Preventing mass atrocities is still, in 2020, an unmet, daunting challenge despite lessons seemingly unlearned from the genocides of our time, including Rwanda, Srebrenica, Darfur and Myanmar. The objective of this project is to expand and sustain the atrocity prevention agenda by creating an action-oriented network for engagement across governments, multilateral institutions, academia and practitioners. 25 years after the dual tragedies of Rwanda and Bosnia, which prompted an unprecedented wave of standard-setting and norm development around the responsibility to protect civilians from atrocity crimes (defined as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing), the responsibility to protect norm is backsliding, against a backdrop of a surging ‘illiberal internationalism’ and of institutional crisis. The continued failure to protect populations in Syria is the most vivid, but not the only, example of this move back towards international indifference.
The purpose of the Transatlantic Network on Atrocity Prevention is threefold:
- To leverage the research capabilities and convening power of two world-class universities - Oxford and McGill - to bring together thought leaders, expert practitioners, and policymakers with a successful history of mitigating atrocity crimes and promoting atrocity prevention policy and action;
- To take stock of the current panorama of political, normative and geostrategic challenges, and idea opportunities to reinvigorate the prevention agenda; and
- To re-establish the primacy of human life at the centre of international diplomatic action and discourse.
In its initial phase, the network will have a North Atlantic geographical focus. It is well established, in fact, that micro-multilateral networks, as they are called, are often successful in helping create space to explore ideas and approaches to a greater extent than in more structured settings, especially for policymakers; they also encourage the involvement of civil society and can serve as incubators for broader initiatives, much as past civil society-policy makers dialogues helped build momentum for the Rome (International Criminal Court) and Ottawa (landmine ban) Treaties. Our geographic focus, initially North Atlantic, is warranted in the early phases of the network’s existence given the need to streamline and maintain our activities both dynamic and manageable. Additionally, at least in its initial phases, our interactions with governments will most likely occur in the context of a North Atlantic setting. This geographical focus, however, is not intended to limit the scope of our substantive activities, research, and consultations and we endeavour to work inclusively and to continually assess the effectiveness of limiting our geographical focus.