New York, February 20, 2013 – The African Union yesterday in Addis Ababa signed an agreement with the nonprofit Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation to create the African Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, marking a historic step forward in the continent’s commitment to prevent atrocities and build a peaceful and prosperous future.
Mr. El Ghassim Wane, director of the African Union’s Peace and Security Department , signed the agreement at AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital as the union enters its 50th anniversary year. Signing for the Auschwitz Institute was Ms. Lily Samuels, program officer for the newly formed African Network.
The creation of a continent-wide intergovernmental network is intended to address the twin bugbears of accountability and political will that have plagued efforts to ensure states’ responsiveness to genocide and other atrocity crimes.
In the short term, the initiative provides for
- financial and technical support for the undertaking of national initiatives to prevent genocide and mass atrocities throughout the African continent
- an education and training program for state and AU Commission officials, conceived and delivered by the Auschwitz Institute with the Peace and Security Department of the AU Commission to address the region’s specific needs for prevention
- development of a genocide and mass atrocity prevention curriculum for AU member states to incorporate into their training of national civil servants
In the long term, the initiative envisions
- the creation of regional and subregional mechanisms of inter-governmental coordination on early prevention, and support for those mechanisms that already exist
- the fostering of sustainable leadership on genocide and mass atrocity prevention in member-state governments
Given the damaging legacy of failure to prevent mass atrocities in Africa, and the incredibly high stakes — in terms of impact on economies , the environment , and human lives — the Auschwitz Institute insists on the following principle as paramount in creating the network and ensuring its success: Effective prevention of genocide and mass atrocities is developed and sustained from within a society, so initiatives must originate locally and be locally directed.
In recent decades, many African states have emerged from periods of violence, including mass atrocities, to become examples of peace, justice, and healing — among them South Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Mozambique. Other states — including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and the Central African Republic — have remained mired in conflicts characterized by unimaginable death tolls and horrific acts of rape, torture, and mutilation.
In 2008, the Auschwitz Institute launched its educational programs for government officials , with the aim of building a worldwide network of policymakers personally and professionally committed to preventing genocide. Since then, with states’ increased acceptance of the responsibility to protect their populations from atrocity crimes and a growing realization that the international community is often too divided to be counted on to respond to outbreaks of atrocities, let alone to prevent them, there has been a rise in regional efforts to tackle the challenge.
Even before the norm known as the Responsibility to Protect, Article 4 of the African Union’s Constitutive Act of 2000 set forth what is sometimes referred to as the principle of non-indifference: “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.”
Over the past decade, several African subregions have set up conflict early warning systems — notably ECOWAS and WANEP in West Africa, IGAD in East Africa, and MARAC in Central Africa — in addition to the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS).
Now the African Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, modeled on a similar network the Auschwitz Institute established in 2012 with the countries of Latin America, shows Africa’s foresight in taking the next step.