Mass Atrocities Research

Widespread and systematic violence against civilians–mass atrocities–is a priority for the WPF because of the devastating human, social, political and economic harm that results when entire populations are targeted. The introduction in 1944 of the neologism ‘genocide’, set into motion efforts to carve out separate legal, conceptual and ethical categories for systematic violence against unarmed groups, including that committed by state against its own population (distinguishing it from crimes against humanity at the time). Not really until the end of the Cold War did the term gained a public life, in the sense that legal cases, policy and activism were organized around it. As ‘genocide’ became increasingly deployed in multiple contexts, its limitations and conundrums became more pronounced. The advent of terms like “mass atrocities” and “Responsibility to Protect crimes” became increasingly common headings under which to organize policy and research, but some of the core questions on how to end on-going mass atrocities and prevent future incidents remain hotly debated. The WPF program contributes to this discussion by focusing on endings and how societies might learn from engaging with the memory of past episodes.

Led by WPF Research Director, Bridget Conley, the program includes two primary research projects:

Memories of violence: This project focuses on how examinations of mass violence might contribute to emerging democratic practices. The centerpiece is a study of the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.



How Mass Atrocities End: The project offered the first comprehensive cross-case study of patterns of mass atrocity endings. Arguing that there is much to learn about preventing and responding to new threats of atrocities through the process of examining how past instances ended, the project traced patterns through in-depth qualitative studies and a dataset of over 40 cases of atrocity endings since 1945.



Related Projects:

  • Remembering the Ones We Lost: Support for South Sudanese efforts to document the names of people who died in conflicts since 1955. The project, Remembering the Ones We Lost is spearheaded by an independent group of South Sudanese civil society actors, and WPF issued them a grant to create a website that also serves as their informational infrastructure.
  • The Memory of Genocide and its Consequences in Cyangugu (Rwanda): It is estimated that more than a million people were killed between 6 April and 17 July 1994, in the genocide was committed against the Tutsi in Rwanda, including Hutu and others opposed to this mass crime. The memory of the genocide Rwanda is challenged because of its political use by both the Rwandan authorities and by political opponents, including in the diaspora. World Peace Foundation is supporting the ongoing project, The Memory of Genocide and its Consequences in Cyangugu undertaken by RwaBaho Platform, The Center for Interdisciplinary Research: Democracy, Institutions, Subjectivity (CRIDIS), at the Catholic University of Louvain Belgium, as they aims to create and implement an online archive of testimonies of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda and its consequences in Cyangugu.  There is an ongoing need to preserve memory and promote a deeper understanding of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 as part of efforts to promote a culture of peace and human rights in Rwanda and among its diaspora. Once completed, this project will contribute to knowledge and understanding with a detailed record of the atrocities in Cyangugu, and evidence of the consequences for the local community. 

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