The Second International Meeting of “Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes” (GAAMAC II) on ‘Preventing atrocities by strengthening national atrocity prevention architectures’ was held in Manila, Philippines from 2 to 4 February 2016. The meeting was organized jointly by the Governments of the Philippines and Switzerland, current chair of GAAMAC, with the support of the GAAMAC Steering Group. Over the course of three fruitful days, GAAMAC II convened interested governments, national and regional organizations, NGOs, and relevant UN offices to discuss national architectures for atrocity prevention and share strategies for designing, building and strengthening such architectures for the prevention of mass atrocity crimes (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, ethnic cleansing) at national and regional level.

The GAAMAC initiative was launched in February 2013 in Tanzania, by six states who gathered with civil society organisations and the UN Office for Prevention of Genocide and R2P. They decided to hold the first International GAAMAC Meeting (GAAMAC I) in San José, Costa Rica in March 2014 during which 120 participants, from 52 states and international, regional and national civil society organisations participated and confirmed the need to generate a state led “Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes”.

The GAAMAC Steering Group was then tasked to produce a Founding Document that was shared and widely consulted in 2015. In February 2016, GAAMAC II took place in Manila and gathered 200 participants from 52 states, and civil society organizations; in depth discussions and exchange took place about national architecture and policies to prevent atrocities and how to support them.

“GAAMAC is a marketplace of ideas and a meeting place for States to come together to learn from each other and to bring these good practices to their own countries”
H.E. Ms. Lourdes Ortiz Yparraguirre, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations, NY

“……we see GAAMAC as a platform for countries to work together to implement the commitment to strengthen national architecture for the prevention of atrocity crimes. For us, building and strengthening national architectures goes to the core of what preventing atrocity crimes is all about.”
Adama Dieng, UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and R2P

“GAAMAC II’s success is a testament to the importance that a growing number of States place on atrocity prevention. We urge atrocity prevention to be embedded in national policy frameworks and be implemented on a permanent basis, by all states, and at all levels, in strong partnership between state and civil society.”
Statement by a participant of the debriefing on GAAMAC II at UN Headquarters

For more insight and information on the meeting, see the GAAMAC II video below.

GAAMAC II provided an open, practical, welcoming and trusted meeting space for multiple worldviews and existing good practices to be shared; for multiple partnerships to emerge among participants and for a common reflection about how to generate national architectures. GAAMAC II provided a constructive environment that allowed honest sharing of  challenges and opportunities in an open and supportive manner among participants.

GAAMAC II was organized around three guiding questions:
(1) What do successful national architectures look like, what are the essential ingredients and how are they created?
(2) How to strengthen national architectures?
(3) How can States work most effectively with prevention partners?

The opening speakers, Mr. Rafael Seguis, Undersecretary of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Didier Burkhalter, Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, envisaged GAAMAC to guide states to strengthen and develop their national architecture and realize prevention in concrete terms.  They encouraged participants to further elaborate on the concrete content of these domestic prevention mechanisms, to have a frank and open exchange on how prevention can be achieved, to take action in their own countries and to make the best use of regional cooperation and synergies.

During the meeting, inspirational messages from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta were broadcast by video and participants enjoyed in-depth contribution by guest experts and participated in joint reflection with resource persons.

Mr. Jose Ramos-Horta made an appeal for humility, flexibility and pragmatism in this complex world. He emphasized the need for increased collective effort for a multifaceted prevention from improved early warning systems to mediation and negotiation capacities in international mechanisms, regional organizations, NGOs and individuals.

Mr. Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, in his keynote address, stressed that atrocity prevention is more effective through partnerships.  He noted GAAMAC’s importance as a platform for colleagues to work together to implement their commitment to strengthening national architectures and to make connections to provide concrete support sustained over time. He advised to turn rhetoric into concrete action and use the time between meetings for direct assistance to be rendered, for programmes to be implemented and for states and their civil society partners to develop national infrastructures for prevention.

