Supporting Regional Approaches to Genocide Prevention: The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)

Andrea Bartoli
Ducie French Cumbie Chair,
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR)
George Mason University
Tetsushi Ogata
Program Director
Engaging Governments on Genocide Prevention, ICAR
George Mason University

An essential and often discussed issue regarding genocide prevention is states' lack of political will to take action.  In the late 20th century willful neglect by many states, especially powerful ones, and by international governmental organizations, has been criticized as condoning acts of genocide.  In political reality most states were and are reluctant to act alone in the face of emerging and ongoing massive human rights violations.  This is beginning to change: regional frameworks are beginning to be built for effective and sustainable genocide prevention systems. For many states the problem is not so much about whether political will exists or whether there is some particular threshold that makes response imperative, but how to design and coordinate responses with other states.  In this context regional and sub-regional organizations are playing an increasingly innovative and promising role.

Regional Fora: Regional Inter-governmental Frameworks for Preventive Action

There are promising signs that genocide prevention has become politically more relevant in the last decade.  More than 60 years after the signing of the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and especially after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the international community has seen a series of new initiatives that give genocide prevention a prominence never achieved before.

Sweden was the first to take the issue of preventing genocide seriously at the international level when it convened a series of four international fora that culminated in the Stockholm International Forum of January 2004 on Preventing Genocide: Threats and Responsibilities.[1] Delegates from 55 countries attended and signed a Final Declaration.  At the Forum the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the establishment of the Office of Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide. The office's mandate was fully supported by the subsequent commitment of Member States in the 2005 World Outcome Document to a "responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."[2]

Several years later the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Commerce and Religion of the government of Argentina launched an initiative to organize a series of regional fora on genocide prevention. The first Regional Forum was convened in Buenos Aires, in December 2008. The objectives of the regionally oriented approach, as summarized by Argentine diplomat and jurist Silvia A. Fernandez de Gurmendi, were to:

  • Analyze existing norms and standards, as well as the jurisprudence of existing mechanisms to sanction and to prevent genocide;
  • Draw lessons from the different regional experiences and views in preventing genocide;
  • Identify political, cultural, religious and legal challenges with a view to formulate recommendations in the field of the prevention of genocide and support the activities of the UN Special Adviser for Prevention of Genocide;
  • Sensitize the different regions of the world, regarding the need to prevent genocide, as a first step towards an alliance among countries of different regions to combat genocide;
  • Identify how prevention and sanctions can reinforce both prevention and the guarantee of non­-recurrence.[3]

For the Forum in December 2008 Switzerland and Argentina secured the participation of high ranking UN officials and eminent experts such as Francis Deng, UN Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide; Edward Luck, UN Special Adviser on Responsibility to Protect; Rene Blattmann, Second Vice-President of the International Criminal Court;  Juan Mendez, the first UN Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide and Director of the International Center for Transitional Justice; and prominent scholars.

Among the many positive outcomes of the Buenos Aires meeting was a keener appreciation of the role of sub-regional organization. In particular, while analyzing the links between human rights violation monitoring and genocide prevention, it was noted how in the September 2008 case of the massacre of 30 farmers in Pando, Bolivia, by paramilitary forces, UNASUR responded very forcefully and effectively by deploying a fact-finding mission and expressing a coordinated and unanimous call for corrective action.

After the 1st Regional Forum, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Republic of Tanzania joined with their Swiss and Argentinean counterparts to host the 2nd Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide in Arusha, Tanzania, in March 2010. More than 90 representatives of 31 states, international and regional institutions, and NGOs, joined by experts in the fields of genocide prevention, human rights, prosecution of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes, participated in the Forum. The 2nd Forum provided a space for African states to frame genocide prevention as also an African agenda. Representatives were able to share concrete examples of lessons learned and failed actions as well as cases of good early warning detection. It was a significant step forward in strengthening regional networks of countries willing to develop regional, sub-regional and inter-governmental mechanisms to prevent genocide. It was particularly important in linking knowledge and perspectives from the local, national and regional levels with the international ones.

The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR): A Sub-Regional Inter-Governmental Platform

Similarly to what happened in Buenos Aires, the Forum in Arusha provided an opportunity to learn from actors on the ground experimenting with new approaches. Notable was the intervention of Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, Executive Secretary of ICGLR, who gave a comprehensive update on the efforts of the ICGLR in the area of genocide prevention. It must be noted that the region - which includes Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, and Zambia - has been badly affected by genocidal violence. The visit to the region by the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, confirmed that the dynamics at play contribute to a high risk of future genocide.

