The UK Civil Society Atrocity Prevention Working Group exists to cooperate, collaborate, and share knowledge with the aim to improve the UK's prediction and prevention of mass atrocities.
In June of 2017, Protection Approaches began informal coordination with like-minded organisations. We held our first formal meeting in June of 2018, producing a report on the state of UK civil society work contributing to atrocity prevention and setting out a road map for the working group.
While Protection Approaches convenes the group, it is a collaborative endeavour. We work, both publicly and privately, to increase resource-light, impact-heavy activities such as regular communication, semi-regular meetings, knowledge exchange and best-practice sharing, goal setting, and collective advocacy.
The Group meets formally a minimum of twice a year, at an annual goal-setting workshop and an AGM. We also meet regularly every six weeks to share updates and engage in a thematic discussion. The working group also meets on an ad hoc basis to respond to urgent situations and emerging threats of mass atrocities. We organise informal events such as bringing experts to speak to the Group and social networking activities.
All our member commit to ensuring the Group is a positive and inclusive network, which actively seeks diverse perspectives, especially those of the people our work aims to benefit most, and always keeping in mind as our guiding star our shared commitment to a world without mass atrocities. All members commit to recognising that this works begins at our own tables, within our own sector, and within our own organisations.
We agree that no one organisation can end identity-based violence alone. A stronger, more confident and connected civil society, which engages in collaborative efforts, utilising the strengths and diverse perspectives of different organisations, will make a greater contribution to reducing the risk of identity-based violence and mass atrocities.
The Working Group also operates as network of early warning, sounding alarm and drawing attention to critical moments where coordinated action from the membership could make a difference. Our internal communication channels are used to flag opportunities for coordinated action and advocacy in the UK and with our international partners.
At times, the work carried out by the organisations and individuals that make up our group can be particularly mentally and physically challenging. Self-care is a critical component of our individual, organisational, and community’s mental health. At the Autumn 2019 annual workshop, it was agreed that the working group would place greater emphasis on self-care and mutual support. We are committed to supporting the development of healthy, inclusive, and empathetic strategies for working in this field.
Covid-19 is already presenting us with unique challenges to our work, our mental health, and our resilience, as individuals, as teams, and as a sector. We are all worried about the vulnerable communities we work with and to support, both here in the UK and around the world. Other worries such as how to support our staff, how to fundraise, how to adapt programming, and how to uphold our charitable objectives are likely to occupy many of us for the foreseeable future. The Working Group provides the space and opportunity for our members to confront these challenges together.
Our group has long called for the government to set out a national strategy on atrocity prevention. We believe more joined up thinking and coordinated activity could make a significant difference to how government, parliament and the wider human rights movement conceive and implement atrocity prevention.
Following a period of sustained activity by the Working Group, in 2019 the UK Government published for the first time its multi-departmental approach to atrocity prevention. In doing so Her Majesty’s Government has now set out the cross-cutting nature of how it understands atrocity prevention, underlining it as an issue for the Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence as well as the Foreign Office. The statement also lays out the mechanisms by which HMG will implement its commitments, including early warning, development, and diplomatic means.
In March 2021 members of the UK Atrocity Prevention Working Group warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to make atrocity prevention a priority in its new strategic framework of international policy. We hope that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Cabinet Office will take this opportunity to develop a clear-eyed strategy on how the UK’s systems and capabilities will now bring clarity and coherence to the prevention and prediction of, preparedness for, and responses to genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes. The UK's new approach to conflict also now seems to borrow from the principles of atrocity prevention, recognises grievances and political marginalisation as drivers of modern mass violence and understands the need to prioritise prevention. Read the full statement from the Working Group in response to the outcomes of the Integrated Review here.
While these steps demonstrate that the UK is taking atrocity prevention more seriously, neither the 2019 policy paper nor 2021 announcement represent a whole of Government strategy, as called for by our members and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Preventing identity-based violence and mass atrocities is a matter that begins at home and extends around the world. It therefore requires all internationally-facing departments –particularly the Department for International Trade– as well as domestic instruments that are responsible for upholding obligations to populations within and at Britain's borders. The Working Group therefore continues to work to secure an integrated and cross-cutting national strategy of identity-based violence and atrocity prevention.