Prevention during an Epidemic: COVID-19 and the Auschwitz Institute

Since the beginning of March, the Auschwitz Institute has been monitoring the incredible destructive impact that the COVID-19 Pandemic is having on societies around the world. While official responses have varied, the crisis has produced increased levels of volatility in every global region that have led to profound changes in the daily lives of all. At this time, the Auschwitz Institute’s staff and Board of Directors would like to extend our thoughts and best wishes to each and every member of our global atrocity prevention community.

Prevention during an Epidemic

As an organization dedicated to building a world that prevents genocide and other mass atrocities, the Auschwitz Institute is acutely aware of the dangers presented by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The destabilization and uncertainty brought by global crises can have a disastrous effect on societies by eroding the factors that mitigate risks for social upheaval while enhancing or enabling those that promote it. These effects can lead to even greater devastation in otherwise vulnerable societies and, in the worst cases, serve as triggers for mass violence.

This is why our shared mission of preventing genocide and other mass atrocities continues to be as essential as it has ever been.

Adapting our Work

In light of the ongoing pandemic, the staff of the Auschwitz Institute has been working to adapt our programming to ensure that we can still provide practitioners around the world with the knowledge and resources that they need to do the critical work of protecting their populations. While conventional training programs, conferences, experts meetings, and other in-person gatherings cannot be organized during this time, AIPG remains committed to the development of new avenues to advance our mission.

Online Programs

On March 24, we announced that we would be expanding the geographic reach of our 6-week online fundamentals course entitled Foundations in Mass Atrocity Prevention to institutions around the world. Since the Auschwitz Institute initiated the Online Education Initiative in late 2016, AIPG’s virtual platform has allowed for a much greater number of policymakers to learn from the same curriculum as their colleagues who have attend the Raphael Lemkin Seminars and other major AIPG programs. As with all of AIPG’s online offerings, the Foundations course features a high degree of interactivity, a focus on collaborative work, and a limited class size to ensure direct one-on-one student engagement with our expert instructional team.

To date, AIPG’s Online Education Program has maintained an average retention rate of over 80%, far superior to those achieved by massive open online courses commonly offered to professionals. As a result, instructors of AIPG’s online courses have awarded over 300 individual certificates of completion to participants since the program’s inception.

Policy Challenge Brief

The following week, the Auschwitz Institute released a Policy Challenge Brief that assists policymakers and other stakeholders in applying an atrocity prevention lens to their work both during, and following, the COVID-19 Pandemic. In “Implications of COVID-19 for Atrocity Prevention,” Dr. James Waller, AIPG’s Director of Academic Programs, provides a framework for vital policy considerations that must be taken into account in order to stop a range of accelerating and triggering factors from enabling the outbreak of mass atrocity violence.

The analysis contained in the Policy Challenge Brief illustrates the manner in which the COVID-19 Pandemic’s pervasiveness has produced a policy challenge that will require multi-faceted responses in three distinct spheres of risk: governance, economic conditions, and social fragmentation. Authored by Dr. Waller with research assistance provided by AIPG’s Academic Programs Officer Dr. Ashley Greene and Academic Programs Associate Mariana Salazar Albornoz, “Implications of COVID-19 for Atrocity Prevention” focuses specifically on the impact that COVID-19 will have on deeply divided, fragile, conflict-prone, or at-risk societies.

Staff and Community Safety

While organizing these and other important initiatives to help our community protect vulnerable populations around the globe, AIPG has also focused heavily on the safety and security of our team and the well-being of our programmatic partners. The staff of the Auschwitz Institute, working from 7 countries around the globe through 4 primary regional offices, has fully transitioned to remote work during this period. Due to the international character of the Auschwitz Institute’s initiatives, we were able to benefit from significant existing experience, workflows, and infrastructure to facilitate this change.

Above all, the staff and Board of Directors of the Auschwitz Institute are dedicated to keeping alive our shared vision of a global society that prevents the occurrence of humanity’s most devastating crimes. During this period of extended social isolation, we believe that it is now more critical than ever that we support one another and stand united as a community devoted to building a better world. With this in mind, we remain incredibly grateful for the unequivocal and unwavering commitment of our community in support of our work.