The ICGLR was established in 2004 with its main objective to "consolidate peace and security in the Great Lakes region...[by] institutionalizing democratic governance values, promoting sustainable growth and shared development, and resolving critical social and humanitarian issues that contribute to destabilization in the region and undermine peace, security and stability in the region."[4] It is a relatively new sub-regional organization and it is not yet particularly strong. However, given its history (Rwanda's 1994 genocide, the Burundi civil war that embroiled the DRC and other neighboring countries, the Uganda-Tanzania war in the late 1970s, and the electoral violence in Kenya in 2008) the region is so closely interlinked on social, demographic, economic, cultural and linguistic dimensions that conflict destabilizing one country can easily metastasize throughout the entire region. It was against this backdrop that ICGLR was born with the premise that any meaningful attempt to establish peace and security in the Great Lakes region must be carried out on the basis of a regional approach. It is undoubtedly still an experiment, a work in progress, but it is a hopeful sign that genocide prevention feature so prominently in its agenda.

The history of the ICGLR shows that prevention of genocidal violence was a core objective from its outset. In November 2004, the ICGLR Heads of State and Government signed the Dar es Salaam Declaration on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes Region, more commonly known as the Dar es Salaam Declaration. The Declaration acknowledged that weaknesses of good governance, and democratization processes in the region were the main precipitating factors of violent socio-political conflicts. It went on to specify policy agendas and guiding principles for member states, calling for a shared vision for democracy, reconstruction, durable peace and political stability, sustainable development and the rule of law in the region. The Declaration included explicit commitments to fight against all forms of discriminatory ideologies, policies, and practices; all acts of genocide and massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law; terrorism; racism; ethnics; exclusion; as well as all other forms of violence against civilians.

The ICGLR Heads of State and Government then signed a legally binding Pact in 2006, which entered into force in 2008, following ratification by the member states. They collectively affirmed their determination to "transform the Great Lakes region into a space of sustainable peace and security, political and social stability, shared growth and development, a space of cooperation based on convergent strategies and policies driven by a common destiny."[5] Included in this Pact is the Protocol for the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, War Crimes against Humanity and all forms of Discrimination. The ICGLR member states thereby acknowledge that the crime of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity are crimes under international law and against the right of peoples, and they agree to oppose impunity and to take actions:

  • To refrain from, prevent, and punish such crimes;
  • To condemn and eliminate all forms of discrimination and discriminatory practices;
  • To ensure the strict observance of this undertaking by all national, regional and local public authorities and institutions;
  • To proscribe all propaganda and all organisations which are inspired by ideas or theories, based on the superiority of a race or a group of people of a particular ethnic origin, or which try to justify or encourage any form of ethnic, religious, racial or gender-based hatred or discrimination.

The ICGRL thus represents the epitome of a regional organization's commitment to self-organize the prevention of genocidal violence and mass atrocities in an endogenous manner. ICGLR encompasses sub-structures to ensure that there is effective follow-up on the Pact, consisting of the National Coordination mechanism, the Conference Secretariat (of which Ambassador Mulamula is Executive Secretary), the Regional Inter-ministerial Committee (RIMC), and the Summit of Heads of State. The composition of ICGLR is designed to ensure that there is a response mechanism to function as "eyes and ears" of any unfolding violence and early warning signs within the member states.

The risks of future violence in the Great Lakes region states are considerable. Ethnic and other violence often accompany national election campaigns.  Eight presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in seven countries in the region in 2010 and 2011. It is imperative that preventive mechanisms like those of the ICGLR be fully supported now and in the near future to check any escalatory spiral of violent outbreaks during or after these elections.

