Saferworld Evidence to the International Development Committee: Atrocity Prevention              Page 7



January 2022

International Development Committee

Inquiry: Atrocity Prevention


Saferworld welcomes the International Development Committee’s inquiry into the effectiveness of the UK government’s approach to atrocity prevention within and outside conflicts. Saferworld is an independent international organisation working to prevent violent conflict and build safer lives. This evidence is based on our experience of programming and research which aims to prevent violent conflict and contribute to peace, justice and security. This experience also includes a decade of working in the Western Balkans. This submission is focused on the overlap of conflict prevention and atrocity prevention and questions in the Terms of Reference, in particular the role of the FCDO in cross-government work, the contribution of UK programming, the tools available to UK officials and lessons from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Key Points


What role the FCDO should play in convening cross-government work on atrocity prevention


  1. Atrocity prevention and conflict prevention are often seen as distinct disciplines but can be mutually reinforcing in both activities and impact. An international consultation held by Peace Direct concluded, ‘The common mission of both fields of work, to prevent violence and mass atrocity, overrides most differences.’[1] Conflict prevention should not be seen as solely aiming for a political settlement between warring parties to end violence. Sustainable conflict prevention and peacebuilding is concerned with addressing the root causes and issues driving conflict before they result in violence and reducing further and ongoing violence, which means also addressing issues such as poor access to justice, or a lack of justice for grave violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) – issues also vital to atrocity prevention.
  2. Peace Direct’s consultation identifies peacebuilding activities that contribute to atrocity prevention including dialogue, peace education, non-violent protection strategies for communities, grass-roots reconciliation and healing, and preventing gender and sexual based violence.[2] Community-security assessments undertaken by Saferworld and its partners in South Sudan and funded by the European Union and UK support similar findings. Multiple assessments found that histories of ethnic violence and cycles of revenge killings intersected with cattle rustling, proliferation of small arms, youth disenfranchisement and exclusion and gender-based violence to drive conflict and insecurity. Communities involved often called for dialogue processes with other groups to help address these issues.[3] Communities also recognise the systemic nature of conflict and how conflict crosses social, administrative and geographical boundaries. They have thus urged to extend programming to neighbouring communities. This ‘conflict cluster approach requires being intentional about working on particular conflict flashpoints in particular geographical locations, which sometimes straddle administrative boundaries. Aid Direct funding for this programme finished in August 2021 as part of the cuts to UK aid. It is currently funded by the EU.
  3. Social norms around gender inequality often intersect with other conflict dynamics to shape how women, girls, men, boys and gender and sexual minorities experience conflict, atrocities and other forms of violence. Gender inequality is itself also a conflict driver. For example, practices of bride prices in South Sudan have led to violent cattle raids to acquire cows to pay the bride’s family.[4] Another example is personal financial instability leading family breadwinners, often men due to gendered divisions of power and labour, to seek the opportunities and status that an armed group might provide.[5] UN toolkits have also identified different forms of gender-based violence as indicators of risks of atrocities.[6] The Committee should ensure that it takes a broad approach to defining atrocity and conflict prevention and the links between the two fields. The Committee should scrutinise how the UK approaches the gendered drivers, impacts and indicators of conflict and atrocities.
  4. The FCDO now combines diplomatic and development expertise in conflict prevention – giving it a foundation to expand atrocity prevention expertise and ensure the two disciplines are linked. The FCDO should be the ‘policy lead’ for both conflict prevention and atrocity prevention and should see this as mutually reinforcing. In both fields there is a need for joined-up working and the expertise of other government departments and agencies to most effectively respond to the drivers of conflict and violence. The FCDO should also support other government departments working across diplomacy, development, defence, trade and law and order to do no harm through their actions to the related agendas of conflict prevention, protection of civilians, human rights, gender equality and atrocity prevention.
  5. The Cabinet Office and National Security Secretariat have a role in ensuring this joined-up approach is happening. At ministerial level the National Security Council and meetings of the National Security Ministers may need to act as forums for joined up strategy and coordination of activities.
  6. The FCDO should play a key role in the cross-government ‘Integrated Review sub-strategies’ for different priority countries and themes. Atrocity and conflict prevention objectives should be clearly articulated, as should how they are prioritised vis-à-vis other objectives. As noted by JCNSS we have consistently called for the UK government to live up to its undertakings in 2018 and 2019 to release public versions of its national security strategies for priority countries/regions and themes.[7] The IDC should reiterate the call for the Cabinet Office to release public versions of National Security Strategies for countries and themes. At the very least the Committee should ask to see any national security strategy for the Western Balkans and other countries it is scrutinising.


The role of UK aid programmes in atrocity prevention, including promoting dialogue and reconciliation between communities in conflict, post-conflict and non-conflict settings