Ms. Jennifer Welsh, UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect pointed out the key building blocks of national prevention architectures by enumerating seven ‘inhibitors’ that, if developed by state actors, will strengthen their governance and are fundamental to reducing the risk of atrocity crimes. These are:

  • Capacity to assess risk and mobilize early response
  • States engaged in atrocity prevention shall develop capacities to assess risks in early stages and to analyse them in a timely manner so that policy makers can be in a position to mitigate risks, address vulnerabilities and strengthen prevention.
  • Independent judicial and human rights institutions
  • Human rights institutions are mandated to monitor the respect for or the violations of human rights. It is particularly relevant that these institutions communicate actively about any situations or discourses of incitement, hate speech based on ethnic, politics, religious, or gender criteria. An impartial judicial system is crucial to bringing those who plan, incite or commit atrocity crimes to justice as well as to address grievances that, if unaddressed, might lead to the recurrence of atrocities.
  • Local capacity to resolve conflicts
  • Strengthening domestic capacities in dispute resolution and strengthening informal mediation mechanisms can contribute to foster dialogue and reconciliation processes as a way to address grievances.
  • Media capacity to counteract prejudice and hate speech
  • Media play a pivotal role; either positive or negative, in particular when they contribute to stereotyping. Developing their capacity and strengthening the media as a key actor in the mitigation of stereotypes, revisionism and propaganda is crucial for prevention.
  • Impartial institutions for overseeing political transitions
  • Competent, non-partisan electoral commissions are key to ensuring the integrity of elections, the timely dissemination of results, and the strengthening of trust, thus preventing situations that can lead to grievances.
  • Professional and accountable security sectors
  • Reforms that enhance professionalism, promote respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, ensure accountability in the security institutions, and promote rule of law institutions contribute prominently to the reduction of abuses perpetrated by the security institutions and greatly enhance the trust of the population.
  • Capacity for effective and legitimate transitional justice
  • In the aftermath of violent conflict, transitional justice initiatives are crucial to deal constructively with the legacy of the crimes committed, to resolve outstanding property claims, to ensure reparations for the displaced, to address the needs of the victims and restore their rights as citizens, to institute educational reforms that promote diversity, to offer durable solutions for reconciliation and social cohesion, and to prevent the recurrence of atrocities.

GAAMAC II employed outstanding facilitation methodologies to maximize people-to-people exchanges and the sharing of direct experiences. Many small group meetings, accompanied by expert practitioners, allowed in-depth reflection and contributed to amplify and add expert knowledge on specific themes which complemented the plenary sessions.

