USAID Holds Consultation With Civil Society Organizations Regarding Atrocities Prevention Board

NEW YORK, June 6, 2013 – On May 20th, AIPR’s Dani Mitzner and Lily Samuels attended a civilian consultation held by USAID at the National Press Building in Washington, DC. Approximately 30 civil society organizations attended to hear USAID representatives speak about the initiatives they have undertaken in accordance with their responsibilities to the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). The speakers from USAID were:

  1. Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator
  2. Mark Goldenbaum, Human Rights Team
  3. Neil Levine, Director of the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation Bureau for Democracy

Acting as moderator, Levine introduced Steinberg and Goldenbaum. Steinberg’s presentation began with the history of the Atrocities Prevention Board and how it was formed. He went on to provide an overview of the APB’s key functions and components. According to Steinberg, the APB’s two main functions are “to identify atrocity threats throughout the world and to promulgate new initiatives, be it trainings, capacity building, etc., to prevent these atrocities from occurring in the future.”

Later in his presentation, Steinberg gave an overview of USAID’s contribution to the APB. Specifically, he outlined the development of a “direct channel” for the 9,000 USAID field officers stationed throughout the globe, which aids in streamlining early warning mechanisms within US governmental channels. Steinberg also discussed the increased training USAID officials are receiving in early warning strategies. Finally, he pointed out that USAID is taking its responsibilities to the APB very seriously, evidenced by the hiring of Bridget Moix and Lawrence Woocher as Atrocities Prevention Fellows with USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation and Human Rights Teams. Both are accomplished scholars in the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention, and will serve as guides to USAID in future policy formation and implementation on this issue.

Mark Goldenbaum spoke next, providing greater detail on USAID initiatives within the APB. Goldenbaum outlined USAID’s focus on “upstream” (long-term) prevention, including their commitment to promoting transitional justice initiatives in areas that have suffered through atrocities so that cyclical violence does not occur. Goldenbaum stressed that “lessons learned” mechanisms are being pushed so the experience gained by those working in prevention is not lost once they take up new posts in the government. Additionally, he pointed out that USAID is calling for “safe space” to be created so government officials feel comfortable discussing both pros and cons when reviewing government action. Goldenbaum stated that an Atrocity Prevention Toolkit is being drafted to serve as a quick reference manual for field officers facing imminent or ongoing atrocities, and that required trainings for field officers in hot spots are being expanded.

The last initiative Goldenbaum discussed is the “Tech Challenge for Atrocities Prevention,” which uses open source development to identify new tools/approaches related to five issues:

  • Third-party enablers
  • Safe documentation of evidence
  • Secure communications with and between affected communities
  • Gathering information from hard-to-access areas
  • Identifying community-level risk factors that make communities more likely to experience acts of violence

Following a discussion on strategies for engendering open collaboration with governments, Bridget Moix of USAID noted that this particular issue is one where USAID seeks to increase its own capacity. Lily Samuels, Program Director of the Auschwitz Institute’s African Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, then noted that “our organization has found great success in helping to create sustainable political will through a regional approach. We find that countries are often eager to exemplify leadership and work together with their neighbors to solve regional issues in a virtuous cycle of influence. Our Latin American Network, for instance, has an 18-country membership; these governments have signed on to collaboratively install genocide and mass atrocity prevention mechanisms in their own countries. And this approach defines our strategy in other regions of the world, such as Africa.”

To learn more about the Tech Challenge, please visit: http://www.thetechchallenge.org