Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Public Administration and Policy

Advisor/Committee Chair

Susan Appe


The concept of genocide and mass atrocity prevention is still relatively new. Research on genocide prevention would not begin until post 1995 following the genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia (Rosenberg & Zucker, 2015). Therefore, there is much left to be uncovered in the field (Rosenberg & Zucker, 2015), despite that genocides and mass atrocities have occurred for centuries prior to the coining of the term and continue to occur to this day (Bellamy, 2015).

The term genocide falls under atrocity crimes, an umbrella term that refers to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and occasionally ethnic cleansing (United Nations, 2014). It is worth considering that mass atrocities are complex and fluid social processes (Rosenberg, 2012) that can heighten according to the United Nations (1948). The legal definition requires that the perpetrators of a genocide have the intent to destroy a “national, ethnical, racial, or religious group” either in part or in totality by killing, inflicting conditions aimed to physically destroy, transferring children from, causing bodily or mental harm to, or imposing measures to prevent births of a target group. Notably, some historically targeted demographics are not included and there is a strong emphasis on the phrase “with intent” in the definition (Hinton, 2023). Due to the mentioned groups listed, the complicated lead-up to genocide, and the emphasis on proving the intent of the perpetrators, genocide is difficult to charge one with. This challenge, the limited categories of target groups in the legal definition of genocide, and the overlapping nature of atrocity crimes make way for “mass atrocity” as a popular term to describe the field. Deriving from atrocity crimes, mass atrocity is an act with no legal definition but is characterized as

“large-scale systematic violence against civilian populations” as stated by Scott Strauss (2016).

Well acknowledged in the field is that all societies are at risk of mass atrocity (Waller, 2017). Therefore, although the circumstances of each atrocity are unique (Bellamy, 2015), there is a widely used general framework of analysis to judge the risk of an atrocity crime being committed by any State put forth by the United Nations (UN). This Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes recognizes eight risk factors common to all types of atrocity crimes and then cites two more risk factors for each individual type (United Nations, 2014). The model is intended to be used by large-scale actors, as the United Nations (2014) describes atrocity prevention to be “primarily the responsibility of individual States” as well as members of the international community and regional State alliances. More specifically, this refers to States that have adopted the UN’s 2005 Responsibility to Protect document, meaning they are compelled to assist in the de-escalation or prevention of atrocity crimes as they arise (United Nations, n.d.). As of 2007 the International Court of Justice has also considered genocide prevention a legal obligation upon States (Rosenberg, 2012), furthering a State’s obligation to evaluate the risk of atrocity and prevent it as needed. Important to note, the risk factors in this framework require dangerously worsening civilian safety conditions to prove the risk of atrocity being enacted and these risk factors largely describe situations in which civilians are in danger of being directly killed (United Nations, 2014).

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.