What role should local civil society play in Atrocity Prevention? - Peace Direct

What role should local civil society play in Atrocity Prevention?

The newly introduced Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2017 gives important recognition to the role of local civil society in preventing genocide and atrocities. How can this be done on the ground? We look to our local partner for some answers.


Holocaust survivor and Novel Laureate Elie Wiesel once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

On May 17, 2017, this sentiment inspired U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-md) and Todd Young (R-Ind) to lead a bipartisan group of legislators to introduce The Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2017.

Senator Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stated, “Atrocity crimes tragically persist around the globe, from Syria and South Sudan to Burma and Iraq. This bill, named in honor of the courageous, inspiring Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, strengthens the U.S. government’s infrastructure to prevent, mitigate, and respond to genocide and other mass atrocities wherever they may occur.”

When introducing the bill, Senator Young stated, “The United States has a moral and strategic imperative to help prevent and respond to acts of genocide and other mass atrocities, and this legislation would ensure the U.S. government is better prepared to fulfill this serious responsibility. This bipartisan legislation would help the United States put the commitment of ‘Never Again’ into action.”

Supporting efforts on the ground

Along with improving US policies and structures to help prevent atrocities, the bill also recognizes the importance of local civil society as a critical first line of prevention and response to mass violence. Specifically, the bill calls for, “supporting and strengthening local civil society, including human rights defenders and others working to help prevent and respond to atrocity crimes, and protecting their ability to receive support from and partner with civil society at large.”

Giving greater priority to local civil society is echoed in a recent report by an Experts Committee on Preventing Mass Violence, in which Peace Direct participated. In the report, “A Necessary Good: U.S Leadership on Preventing Mass Atrocities,” the Experts Committee affirms, “Local civil society serves as a bulwark against atrocities. Strengthening it is one of the best hopes for advancing the atrocity prevention agenda in the coming years.”

It recommends further funding for early warning early response tools, human rights monitoring and documentation, and community-based justice and economic development. The report also recommends that USAID further its support beyond nation-level initiatives and support local projects in communities most directly affected by violence.

Letting local lead

Promoting local efforts is an essential step for conflict prevention. That’s why Peace Direct has supported local organizations in places like Burundi, Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Pakistan and Sudan, who are all working to prevent mass violence in their own communities.

BurundiWe continue to support a network of 20 local organizations that monitor, report, and respond to incidents of violence and abuse. These reports include over 5,500 incidents of violence, making them vital resources to the international stakeholders, NGO’s, and policy makers.

 Zimbabwe – We helped our partner, Envision Zimbabwe Women’s Trust, continue their conflict resolution training with local leaders. and engaging the Zimbabwe Police Force. To date, Envision has trained 800 police officers in ways to maintain order without violence.

DR Congo – Along with our local partner, Centre Resolution Conflits, we mapped the early warning and response capacity of Eastern DR Congo, and strengthened the capacity of local actors to identify the signs of violence and respond effectively as a coordinated network. We also work with our partner FOCHI to run a network of village-level courts in an effort to diffuse disputes before they escalate.

Pakistan – Partnering with Aware Girls to support and stand up for women’s rights. In a region where violence against women is endemic, our partner Aware Girls teaches young men and women their rights and encourages young people, especially women, to get involved in the political process.

Sudan – Working with the Collaborative for Peace in Sudan, we strengthened the early warning early response capabilities by supporting local ‘Peace Committees’ across South Kordofan and Blue Nile. These committees mobilize at the first signs of tensions to stop violence before it happens.

Invest in prevention, before it is too late

Early prevention is always preferable to and less costly than late response when it comes to mass violence. Local peacebuilders and community leaders are the first line of defence when it comes to accurate reporting and responding strategies.

The US, UN, and other donors should support existing initiatives and expand the capacity for local institutions to cooperate in prevention strategies. Peace Direct welcomes this legislation and will continue to encourage policymakers around the world to support local peacebuilders in their effort to prevent mass violence.

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