Eight Ideas on Preventing Atrocities through Accountability and Understanding

Last week, the Lab team was fortunate enough to be part of a working group at the Stanley Foundation’s 53rd Strategy for Peace Conference, which focused on “Assisting States to Prevent Atrocities: Implications for Development Policy, Stabilization and Post-Conflict Peace-Building”. Accountability as a concept is, of course, intricately linked to the prevention of atrocities- and indeed to justice in the wake of these types of violence. A few thoughts on the intersection of these ideas coming out of the conference would include the need for:

i) Differentiating Conflict and Atrocities Risks. There has been some important progress on reorienting the international community towards conflict prevention but we still do not yet adequately address mass atrocity issues. We now tend to understand conflict risk but do not always grasp the potential for atrocities; and we often don’t fully comprehend the interaction between local level and national level violence (a point also made in the 2011 World Development Report).

ii) Understanding Structural and Operational Issues. We have also moved towards operationalizing the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) but this is as much a responsibility to “prevent” as it is to “protect”. Dealing with atrocities must include not just reactive military intervention, for example, but also preventative governance and accountability programs that ensure inclusive growth and development for all segments of societies. This can in turn be matched with more targeted upstream operational capacities for dealing with problems when they emerge.

iii) Moving from Early Warning to Early Response. While the right messages may be sent on the potential for atrocities to take place in a given context, it is imperative that we overcome the “tyranny of the urgent” within governments that might be able to help in these situations. A number of indicies and typologies of countries exist as the basis for intervention of one sort or another, but this action is often delayed as a result of absent longer-term plans and capacities. We do not yet know best how to mobilize the capacity within civil society to prevent and respond in these situations, or use technology (such as remote sensing) to gather and use information to hold individuals accountable for behaviors.

iv) Valuing Diversity and Inclusion. The issue of citizenship is central to atrocity prevention, as it is imperative that states ensure identities can be multiple and self-reinforcing rather than single and mutually exclusive. Atrocity prevention at its heart is about managing diversity and this can be approached in different ways with different levels of success. In Nigeria, for example, the issue of identity has been dealt with through an internal, political “balance of power” strategy which has actually entrenched ethnic and geographic identities instead of allowing Nigerians to move beyond them. In contrast, South Africa has developed policies of non-racialism to create collective movement based on elite bargains and civic nationalism which have overcome many historical divisions.

v) Ensuring “Fair Governance” not just “Good Governance”. The prevention of violence requires processes of governance that provide fair rules applicable equally to all citizens. A starting point for this is of course the rule of law- defined broadly as the police, legal machinery, judiciary and penal system- which is trustworthy and effective. In Guinea, for example, the government allocates just 0.029% of GDP to the judicial system and average judge makes just $71 a month- which is not a situation that is conducive to an accountable legal system. If citizens perceive that justice is not fair, they will look outside the rules for recourse, which can lead to violence.

vi) Blending International Ideas with Local Solutions. The internationally recognized R2P concept is now moving into practice on the ground. Ghana has sought to implement R2P through building upon local and regional peace councils that coordinate with a national peace council on issues of peace and insecurity. Local peace committees in Kenya are also linked with a text message system to report violence upwards and downwards. R2P focal points are now being developed by 17 governments to mainstream the issue within national policies and share knowledge internationally based on national needs with the support of great organizations like the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect and the ICRtoP. Significant progress is being made, and combining international ideas with local realities in this way is a sound basis for progress.

vii) Leveraging the Private Sector. Bringing in business on this issue is critical because so many of the countries where atrocities may take place are endowed with natural resources that businesses look to exploit. Part of this is job creation- to manage economic inequalities as a potential driver of insecurity. Part of it is also re-conceptualizing the role of business. Chevron has adopted an interesting approach in this regard in the Niger Delta, for example. Through the creation of well-endowed, independent foundations that are working with civil society, women and youth, the company is seeking to address peace issues, and is coordinating findings with the local and national governments. Chambers of Commerce and regional organizations could also be brought into initiatives of this sort with a specific focus on atrocities.

viii) Internationalizing R2P. R2P is moving from a concept to a legal and operational instrument, but we as the international community remain unclear as to how best to enforce it and the division of labor for doing so in practice. The US has made some progress in this regard through integration of the doctrine into planning and with the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board- which is working to develop tools and ensure joined-up strategies across US government agencies (and military) that might be involved with these issues. Regional approaches will also be central to its consolidation- through organizations such as ECOWAS, the African Union’s NEPAD and so on- which have started to integrate these ideas but certainly have room to develop them further over time.

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Making power-holders accountable in the developing world

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