Genocide and related crimes against humanity are devastating in their scale and scope. They leave enduring scars for survivors and their families, as well as long-term trauma in societies. Moreover, the economic, political, and social costs and consequences of such crimes often extend far beyond the territory in which they were committed.
Working to prevent future genocides requires an understanding of how these events occur, including considerations about warning signs and human behaviors that make genocide and mass atrocities possible.
We know from studying the Holocaust and other genocides that such events are never spontaneous. They are always preceded by a range of early warning signs.1 If warning signs are detected and their causes addressed, it may be possible to prevent catastrophic loss of life.
The Early Warning Project²a joint initiative of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College²has produced a global risk assessment every year since 2014. Since then, we have seen multiple mass atrocities occur, including a genocide against the Rohingya in Burma, the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians in South Sudan, and identity-based targeted killings in Ethiopia and Cameroon. Even in cases like these where warnings have been issued, they have simply not prompted enough early action.