1. Update
  2. Peacebuilding

Remembering Past Atrocities to Prevent Future Violence

By Allyson Neville, Sean Langberg, April 6, 2015


Every April thousands of people across the country participate in Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Throughout the month, events are held to honor victims of past atrocities, educate the public about current atrocities, and advocate for the prevention of future atrocities.

Currently, the international community is facing four Level 3 humanitarian emergencies - an unprecedented number - in Iraq, Syria, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Unfortunately all four of these conflicts have produced atrocities against civilians. Meanwhile, violence rages in Yemen, Nigeria, Ukraine and other places where civilians have been targeted and remain at risk.

These crises underscore the importance of responding to threats against civilians and the necessity of doing everything possible to prevent violence from happening in the first place. In the coming months, several elections will be held across Africa, such as those in Burundi, that could serve as triggers for violence and potential atrocities.

Despite the immense challenges, however, progress has been made. Since President Obama declared atrocities prevention a “core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States” in 2011, the Atrocities Prevention Board was created and will mark its third anniversary on April 23; a small pool of flexible resources now exist through the creation of the Complex Crises Fund; and there is an increasing focus specifically on the prevention of mass atrocities in significant government planning documents like the National Security Strategy and the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

Most recently, Sarah Sewall, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the State Department, gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations highlighting some successes and challenges since 2011. She underscored the critical role that the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) played in mobilizing a response to violence in Central African Republic and Iraq as well as its preventative role in advance of the upcoming presidential elections in Burundi.

The best way we can remember the past...is to do what we can not to repeat it.

Despite these accomplishments, there’s much work to be done if this progress is to be sustained and expanded, and if these developments are to result in tangible prevention successes. While the APB has met key internal benchmarks, their major prevention case study- Burundi - has not made it past elections, which could be a major triggering event,given increasingly troubling reports from the country.

More broadly, there are real risks that all of these positive structural developments could be erased if the prevention of atrocities does not continue to be a priority for future Presidential Administrations. FCNL continues to support the prevention of atrocities and protection of civilians by advocating for increased flexible funding and for adequate resources for accounts at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development that support prevention and response. We’re also pushing for safeguards that will help to ensure that the APB and all the other progress is here to stay. The best way we can remember the past this and every Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, is to do what we can not to repeat it

Allyson Neville

  • Legislative Manager for the Prevention of Violent Conflict

Allyson Neville coordinates the Prevention and Protection Working Group (PPWG), a coalition of human rights, religious, humanitarian and peace organizations dedicated to the reduction of violent conflict, prevention of atrocities, and protection of civilians. Since its creation in late 2008, PPWG has successfully advocated on these issues through outreach to Congress and various administrative agencies.

Sean Langberg

  • Former Program Assistant, Peacebuilding Policy

Sean Langberg was a program assistant for peacebuilding policy from 2014-2015.