Can genocide be prevented? Holocaust museum introduces early warning system.

A new initiative from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., makes risk analysis and expert feedback on mass atrocities available to the public for the first time.

Nick Wass/AP/File
Images from Darfur and Chad are projected on the exterior walls of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC on Nov. 20, 2006. To try to predict and prevent mass killings, the museum is making both sophisticated statistical analysis and feedback from experts publicly available for the first time to produce early warnings that can help governments, policy makers, advocacy groups and scholars decide where to concentrate their efforts. The Early Warning Project online tool was announced Monday.

Mass atrocities are preventable, and a new initiative is set to prove it.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has developed a new online tool, called the Early Warning Project, that makes both sophisticated statistical analysis and feedback from experts publicly available for the first time. The goal: to produce early warnings that can help governments, policy makers, advocacy groups, and scholars decide where to concentrate their efforts against mass atrocities.

"From past genocides in Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, and the Holocaust, we have learned what the clear early warning signs are that precede mass violence," Cameron Hudson, director of the museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, which developed the project with the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, told the Associated Press.

"Tracking those indicators in at-risk countries around the world will, for the first time, allow us to look over the horizon to implement smarter, cheaper, and more effective policies that prevent mass violence,” he said.

Atrocity crimes include genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. “Their status as international crimes is based on the belief that the acts associated with them affect the core dignity of human beings, in particular the persons that should be most protected by States, both in times of peace and in times of war,” according to the United Nations.

Preventing such crimes, therefore, is critical.

“It is widely accepted that when it comes to genocide and mass atrocities, prevention is better than cure,” wrote Alex Bellamy, director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and a professor of peace and conflict studies at the University of Queensland, Australia, in a policy brief for The Stanley Foundation. “Preventing atrocities saves lives, is less expensive than reaction and rebuilding, and raises fewer difficult questions about state sovereignty and noninterference.”

The Early Warning Project calculates a nation’s potential to commit atrocities based on current measures of economic and political instability as well as forecasts of future coup attempts and civil wars identified through an analysis of data sets that go back 50 years, according to the project’s site.

It also relies on a pool of about 100 regional and subject matter experts who respond to specific questions about events and countries.

"When we ask them to tell us which countries are at risk, we ask them to tell us exactly how at risk they are and for what kind of event, and that way we can know in the future whether their forecasts are right or wrong," Benjamin Valentino, one of the project's architects and a professor of government at Dartmouth, told AP.

While not the first effort towards preventing atrocities – the US government, the European Union, and a number of nonprofits have all launched similar initiatives – the Early Warning Project is different because it is public and more systematic, Mr. Valentino said.

"For me that's one of the most important aspects of this project. I wouldn't want to give anyone the impression that we're never going to be wrong. I expect we will make mistakes," he said. "We'll miss some countries where terrible things happen, and we'll have some countries that are high on the list and nothing terrible will happen. But the advantage of this project is we'll know exactly why, and we can use that information to hold ourselves accountable and improve the system going forward."

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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