Genocide prevention and conflict prevention are closely related but not always in synch and at times butt directly against each other.

Rwanda Genocide Memorial

Excerpts of Comments by United to End Genocide’s Daniel Sullivan at the Alliance for Peacebuilding Annual Conference

Genocide prevention and conflict prevention efforts are closely related but not always in synch and indeed at times butt directly against each other. At first glance they might be thought of as two agendas on the same continuum, one in which genocide represents the worst consequences of conflict and in which any conflict prevention efforts inherently also work to prevent genocide. But a closer look reveals that the two prevention efforts are more of a Venn diagram where they overlap almost completely, but are at direct odds in the small areas where they do not.

One area in which conflict prevention and genocide prevention efforts can be at odds is when the very pursuit of peace agreements sets up the conditions for atrocities. Retrospectively, it could be argued that this is what happened with the Arusha Accords ahead of the Rwanda genocide in 1994 and in Bosnia in the early nineties. Alex Bellamy makes this argument and also points out that conflict prevention activities may inadvertently create incentives to commit atrocities as rebels seek a seat at the negotiating table at times of transition.

Another area where the genocide and conflict prevention efforts can work against each other is in creating moral equivalency for the sake of ending conflict, but at the risk of ignoring ongoing atrocities. This is seen in Sudan today. When South Sudan took over the town of Heglig in Sudan the international community was quick to condemn the move as a dangerous violation of sovereignty. The United States, the African Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations Security Council all demanded that the South Sudanese army withdraw from Heglig and that both sides return to the table. In the context of a risk of return to war between the North and the South this was measured and necessary.

However, the international response ignored the greater context in Sudan which includes ongoing atrocities. Sudan has been bombing civilians and blocking food aid to two of its own states, South Kordofan and Blue Nile for almost a year and with only late and tepid international denunciation. President Obama should be credited for finally releasing a video that directly addressed the Government of Sudan calling for an end to bombings and access for humanitarian aid, but it is telling that this first direct address came only in the context of the North-South threat and many months after atrocities had begun. It can be argued that the very same dynamic was in play in 2003 and 2004 as the international community focused efforts on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South and failed to pay attention to the outbreak of atrocities in Darfur.

In the end, conflict prevention and genocide prevention efforts are more alike than at odds, but a deeper look at those areas where they do diverge is important in bridging the two agendas. The discussions sponsored by the Alliance for Peacebuilding are an important start to that conversation and may very well lead to ways that both agendas can be enhanced.

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