  • Early Warning Assessment Tools and the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes
  • During the session on Early Warning Assessment Tools and the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, participants noted that it is indeed possible to identify indicators of atrocity crimes and assess levels of risk and that such assessments are crucial to informing preparedness at domestic level so as to know what to do and how to engage effectively. Early warning can help a society identify its vulnerabilities and strategize to mitigate them in order to prevent their further development and the undermining of safety and stability. Many states have not yet successfully translated their capacities for atrocity prevention from central government level down to sub-national and local counterparts. It is important to generate an inclusive, multi-sectoral, multi-level policy that is sensitive to realities on the ground. The ability to assess and minimize atrocity crime risks as well as to identify and bolster sources of national resilience are indispensable to successful prevention.
  • The Inclusion of Women and Protection of their Rights as Full and Equal Actors
  • The group session on 'The Inclusion of Women and Protection of their Rights as Full and Equal Actors' concluded that national architectures for atrocity prevention need to embrace a gendered awareness of how women and men are differently affected by atrocities and to highlight women’s potential role as key subjects and actors with their own agency in atrocity prevention. It is mutually reinforcing and complementary when building national architectures for atrocity prevention to also develop a “National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security”.
  • The Potential of Social Media and New Technologies to Inhibit and Prevent Atrocities
  • The Potential of Social Media and New Technologies to Inhibit and Prevent Atrocities was a session of enormous interest. Participants recognized that social media and information communication technologies (ICT) have vast potential vis-à-vis prevention, but are a double-edged sword. They can be utilized to prevent and mitigate atrocities, but if misused also fuel them. Since much of this work is in its early stages, it is important that national architectures integrate the crucial role and vast potential of social media and ICT. Much can be done to develop a better understanding of the role and impact of social media technologies, to disseminate information about them, and to determine ways to ensure that ICT and social media comply with international human rights standards.
  • Youth and Education as Drivers of Prevention
  • The Youth and Education as Drivers of Prevention session highlighted the critical importance of formal and informal education to change mindsets, build trust, diminish discrimination and intolerance, and help overcome trauma among youth and adults.  Innovative NGOs from Bangladesh and the Philippines demonstrated their creative and experiential methodologies of creating oral history, organizing inter-group dialogue, and using art, music, games and sport especially with youth (9-17) in their formative years.  The needs in this sector are enormous and would benefit from governmental support to expand upon the work of NGOs and institutionalize such programmes nation-wide.
  • Building of Capacity in the Security Sector to Prevent Atrocity Crimes
  • The session on Building of Capacity in the Security Sector to Prevent Atrocity Crimes stressed the challenge of balancing local needs and ownership while adhering to international commitments and standards. The discussion highlighted the following aims: securing the commitment of top leaders (for a prevention agenda), the building of local capacity to ensure professionalization in the discharge of duties, interacting with multiple actors and sectors, and ensuring civilian oversight by other branches of government and civil actors.
  • Combating Incitement of Hate Speech and the Role of Local Dialogue in Atrocity Prevention
  • In Combating Incitement of Hate Speech and the Role of Local Dialogue in Atrocity Prevention, the participants postulated that when hate speech remains unaddressed, it can have grave consequences; dehumanization becomes acceptable and indifference is accepted as a norm of conduct. National architectures shall have dedicated units that identify and actively counter incitement at all levels. Locally, dialogue can be instrumental to transform narratives of victimhood and hatred toward messages of respect, tolerance and inclusion. At societal levels, both national and international pressure is instrumental to remind leaders they shall disassociate themselves from or condemn hate speech.
  • Atrocity Prevention in Special Circumstances
  • Atrocity Prevention in Special Circumstances focused on human rights violations, civil demonstrations, and natural disasters. National policies for atrocity prevention imply the ongoing analysis of the human rights situation through structured consultation processes with human rights institutions and civil society organizations to identify, analyze, alert and address violations. While civil demonstrations are routine in any society, skills for mediation, negotiation, conflict de-escalation should be developed and employed with the view to avoid escalating tensions during civil demonstrations. Further, police and other security forces need to be trained to properly ensure security and peacefully ensure crowd control. In context of natural disasters, responses should be designed and mobilized in an equitable, sensitive manner to avoid triggering the commission of atrocities.
  • National and International Justice and Accountability Mechanisms as Keys to Prevention
  • Major points of the National and International Justice and Accountability Mechanisms as Keys to Prevention session: lack of accountability is often the major obstacle for a successful national architecture. It is important to draw in all potential allies (legislative, judiciary, military and security sector, political, religious, civil society, etc.) in order to overcome resistance and conduct processes that will strengthen trust. On another note, peace processes must be inclusive. Otherwise, when groups feel unheard, unrepresented, or excluded, they will disrupt and weaken the process, rendering it without bona fides or societal support.
  • Atrocity Prevention and Post-conflict Recovery
  • Atrocity Prevention and Post-conflict Recovery – Governments in post-violent conflict situations are primarily responsible for addressing the legacy of past atrocities; that is to deal with the past -- to undertake truth-seeking processes, justice measures, restitution and reparations programmes, to realize institutional reforms to ensure that atrocities do not recur and to contribute to society-wide reconciliation. Responsible and collaborative leadership with formal institutional leaders and civil society counterparts can ensure trust in the process and establish a bulwark against the recurrence of atrocity crimes.  

The GAAMAC II gathering was a testament to the benefits and bounty of wide, interactive dialogue among different stakeholders from all geographic regions, multiple sectors, and different levels of government and civil society.  Among the many subjects discussed, common ground was found on a number of issues.

Each country situation is unique and different and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’.  Through sharing across regions, cultures, histories, and contexts much can be learned from the processes by which a State and its civil society examine their needs and determine the individual components that should be incorporated into their national architectures to address those needs such as: an early warning system, a national preventive strategy, new laws and policies, reparation programmes, a truth commission, national institutions to promote human rights, measures to counteract racism and promote tolerance, etc.  Other countries can benefit from such a learning exchange and extract lessons to adapt to their needs.

Governments bear primary responsibility under international and domestic law to limit risk and harm and to ensure that the basic needs of people are met. This entails: respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law, responsibility to assess and protect vulnerable people; and governance institutions that provide and protect equitably. This may entail far-reaching changes in policies and institutional frameworks to prevent violence and violations of the law.

Successful national architectures are autonomous and inclusive linking government and civil society entities at multiple levels. They need the political will and representation from all key government and non-governmental organizations. They depend on legislation for legitimacy and the reliability of a budget to sustain activities. They thrive when they are ‘owned’ from the highest level to the grass roots.

