A key task of the Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect is to support the early warning role that the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect play, as well as their advocacy efforts to mobilize the United Nations system and Member States to take effective action in response to situations where populations are at risk of atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes) or where these crimes are ongoing.
The Office’s work on early warning of atrocity crimes is based on the premise that these crimes do not happen overnight. They are processes; they require planning and preparation. There are warning signs, and common risk factors, both structural and dynamic, that can lead to or enable the commission of these crimes. Once the risk factors are detected, it will be possible to identify measures that can be taken by States and the international community to reduce the likelihood of atrocity crimes occurring.
Accordingly, one of the main tasks of the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect is to collect relevant information on political, human rights, humanitarian, social and economic developments in countries worldwide with the aim of identifying early warning signs of the risk of atrocity crimes The Office’s analysts screen and analyse large amounts of information – primarily from United Nations sources, as well as from other sources – against the risk factors contained in the Office’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes.
The Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes is a methodological early warning tool developed to systematise the collection of information on the risk factors associated with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as to provide consistency in the assessment of information and the risk of those crimes. The Framework can be used by all actors involved in atrocity prevention. It can be downloaded as a publication or as an official UN document (A/70/741–S/2016/71).
When the assessment of a specific situation points to the risk of atrocity crimes, the Special Advisers may decide to bring that situation to the attention of the Secretary-General and, through him, to the Security Council, in this way acting as a mechanism of early warning. The Special Advisers will provide timely advice to the Secretary-General on preventive action and mobilize the United Nations system and other key partners, taking into account the urgency of a situation, to enhance the collective capacity to prevent atrocity crimes, or halt their occurrence. The Special Advisers may also conduct advocacy missions to countries where their involvement is considered of particular value to address situations of concern before they escalate into further violence.
There are many ways in which the Special Advisers exercise their early warning role. They can do this internally, through their exchanges with the Secretary-General, other United Nations officials and Member States, or publicly, through the media. In situations of imminent risk, the Special Advisers may provide early warning through briefings to the Secretary-General or directly to the Security Council.
Though a substantial part of the early warning work of the Special Advisers and their Office is carried out outside of the public domain, you can see examples of public early-warning related activities below: