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Development CSOs and the Prevention of Mass Atrocities: Lessons from CSOs in South Sudan

Tue, July 12, 12:00 to 1:30pm, TBA


Mass atrocities are the antithesis of development and their prevention is a necessary precursor to effective democratization and development. This paper calls attention to the role of development CSOs in the prevention of mass atrocities. We seek to understand how development CSOs deliver services and employ strategies to prevent identity-based violence, and the degree to which organizations apply them as an intentional part of democratization efforts. We build on scholarship that has called on the field of public administration in particular to engage in understanding the potential role that public administrators have in perpetrating and preventing mass atrocities—including genocides, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing (Appe, Rubaii & Whigham, 2020). Previously our focus has been on government officials, in this paper we use a broader notion of public administration in development that encompasses CSOs as well.
We explore the mechanisms and ways in which development CSOs advance and sustain democracy and democratic ideals through the work of prevention by asking: To what extent, in what ways, and with how much intentionality do development CSOs contribute to the prevention of mass atrocities? We answer this question through a three-step methodological approach of progressively refined focus.
We begin with a review of scholarly research to document the extent to and manner in which CSOs are engaged in mass atrocity prevention, broadly understood as the mitigation of the risk factors that could lead to mass atrocity. Most scholarship on atrocity prevention focuses on state actors; when CSOs are considered it is principally in terms of their humanitarian efforts in the midst of conflict or in supporting memory initiatives within a transitional justice process in a post-conflict setting. We broaden this by examining the potential for CSOs to engage in prevention through strategies that contribute more generally to development, democratization and risk reduction. In so doing, we document the extent to which such a perspective is or is not present in the literature.
For the second and third stages, we focus on the role of CSOs in a single country – South Sudan – that is characterized by current instances of, and high risk of further, mass atrocity violence coupled with high need for democratization and development, and a decidedly constrained space for civil society activities. We gather and analyze data on the membership of two civil society networks: Network of South Sudanese Civil Society Organization in Uganda (NoSSCOU) with 58-member organizations, all of which are CSOs based in and operating from Uganda; and the South NGO Forum based in Juba, South Sudan, with 261 national member organizations. With this sample of organizations, we do a qualitative content analysis of the organizations’ artifacts, namely documents about their missions, projects and activities. We analyze this data in terms of how they align with recognized political, economic, social and historical features that are associated with higher incidence of mass atrocities (Waller, 2016).
Finally, for a deeper look into mechanisms of mass atrocity prevention, the paper presents an illustrative case study of the work of Talent Initiative for Development (TIDE), founded in 2018 and an active member of the NoSSCOU. TIDE uses the creative arts to support social cohesion and the development of livelihood skills. Through this illustrative case in which we document a range of programmatic efforts that support the reduction of identity-based violence and support for democratization and development, we further contextualize the possibility of CSOs in atrocity prevention as an avenue for promoting democratic ideals that are rooted in local communities, values, and needs.
Our contribution is bringing attention to the links between development and democratization and the prevention of mass atrocities. Nowhere is the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in development and democratization more critical than in countries at risk of mass atrocities. Our analysis will provide us with an analytical and empirical basis for describing the landscape of CSO participation in atrocity prevention in a single country that may provide lessons for other contexts.
Appe, S., Rubaii, N., & Whigham, K. (2020). Expanding the reach of representativeness, discretion and collaboration: The unrealized potential of public administration research in atrocity prevention. Public Administration Review. OnlineFirst.
Waller, J. (2016). Confronting evil: Engaging our responsibility to prevent genocide. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.