Mass Atrocities Research Program

The WPF program on mass atrocities, defined as widespread and systematic violence against civilians, primarily focuses on studying patterns of endings. In this program, 'endings' includes analysis of patterns of de-escalation of direct, lethal violence and other forms of harming civilians, and the study of recurrence in the context of global trends.

The existing conventional meta-narrative for genocide and mass atrocity against civilians is empirically and analytically strong on the origins and nature of such extreme violence, but takes a strictly normative turn when considering the endings of genocide or mass atrocity. The ‘ideal’ ending, which tends to preoccupy advocates and policymakers, consists of an international military intervention leading to a settlement that includes not only an end to genocide but also the establishment of peace and democracy along with an exercise in transitional justice that may include trials, assistance to the survivors, memorialization, compensation and reparation. What debates do exist generally focus on the legality and politics of international interventions to halt genocide and measures to bring perpetrators to justice. This projects aims to explore the oft-neglected empirical study of how genocides and mass atrocities have actually terminated. 

Components of the project include

In-depth case studies, published as: How Mass Atrocities End: Studies from Guatemala, Burundi, Indonesia, Sudan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Iraq (Cambridge University Press, 2016), ed. Bridget Conley-Zilkic.With chapters by:

A policy briefing based on insights from the edited volume is also available. And you can also access an hour-long interview with Conley-Zilkic on the New Books Network series on Genocide Studies, hosted by Kelly McFall, where she discusses the major ideas of the volume.

Seminar Series. WPF seminars bring in case study and area specialists to examine endings over the course of two days of intensive presentations and discussions. Essays from these seminars and additional resources can be found on our blog, Reinventing Peace

Occasional Paper: "Assessing the Anti-Atrocity Toolbox," by Bridget Conley-Zilkic, Saskia Brechenmacher and Aditya Sarkar (February 2016). This paper reviews and synthesizes the academic literature on policy mechanisms commonly included in the 'Anti-Atrocity Policy Toolbox." Focusing on cross-country quantitative analyses, this paper helps clarify what is currently known about the correlation between application of specific policy tools and the prevention, mitigation and halting of large-scale violence against civilians. individual policy tools.

Analysis of trends across cases: Beginning in Fall 2012, WPF has constituted a regular semester-long research group of graduate students at The Fletcher School to create a database of consistent information about more than fifty cases of mass atrocities from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and the political and military circumstances around the endings of each episode. This project will result in a searchable database and published essay summarizing the results.

Analysis of famine trends: This research project aims to document the patterns of famines and episodes of mass starvation over history, including their causes, locations, and best estimates for the numbers of people who died. It will bring together evidence for major famines and instances of deliberate mass starvation (related to war and genocide).

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.