Protection Approaches works to encourage a bolder vision in Europe for the prevention of identity-based violence.
Europe – from London to Ljubljana to Lviv – can and should be a global leader in protecting populations from the threats of identity-based violence; whether hate crime, violent extremism or mass atrocities. This responsibility to prevent and to protect is as much the case within and at its own borders, as in its contributions abroad. European civil society should likewise be leading by example, applying scrutiny to national and regional policy making, and championing a bolder approach to prevention.
But Europe, like much of the world, is facing a prevention crisis. The rise in nationalist and exclusionary politics across the continent is increasing discrimination, marginalisation, and persecution, and threatening the fabric of Europe’s societies. The crisis is both a symptom and a driver of what is a preventable global phenomenon of rising identity-based violence; its apparent resurgence risks undermining the hard-fought gains of recent decades.
Despite Europe’s long history of mass atrocities and genocide, few people believe the region requires what is often described as ‘atrocity prevention’. At the same time, it is commonly accepted that the region is experiencing a surge of online and offline hate speech. Hate speech, divisive propaganda, and conspiracy are symptoms of wider problems as well as propellants of violence in their own right. The innate connection between hate speech and extremism and genocide is one from which no region is, and ever will be, immune.
In summer 2019 Protection Approaches unndertook a wide ranging consultation on Europe's prevention crisis, crowd sourcing a wealth of civil society expertise from across Europe and around the world. Three days of online discussion across nine separate conversation threads were moderated by 12 experts with a range of backgrounds and specialities.
Our consultation served as an innovative, digital, and carbon-friendly alternative to in-person conferences – allowing a wide range of campaigners, researchers, and practitioners to collaborate and communicate fluidly, within tightly defined threads and spaces. Supporting questionnaires, follow up interviews, and desk research also served as further data gathering to build on the insights generated from the consultation.
Protection Approaches has now mapped European civil society activities across ten different key fields. Advocacy & Campaigning and Training & Capacity building are the most common activities. The majority of organisations we consulted undertake an average of four activities, with varying scales of reach and resource. Very few organisations, including research institutions, are working on predicting and preventing future crises in the mid- to long-term.
The ratio of organisations that work to prevent identity-based violence in the countries where they are based and those that perform their work in other countries is nearly 50:50. However, only one in six organisations have a remit that encompasses both domestic and international preventive activities. More than half of these are international NGOs with multiple country offices. The majority of other civil society organisations that work both at home and abroad are small and do so on a micro level through a focus on specific country situations such as Sudan, Sri Lanka, or Rwanda, while also working with domestically-based diaspora communities.
Overall, there are very few organisations working to prevent violence in Western European states and beyond the continent’s borders – highlighting the gaps that exist between where different kinds of preventive activity are performed. Likewise, there are few organisations working across different manifestations of identity-based violence.
There is substantial appetite to bridge these disconnects. More than 90 per cent of those consulted agreed that there would be significant value in bringing together a more diverse array of stakeholders involved in the prevention of identity-based violence. The opportunities to better connect lessons from prevention efforts undertaken across Europe, in Europe’s contributions abroad, and through wider global best practice remain untapped.
Moreover, as warning signs within Europe and elsewhere in the global North continue to emerge, traditional donor states and flag-bearers of the international human rights order will leave themselves increasingly vulnerable to justifiable accusations of double standards, with this in turn risking the long-term protection of populations both inside and outside of the region.
Drawing on the input of over 100 organisations based in Europe and around the world, and on a corpus of both academic and policy literature, our report calls for three system changes and sets out concrete next steps for civil society. We propose three system changes for Europe:
In 2016 the public of the United Kingdom voted to withdraw from the European Union. Irrespective of the Brexit outcome, the 2016 referendum caused a rupture in continental relations. As a UK-based organisation tasked with upholding commitments to prevent identity-based violence, our working relationships with European networks have already been affected.
Our relationships with European colleagues are not only cherished but crucial to the timely and effective delivery of our work. As the UK, the EU, and the wider European region navigate this choppy period of regional relations –at a time when commitment to the multilateral, rules-based and human rights systems are coming under strain–cohesive civil society networks will become increasingly important.
We work with partners across the continent of Europe to create opportunities for solidarity, network building, and the exchange of best practice. The consequences of polarising identity politics, the globalisation of hate networks, and the pervasiveness of weaponised communications are being felt. In all countries, marginalised and minority groups are suffering the brunt. In the UK, we are deeply concerned by growing divisions and rising hate-based incidents. Many European states are on similar trajectories. If we are to overcome this period of challenge and uncertainty, we will need to draw on global best practice and have the support of our regional networks. As the forces of division gather, so then must those tasked with upholding and defending our rights and freedoms.