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Trivia and Discussion Guide: Early Prevention of Genocide

This week’s topic is early prevention, the third chapter of the GPTF Report. In this post you will find trivia and a discussion guide to bring to your chapter meetings. You can subscribe to weekly education newsletters which will include trivia, discussion, and weekly news briefs by emailing


The Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF) finds that efforts to prevent mass atrocities should address the main underlying sources of conflict and what else?

Hint: You will find the answers to the trivia questions in the discussion guides!


The Genocide Prevention Task Force Report outlines the challenges of and recommendations for the inclusion of early prevention of genocide and mass atrocities into US foreign policy. While the report analyzes these recommendations on a general level, it does not specifically apply them to current conflicts or troublesome areas which threaten to become conflict zones.

How would the GPTF recommendations on early prevention impact the conflicts in Sudan, Congo, Burma and other areas of concern if they were implemented into government policy?

Read the third chapter of the GPTF report here.
  • Promoting economic development and strengthening capacities to prevent instability and violent conflict of all kinds should be integral parts of a genocide prevention strategy.
  • Effective early prevention requires:
    • (1) an understanding of the conditions and triggers that lead to and enable the commission of mass atrocities,
    • (2) the means required to mitigate those conditions, and
    • (3) a concerted strategy to apply those means.
  • “The task force finds that mass atrocities are generally perpetrated when underlying risk factors—such as ethnic or sectarian discrimination, nationalist myths, armed insurgency, or political and economic exclusion—are exploited by opportunistic elites seeking to amass power and eliminate competitors. Therefore, early prevention will have a better chance of succeeding when integrated efforts address both underlying causes of conflict and the means and motives of leaders.”
  • There are also key triggers that can tip a high-risk environment into crisis. These include:
    • unstable, unfair, or unduly postponed elections;
    • high-profile assassinations;
    • battlefield victories; and
    • environmental conditions (for example, drought) that may cause an eruption of violence or heighten the perception of an existential threat to a government or armed group.
  • Successful early prevention requires a multifaceted strategy that simultaneously reduces capacities and motivations for mass violence while increasing the social and institutional safeguards against mass violence.
  • Strategy should focus on:
    • leadership
    • institutions
    • civil society


  • Recommendation 3-1: Early prevention strategies should aim to influence leaders by using positive and negative inducements, aggressive enforcement of international regimes, and fresh approaches to conflict transformation.
    • Positive Inducements include: grants, loans, debt relief, budgetary support, technical assistance, and equipment and training, etc
    • Negative Inducements include: sanctions, banning travel, legal and moral accountability [ex. International Criminal Court (ICC)]
    • Interdicting funds and arms (tracking arms purchases and financial transactions, arms embargoes, sanctions or legal actions against individuals or public and private enterprises involved, and restrictions in resource flows) is another important strategy.
    • Building collaborative capacity (Programs to bring government and community leaders together to build relationships and encourage mutual understanding) is also essential.
  • Recommendation 3-2: Early prevention strategies should support development of institutions in high-risk states by supporting power sharing and democratic transition, enhancing the rule of law and addressing impunity, and reforming security forces.
    • Support power sharing: While there is no one formula for power distribution, representative and accountable forms of governance are key.
    • Enhance the rule of law and address impunity: Law must be transparent and the institutions which enforce it must be competent and accountable. Independent mechanisms to counter corruption are essential. As past atrocities is one factor in risk of future atrocities, past abuses must be addressed in order to abolish a culture of impunity.
    • Reform security forces: Security forces have the capacity to both carry out and prevent atrocities; security forces should represent the diversity of society, be trained to protect life, and be legally accountable to civilian leadership. Security sector reform may be the best way to incorporate these qualities into the security forces.
  • Recommendation 3-3: Early prevention strategies should aim to strengthen civil society in high-risk states by supporting economic and legal empowerment, citizen groups, and a free and responsible media.
    • Support empowerment: the benefits of economic growth must be spread throughout the population; land reform and property rights are important factors of empowerment and development which could reduce grievances.
    • Develop civil society: there must be numerous avenues for participation, disperse political power, and an expansion of educational opportunities
    • Support a free and responsible media: independent from state control and multiple media outlets
  • Recommendation 3-4: Funding for crisis prevention in countries at risk of genocide or mass atrocities should be expanded through a new genocide prevention initiative, funded through existing foreign assistance mechanisms.
    • The GPTF proposes a new $200 million per year to finance prevention efforts; this would be funded through existing mechanisms in the foreign assistance budget; Congress should approve these funds.
    • During the budget process, country teams and agencies would propose budgets for projects to address risk factors highlighted in research and analysis.
    • This funding would provide approximately $15-20 million to the top ten or fifteen countries deemed at high risk of genocide and mass atrocities. While this is a major investment, this funding is only a fraction of the cost of intervention once conflict erupts.
  • Recommendation 3-5: The State Department and USAID should enhance coordination with international partners both in terms of policy and in-country implementation.
    • The assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor should be the liaison to genocide and mass atrocity prevention initiatives in international organizations (EU, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, World Bank, etc)
  • DRC has local organizations and traditional methods of conflict prevention and resolution: these need to be included along with efforts stemming from international sources.
  • Engaging dissatisfied factions in DRC would also prevent violent outbursts geared towards calling attention to grievances.
  • Other engagements in DRC include monetary support economic growth and development, education, increased government capacity/efficacy and an independent judiciary, the opposites of which are conducive for conflict.
  • As Southern Sudan builds towards a critical referendum put in place by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Darfur witnesses the endless deterioration of the Darfur Peace Agreement, the risk of violence multiplies.
  • The US Government can help prepare and protect the civilian population by supporting civil society and institutions on the ground, while continuing to pressure leaders to slow the swell in violence.
  • The first step to holding the Burmese military regime accountable is to refer Burma to a UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry to investigate the regime’s crimes and potentially refer the case to the International Criminal Court or establish of a special tribunal for prosecution. 
  • Although the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the 1990 democratic elections by a landslide, the military regime refused to acknowledge the election results and forcibly maintained power.  Elections have been scheduled for 2010, but few political parties and ethnic minority groups give credence to the claim that they will be free or fair. 
  • The Burmese military regime uses suppression of the press as a means to maintain control over the populace. The media is heavily censored, and the military regime owns or controls all daily newspapers and broadcast media.  To prevent information about the regime’s atrocities from reaching the world media, the regime has enacted legislation that can imprison reporters caught smuggling information or video footage out of the country for years. 
  • The International Criminal Court is already active in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there are efforts to push the ICC to pursue an investigation in Burma. What impact have these efforts had on these conflicts?
  • The GPTF flags “unstable, unfair, or unduly postponed elections” as triggers for crisis in high-risk environments. In light of upcoming elections in Sudan and Burma, how should the international community prepare?
  • GPTF recommends supporting democratic transitions as well as use of negative inducements including the ICC for leaders promoting mass atrocities. What does this mean for Sudan as it is likely that President Bashir, who is a wanted war criminal by the ICC, may be democratically reelected?
  • FARDC, the Congolese army, is responsible for a large amount of attacks on civilians. How might security sector reform efforts combat this problem?

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