The Potential Role of the GPANet in Regional Frameworks and Platforms

ICGLR plans to align preventive efforts through close coordination and collaboration across regional, national and community levels. It will do so by utilizing the existing ICGLR National Coordination mechanism chaired by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs in each member state. Strategic planning and coordination is currently underway between the ICGLR Secretariat and ICAR, and it is planned that those 11 national coordinators be the focal points to connect various political, social and cultural institutions within the state, such as Ministries of Education, Internal Affairs, Justice; human rights organizations and offices; cultural leaders; religious leaders; intelligence organs; parliament; and civil society. In effect, these 11 focal point coordinators function as the steering committee of ICGLR and identify their counterparts in their communities - at district, county, sub-county, and village levels - to streamline information gathering and dissemination processes, as stipulated in the Protocol:

  • Regularly reviewing situations in each Member State for purposes of preventing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and discrimination;
  • Collecting and analyzing information related to genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and discrimination;
  • Alerting the Summit of the Conference in good time in order to take urgent measures to prevent potential crimes
  • Suggesting specific measures to effectively fight impunity for these crimes,
  • Contributing to raising awareness and education on peace and reconciliation through regional and national programs;
  • Recommending policies and measures to guarantee the rights of victims of the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity to truth, justice and compensation, as well as rehabilitation, taking into account gender specific issues and ensuring that gender -sensitive measures are implemented;
  • Monitoring among the Member States, where applicable, national programs on disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, repatriation and reinstallation (DDRRR) for former child soldiers, ex-combatants and combatants;
  • Carrying out any other tasks that the Inter-Ministerial Committee may entrust it with.

In parallel, the ICGRL Secretariat is coordinating with the UN Office of Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide to conduct a training session in September 2010 on the OSAPG Analysis Framework for UN personnel and other stakeholders in the Great Lakes region. Thus there are emerging opportunities for GPANet to support ICGLR during the implementation phase of ICGLR strategies in consultation and advisory capacities. Especially when launching the steering committee of 11 focal points, GPANet's collaboration with ICGLR Secretariat could be beneficial in these areas:

  • Plan and coordinate programs to build grassroots, national and regional capacities, tailored to unique local dynamics and conflict issues in each affected area;
  • Establish and expand a network of genocide and violent prevention actors and stakeholders, shifting from a "victims" frame to an "agents of genocide prevention" frame at local, national and region levels;
  • Identify training and education need to create a cadre of respected facilitators for mediation and dialogue to resolve local, national and regional disputes peacefully;
  • Gather and share knowledge, tools, methods and skills on violent conflict and genocide prevention initiatives and experiences within the region and from other parts of the world;
  • Participate in the evaluation and monitoring of activities at regional and national levels.

The GPANet's members, collectively and individually, may be able to connect expert knowledge, practice, and data on genocide prevention with the needs of the peoples in the region. ICGLR is one of a very few political groupings of states collectively committed to genocide prevention and one of only two at the regional or sub-regional level. Supporting regional approaches to genocide prevention like ICGLR means facilitating connections with other initiatives that are already in place, initiatives that can and should complement one other. There are a number of programs working concurrently on  genocide prevention such as training activities by ICAR's Engaging Governments on Genocide Prevention, data collection and information management systems by Ushahidi (the crowdsourcing initiative developed after the Kenya disturbances in 2008, which uses local informants in crisis situations to develop and evaluate information from crisis-ridden areas), Genocide Watch, Conflict Early Warning Learning Initiative led by Humanity United, and many others. GPANet was at the beginning of a development that started from the Stockholm gatherings, and its members have played a significant role in the risk assessment research that makes genocide prevention conceptually convincing. GPANet members were also instrumental in calling for the establishment of the office of the Special Advisor on Genocide Prevention at the United Nations and have become a hub of genocide prevention debates, along with others. The emerging collaboration with the ICGLR steering committee can provide an unprecedented opportunity to link experts with local, national, regional and international action for an effective, sustainable genocide prevention system - a system in which knowledge can be actually shared and collective political will be put in practice. 


[1]  See the conference report, Stockholm International Forum 2004, 26-28 January Proceedings: Preventing Genocide Threats and Responsibilities. Stockholm: Svensk Information for the Government of Sweden, June 2004.

[2]  U.N. General Assembly, 60th session. Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly, 2005 World Summit Outcome (A/RES/60/1). 24 October 2005, paras. 138-140.  

[3]  Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, "The Regional Fora: A Contribution to Genocide Prevention from a Decentralized Perspective," Politiorbis 47 (No. 2, 2009), published by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland, p. 155.

[4]  "Genocide Prevention: Experience of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)," paper presented by Ambassador Liberata Mulamula at the Regional Forum on Genocide Prevention, March 3-5, 2010, Arusha.

[5]  Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region (2006). Available at


BartoliTogata.910.doc66.5 KB