Collaboration among states with similar challenges or shared regional problems will synergistically allow them to support each other’s efforts to build or reinforce national architectures.  States and their civil societies can find benefit in being part of their regional grouping so as to push issues forward at that regional level and then bring those advances home to reinforce the state/national level.  Regional institutions have great potential to advance atrocity prevention that has yet to be fulfilled.

Understanding of and competencies for atrocity prevention are shared and spread both from the top down and bottom up. They can cascade from national level to provincial and local levels as an integral part of the policy development and building of national architectures. National Committees have many successful examples to share, for instance, monitoring situations and alerting about rising risks; organizing peace dialogues in hot spot areas that helped to prevent the escalation of violent conflicts; and promoting sustainable preventive mechanisms.  Demonstrated actions at national level can ensure buy-in and ownership at local level.  And in reverse, local level initiatives provide examples of good practices that can be shared at regional fora and adapted and replicated in other environments.

Having a domestic legal framework or piece of legislation that resonates with domestic actors and the local culture is critical to promoting preventive activities.  Ideally, this will extend across governmental sectors and reach beyond Ministries of Foreign Affairs to the legislators, judiciary, interior and security personnel, human rights, ombudsman office, early warning actors, social services, and, of course, civil society counterparts.  Everyone is affected.  Everyone is responsible.

There are many promising, cutting edge atrocity prevention initiatives across a range of fields such as: early warning data gathering and data verification systems; social media and ICT; educational and youth programming; monitoring hate speech; and dealing with the past. Wide dissemination of these tools can empower state and civil society actors to improve their national architectures.

There are many atrocity prevention technologies available, but there is insufficient information-sharing on tools and guidelines which stops them being taken up and used. Similarly, there are not enough well-developed educational programmes, guidelines and examples of good practice that are being disseminated within the atrocity prevention community. 

National architectures can benefit from being developed in conjunction with the State’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security so that the architecture has a coherent dimension on empowering women as active participants in atrocity prevention.

Atrocity prevention is a long-term process that needs to be carried out proactively, continuously, rigorously and collaboratively in order to be ready to counteract and overcome the perpetration of atrocities when they do occur.

National architectures for atrocity prevention develop through an iterative process that requires continuous review, feedback and refinement. If the process is widely inclusive and maintains conscious communication between multiple stakeholders across all sectors it will be able to receive and disseminate vital information and share lessons learned, failures, successes, insights and experiences widely.

GAAMAC has great potential to raise awareness, support policy formulation, and strengthen capacity to engage in prevention of atrocity at both national and regional levels. GAAMAC’s strength lies in building state-to-state and state-to-civil society partnerships, encouraging regional collaboration, facilitating the provision of expertise to states who request it, nurturing peer-to-peer exchanges, and supporting catalytic, practical activities to advance national architectures. In the working groups and sessions, GAAMAC participants generated ideas and suggestions on how GAAMAC could provide expertise and assistance to support states, organizations and societies in the building of their national architectures:

  • Data gathering and data verification systems to detect instances of mass violence and empirically identify their patterns
  • Regional and cross regional partnerships that allow the sharing of information, experiences, lessons learned and capacity building
  • Make information and technology tools accessible for atrocity prevention at the local, community level
  • Compile good practices on, for example, countering hate speech, promoting inclusivity, and the use of social media and other news media
  • Develop tolerance/atrocity prevention education curricula and support educators, practitioners and networks working with youth to promote national efforts in this area
  • Advocacy and dissemination of gender-relevant issues in atrocity prevention
  • Generate guidance and resources on how to develop national architecture and policy
  • Create more opportunities and venues to share experiences and to learn from each other, especially to disseminate successful practices so that states can access expertise and good practices.
  • Build partnerships among NGOs and between NGOs and national governments and regional institutions to support the development of national infrastructures.
  • Establish an online database of information and technology tools for atrocity prevention to provide easy access to governments and local, communities and enhance their usage;
  • Raise awareness of the risk of atrocities in unusual circumstance (natural disasters, civil demonstrations, refugee flows) and help national and regional actors generate multi-dimensional training for state and other actors.

GAAMAC II brought together more than 200 individuals including delegates from 50+ States, more than 50 non-governmental organizations and ten international bodies.

Download the GAAMAC II Outcome Document.

Regional group sessions shared their experiences in building national architectures. Find out more about Regional Working Groups here.

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