toolkits, and programs for prevention can become more effective.

This Guide complements the course curriculum, "Lessons in Leadership: Criminal Justice Approaches for Preventing Mass Atrocities”, and serves as a foundation text for the course modules.

For a baseline understanding

  • Read the executive summary.

  • Review the key points at the beginning of chapters 1–4.

  • Scan the tables in appendix A (“Criminal Justice Tools for Mass Atrocity Prevention”).

  • Refer to the Guide’s table of contents to find more information on specific tools of interest.

For professionals in specific roles

  • Providers of training and education may refer to chapter 4 to help program implementers and criminal justice professionals explore these topics in a class or group setting.

  • Program managers are encouraged to review chapter 4’s content on change management and action planning, as these topics provide building blocks for developing a well-grounded approach to program design and implementation. Chapter 3 offers an approach to identifying appropriate criminal justice prevention tools, which can be developed and applied through programs.

  • Professionals in supervisory or policy planning roles may find especially relevant the introductory section “Why This Guide?,” chapter 1’s discussion of how justice officials can become complicit in mass atrocities, chapter 2’s analysis of how the justice sector connects with risk and resilience, and in chapter 3, the methodology to identify criminal justice prevention tools that connect to broader prevention measures.

To find and further examine specific topics of interest, readers may refer to this road map of the Guide’s first four chapters:

  • Chapter 1, “What Are Mass Atrocities?,” describes common characteristics of mass atrocities and identifies how certain types—specifically genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes— have been codified under international law. This chapter also highlights the potential role played by members of criminal justice systems in perpetration and mitigation.

  • Chapter 2, “Risk and Resilience in the Criminal Justice System,” helps identify areas of focus for assistance programs by describing how the justice sector intersects with risk factors associated with mass atrocities. This chapter also considers sources of resilience, or factors that can preempt, limit, or counteract risk in a given context.

  • Chapter 3, “Criminal Justice Prevention Tools: Before, During, and After Mass Atrocities,” describes one approach to identifying criminal justice tools to support prevention and surveys a range of criminal justice tools to reduce risk or build resilience that may be applicable before, during, or after mass atrocities. This chapter complements the detailed tables in appendix A (“Criminal Justice Tools for Mass Atrocity Prevention”).

  • Chapter 4, “Leadership Skills in Mass Atrocity Prevention,” reviews crosscutting skills that can strengthen the effectiveness of criminal justice professionals in mass atrocity prevention. These skills include ethical leadership, self-reflection, change management, and action planning. Together, these skills help professionals understand their own role in prevention, improve program design, and manage implementation challenges that often arise.