Event Summary: National Mechanisms for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention: Coordinated National Strategies for Confronting Genocide

On February 3, 2016, the Committee on African Affairs presented a program in conjunction with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) on National Mechanisms for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. The AIPR, through education and technical assistance, supports states to develop or strengthen national mechanisms for the prevention of genocide and other mass atrocities.

The program was co-sponsored with the International Human Rights Committee, the U.N. Committee and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice.

The moderator for the event was Dr. Tibi Galis, the Executive Director of the AIPR, who introduced each speaker. The panelists included:

Samantha Capicotto, AIPR’s Director of Policy and Planning;
Nicole Widdersheim N’Goran, Human Rights Advisor at USAID;
Yvette Bourcicot, Senior Advisor on Atrocity Prevention and Response at the US Department of Defense; and
Mario Buil-Merce, Political Affairs Officer at the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect.

Following welcoming remarks by the co-Chair of the NYC Bar’s African Affairs Committee, Elizabeth Barad, Dr. Galis began the discussion with a quick introduction to the topic, focus, and format of the event.

Ms. Capicotto spoke first, outlining AIPR’s work on National Mechanisms, including her work on the 2015 booklet National Mechanisms for the Prevention of Genocide and other Atrocity Crimes: Effective and Sustainable Prevention Begins at Home and also introduced the audience to the mandate, composition, and activities of several National Mechanisms in Africa and Latin America. She said that AIPR helps to develop state’s policies, and has course curriculum programs on preventing genocide. They have 75 member states and regional bodies such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Ms. Capicotto
mentioned the Tanzanian National Committee for the Prevention of Mass Atrocities that has training programs and has also set up a National Center for Early Warning and a similar National Committee in Paraguay. AIPR will publish its National Mechanisms 2016 booklet this spring.

Ms. Nicole Widdersheim N’Goran and Ms. Yvette Bourcicot followed Ms. Capicotto and discussed the composition and mandate of the United States Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) as well as the role of each of their respective institutions in carrying out work that is coordinated by the APB. Ms. Widdersheim N’Goran is with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) which she said acts as eyes and ears on the ground since they have offices all over the world. To help prevent mass atrocities, they have developed a field guide on human rights for the personnel in their offices.

Ms. Bourcicot is with the Department of Defense (DOD) which provides education on the protection of civilians and looks for early warning signs of mass atrocities or genocide. DOD brings foreign troops to the U.S. for training in human rights. They have worked with West Point in setting up a program on prevention of mass atrocities.

Mario Buil-Merce spoke afterwards, and discussed the activities of the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, which provides assistance for the creation and operation of National Mechanisms across the globe. He said the Office collects information and acts as an alarm to the Secretary-General and the Security Council. It also liaises with the rest of the U.N. to enhance their capacities to assist countries with National Mechanisms, which are important to act as an alert to activities that may constitute genocide or mass atrocities. The Office also works with regional organizations such as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. The Office offers political support, some funding, technical assistance and help in developing legislation and setting up early warning systems.  Mr. Buil-Merce said that elements for a national mechanism to succeed are a) a defined mandate, b) representation by all, including civil societies, c) having a unified national policy, and d) incorporation of the costs in the national budget.

The event concluded with questions from the audience regarding measuring success in genocide prevention, prevention at a grassroots level, and the mandate of the APB, all of which were answered by the panelists.