Synergies Between Atrocity Prevention and Guarantees of Non-recurrence

28 April 2020
Guarantees of non-recurrence are a forward-looking transitional justice element, performing a preventive function shared with the responsibility to protect.[i]

Written by: Anjali Manivannan, Senior Programs Officer, and Caroline Søborg Nielsen, Intern, at World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy / International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect

It is consequently important to understand the mutually reinforcing relationship between this particular remedy for mass atrocities and atrocity prevention. To this end, this article interrogates this synergy by overviewing both common upstream prevention measures to reform state institutions, which should be included in a comprehensive prevention framework, and the added contributions of civil society.

The root causes of conflicts and mass atrocities often include de jure discrimination. In a transitional setting, states can re-establish a better rule of law through constitutional reform. The preventive potential of making a constitution lies in not only the creation of a robust bill of rights and an adequately resourced enforcement mechanism, but also the process itself. To ensure the dismantling of structural discrimination, inequality, and marginalization, the process must include minorities and other groups most affected by conflict and mass atrocities. Another notable upstream measure, vetting, can likewise contribute to preventing mass atrocities if it used and understood as a tool to repair abusive institutions. While vetting does not have a deterrent effect, it can dismantle networks of criminality by ensuring that individuals credibly implicated in mass atrocities are not part of the state institutional infrastructure.

Constitutional reform, vetting, and other forms of institutional reform must be part of a holistic, broader framework that targets the cultural and individual spheres as well. In fact, targeting the cultural and individual spheres can yield more resilient results than only focusing on the institutional sphere.[ii] This is an important point because, while the state is the primary actor in the institutional sphere, civil society organizations are key in the cultural and individual spheres. Civil society advocacy and mobilization,[iii] as undertaken by the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) and its constituent members around the globe, are therefore necessary to guaranteeing non-repetition and preventing mass atrocities.

Unfortunately, there are obstacles to the implementation of prevention measures, including, inter alia, the siloing of knowledge. Linking atrocity prevention and guarantees of non-recurrence can help overcome this hurdle. As discussed, constitutional reform and vetting are prime examples of guarantees of non-recurrence with preventative potential. However, siloed knowledge and expertise continues to hinder the exchange of lessons learned and good practices between the atrocity prevention and transitional justice fields. De-siloing agendas is a crucial step forward in treating the responsibility to protect and atrocity prevention as more than just downstream crisis responses.

To succeed in preventing mass atrocities, guarantees of non-recurrence must be part of a comprehensive prevention and transitional justice program identifying and addressing the root causes of human rights challenges. It is just as important to design and implement a holistic prevention program as it is to ensure transitional justice elements adopt a similarly holistic approach. Strengthening the relationship between atrocity prevention and guarantees of non-recurrence can only improve the effectiveness and sustainability of prevention measures while better redressing mass atrocities.

[i] Alexander Mayer-Rieckh, “Guarantees of Non-Recurrence: An Approximation,” Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 39, no. 2 (2017), p. 433, available at

[ii] Mayer-Rieckh, p. 446.

[iii] Mayer-Rieckh, pp. 437–38.

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