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< Simon-Skjodt Center Research Projects

The Role of Civilians and Civil Society in Preventing Mass Atrocities

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This research project explored when, how, and to what effect civilians engage in atrocity prevention.

Civilian communities are often presumed to be passive victims or bystanders when threatened by mass atrocities. Our research finds this assumption to be false. Civil society actors respond to threats of atrocities in many ways, even in the face of significant constraints. They are more diverse and their roles are more complicated than is often acknowledged. A greater understanding of and interaction with local civilian communities is required to prevent mass atrocities.

The research project examined the following questions:

  • How frequently do civil society actors and civilian communities take different types of actions to help prevent and mitigate mass atrocities?
  • What factors explain the variation in the effectiveness of civilian-led efforts to prevent and mitigate mass atrocities?
  • How can external actors—particularly foreign assistance donor organizations—effectively support civilian-led efforts to prevent and mitigate mass atrocities?

Read a three-page summary of key findings from the entire project here and each of the research papers below.

Case studies 

Three case studies and a synthesis paper examine the range of actions civilians can take to prevent and respond to atrocities. They were conducted in partnership with three in-country research organizations and overseen by Leonard and Sophie Davis Fellow Zachariah Mampilly

Quantitative analysis 

This cross-national quantitative analysis assesses the relationship between civil society and mass atrocities. 

Policy analysis

This paper examines how foreign assistance donor organizations can best support civilian-led actions to prevent and mitigate mass atrocities.

Learn more

  • Read a rapporteur's report (PDF) from a June 2019 workshop with research partners and external scholars, by Jamie Wise
  • Read a rapporteur's report (PDF) from a March 2018 workshop discussing the state of research and kicking off the project, by Daniel Solomon and Mollie Zapata
  • Read the project description (PDF)

For more information about this project, contact Kyra Fox at kfox@ushmm.org.