Mass Atrocities Early Warning Systems: Data Gathering, Data Verification and Other Challenges

Guiding Principles of the Emerging Architecture Aiming At the Prevention of Genocide, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity, pp. 13-32, 2012

Genocide Prevention Advisory Network Conference, The Hague, March 14-15, 2012

20 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2012 Last revised: 11 Apr 2013

See all articles by Birger Heldt

Birger Heldt

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

Date Written: March 25, 2012

Abstract

This research note focuses on early warning of “atrocities”, which refers to deaths due to the targeting of civilians (non-combatants) by governments or rebels, and excludes indirect deaths caused by disease, starvation, and crossfire. It contains an overview of the historical patterns and character of battle-related deaths, genocides and atrocities, and highlights the absolute as well as comparative magnitude of atrocities over time. It highlights two challenges that early warning systems are exposed to - data gathering and data verification - and presents possible early warning indicators found in recent research, as well as avenues and obstacles for the further accumulation of knowledge. The largest challenges for the international community do not concern finding data or even to create early warning systems as such: strictly speaking the costs involved should be far from prohibitive since data collection is low-cost and data "easy" to find. The challenge is instead one of knowing what indicators to look for.

The clues offered by research - escalation of fighting; weak and poorly disciplined rebel movements; rebel movements rely on forced recruitment - help to discriminate among the civil war cases. While there is still a long way to go towards better predictions, these clues work pretty well to delimit the most severe cases, the ones that are and have been of greatest humanitarian concern and that third party actors should be constantly on top of.

Research suggests that the goal should be to create robustly defended cease-fires (even localized ones), and in addition provide support to, and protection of, civilians. It may also provide a breathing space for an unavoidable political solution to develop and for third parties to pursue diplomatic options. Options for third parties in terms of robustly enforced safe zones and local cease-fires that may create "humanitarian space" need to be explored further. Just as it is not a viable strategy for third parties to act as neutral bystanders in the face of mass atrocities, neither does it appears to be a viable strategy to pursue a military solution that involves siding with one of the warring parties.

Suggested Citation

Heldt, Birger, Mass Atrocities Early Warning Systems: Data Gathering, Data Verification and Other Challenges (March 25, 2012). Guiding Principles of the Emerging Architecture Aiming At the Prevention of Genocide, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity, pp. 13-32, 2012 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2028534 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2028534

Birger Heldt (Contact Author)

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) ( email )

Vienna
Austria

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