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.
Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights
European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
Jo Cox Foundation
Rights for Peace
Search For Common Ground UK
Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
Syria Solidarity UK
The Aegis Trust
Videre est Credere
The prevention of mass atrocities is a shared responsibility and no state, community or sector should be expected to shoulder the burden alone. In 2018 Protection Approaches authored a paper concerned with UK civil society contributions, drawing on extensive formal and informal conversations with civil society actors in the UK and abroad, in-house research, and the first working group workshop. It provides a picture of the great work being undertaken by UK NGOs in and around atrocity prevention, obstacles to more effective collective activity, and the road map for the working group's next steps.
Our Group is working to help deliver a clear strategy for Government. 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 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.
While this was a significant indication that the UK is taking atrocity prevention more seriously, the new policy paper does not represent a whole of Government strategy, as called for by 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.
Members of the working group sent an open letter to all political party leaders ahead of the General Election on 12th December 2019 asking them to set out their commitments on atrocity prevention. For the first time, all major political parties committed to prioritising atrocity prevention during the next parliament, and to working across party in doing so. You can read the letter and replies at the links below.
The Group meet formally a minimum of twice a year, at an annual goal-setting workshop and an AGM. We also meet on an ad hoc basis, for instance, to respond to new situations such as major changes in the UK government position or in response to emerging threats of mass atrocities. We organise informal events which may include bringing experts to speak to the Group and social networking events.
Beyond providing a means of communication, the Working Group operates as means of sounding alarm or 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.
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.
As a strating point we have created a short document with tips and advice on mutual support and self care during the Covid-19 pandemic. While the impact of the virus and its consequences are not yet clear, 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. Working from home, in a state of lockdown, and self-isolation can exacerbate pre-existing issues, or provoke new ones. 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. And at the same time, many positive coping strategies we might have had, such as exercise, have now been made more difficult.