Mass Violence and Atrocities | Analysis and New Insights

Reducing Risk, Strengthening Resilience: Toward the Structural Prevention of Atrocity Crimes

Alex Bellamy | April 2016


Despite the commitment of world governments to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle in 2005 to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity (atrocity crimes), it has proven difficult to make the prevention of atrocity crimes a lived reality.

It has been common to separate prevention into two components: operational prevention, aimed at preventing violence that is imminent, and structural prevention, aimed at reducing or mitigating the underlying risks of violent conflict ahead of time. Over the past decade, steady progress has been made on developing the operational prevention of atrocity crimes.

However, somewhat less progress has been made on structural prevention, largely because this important work upstream from atrocity crimes does not receive the world attention of the crimes themselves. Also, the work of structural prevention is integrated with a range of additional program areas and processes, including governance and the rule of law, peacebuilding, and human rights.

Despite the lack of attention and broader, more comprehensive program processes, the work of structural prevention is absolutely essential to truly preventing atrocity crimes. Over a number of years, the Stanley Center has supported fresh thinking and policy dialogue on structural prevention. This policy analysis brief attempts to synthesize the key conclusions from this work, and importantly, articulates ways to translate theories of structural prevention into practice.