  1. The UK has been a lead funder of conflict prevention activities for many years. But since 2016, the level of funding for civilian-led conflict prevention and peacebuilding has been shrinking, now exacerbated by the 2020 and 2021 aid cuts. As Saferworld told the IDC in its submission to the inquiry on Philosophy of Aid: ‘Analysis of OECD-DAC figures indicates that from 2016-2019 the UK disbursed a declining share of the aid budget, culminating in less than two percent, of the total ODA budget under the OECD-DAC “Civilian peacebuilding, conflict prevention and resolution” coding.16 While in 2016 the UK was a leader in the proportion of its ODA budget spent in this way, the UK has now been overtaken by the Netherlands and Sweden who now spend a greater proportion of their aid budgets on civilian peacebuilding, conflict prevention and resolution.’[8]
  2. The UK aid cuts exacerbated this trend. Civilian-led peacebuilding and conflict prevention is primarily delivered by the FCDO as part of its own programming or that funded by the Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). Bond has calculated an approximate £896 million cut to all UK government aid on conflict and open societies from 2019 to 2021.[9] In addition, Saferworld analysis shows that comparing the CSSF’s 2021-2 budget allocation[10] and 2020-1 actual[11] spend reveals: £19 million in ODA cut to programming in Africa, £90m cut to programming in the Middle East and North Africa, £50 million cut to programming in South Asia and a £23 million cut to the multilateral strategy.[12] CSSF spent £25.9 million (ODA and non-ODA) less in the Western Balkans in 2020-1 than originally allocated. There was a further reduction of £16.5 million from the CSSF ODA spend in the Western Balkans in 2020-1 to the budget allocation for 2021-2. The CSSF funds both longer-term conflict prevention activities and shorter-term activities to reduce violence or achieve national security aims.
  3. As set out above (paragraph 3) the FCDO and CSSF’s approach to gender, peace and security is a key part of preventing violence. In 2021-2 CSSF increased its funding allocation to its thematic programme on gender, peace and security by £680,000 (£180,000 ODA) to a total of £5.38 million. However, this constitutes only 0.6 percent of the fund’s overall total. Both the OECD[13] and CSSF[14] have produced markers which identify the level of contribution of conflict prevention and stabilisation work to gender equality. Yet, neither the CSSF nor FCDO produce data on the level of spend against these markers. Producing such information would increase understanding of the contribution of the FCDO and CSSF’s regional programming in the mutually reinforcing fields of conflict prevention, atrocity prevention and gender equality. It would also give a greater understanding of how gender, peace and security programming has been affected by the aid cuts.
  4. The Committee should push for the CSSF and FCDO to release data on how much of its conflict or atrocity related programming contributes to gender equality as the secondary or primary purpose of the programme.
  5. As part of the cuts to CSSF and the FCDO’s work on conflict prevention, the three largest dedicated peacebuilding organisations headquartered in the UK (Saferworld, International Alert and Conciliation Resources) experienced a collective cut to their programming of £6.1m in 2021. Examples of programmes affected included work to reintegrate women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria; support to local civil society organisations in Myanmar and local peace committees in Central African Republic working to transform broken relationships between local communities. The three organisations warned back in June that, ‘If [our experience] is replicated across the many millions cut from UK peacebuilding and stabilisation funding, it is fair to assume that the UK's contribution to peace and stability has been severely downgraded.’[15]


How atrocity prevention can be embedded in the work of UK Posts 


  1. The Joint Analysis of Conflict and Stability (JACS) is one of several conflict prevention tools used by the Government. While they are reasonably comprehensive for their stated tasks, there are gaps in how they prompt officials to engage national civil society and communities affected by conflict and the JACS is not specifically designed to track atrocity risks.
  2. The JACS sets out a range of prompts and guidance for officials to conduct a cross-government analysis of parties and people within a conflict, its root causes and opportunities for peace. The UK army has recently created its own tool to distill the JACS and translate its conclusions for military personnel involved in security assistance.[16]
  3. The Overseas Security and Justice Assessment (OSJA) is a tool designed to assess and mitigate the human rights and humanitarian law risks of assistance to security and justice forces and institutions. Categorisation of low, medium or high risks comes with escalating sign off requirements up to Ministerial level.[17] OSJA has several drawbacks. First, it does not focus on the political endorsement signaled by supplying assistance to a security force or regime engaged in behaviour that is abusive or that might drive future conflict or atrocities. Second, both OSJA and JACS do not provide adequate prompts or guidance for officials to engage civil society and communities from the country or context being assessed. Engagement with civil society and communities is critical to the establishment of indicators of atrocities by which the UK can understand and work to mitigate risks before they arise. This engagement should also be complemented by a localised approach to atrocity prevention involving equitable partnership and supporting civil society from countries at risk of atrocities. The IDC should push the government to set out how and how often it incorporates the views of civil society from conflict affected countries at risk of atrocities into tools like JACS and OSJAs.
  4. The integration of a gender lens into atrocity prevention should come at all levels, from early warning and early response to atrocity mitigation. Any atrocity prevention efforts should aim to mutually reinforce the conflict strategic framework, international development strategy and National Action Plans on women, peace and security being developed at the moment. At the operational level, officials working on atrocity prevention programming should make use of the Women Peace and Security helpdesk funded by CSSF currently being established to provide advice and guidance on gender-sensitive UK programming. The helpdesk is envisioned to be an efficient and functional process that can provide high quality technical advice and support on women, peace and security and gender-sensitive conflict analysis to UK government stakeholders.
  5. Another key tool in atrocity prevention is the national Strategic Export Control regime. At its best this would prevent UK involvement in the export or brokering of military equipment that might contribute to conflict or atrocities. The UK’s recently revised licensing criteria include under Criterion 2c that the UK government will, ‘not grant a licence if it determines there is a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law’.[18] However, this is not always the case: for example, the UK continues to fuel violations of IHL in Yemen through arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The UN Group of Eminent Experts has criticised ‘patterns of harm’ to civilians which ‘may amount to war crimes’ from Saudi-coalition led airstrikes and reiterated its concern ‘about third States transferring arms to parties to the conflict in Yemen in blatant disregard of the documented patterns of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in the conflict to date.[19] IDC members of the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) should ensure that the CAEC keeps a focus on preventing conflict and atrocities including by scrutinising specific contexts where UK exported equipment is at risk of being used to commit or facilitate in committing atrocities and abuses, such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen.


Lessons learned in atrocity prevention from Bosnia and other contexts since the 1990s

  1. Saferworld conducted programming in the Western Balkans including in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2001 to 2012 and also undertook a range of research projects. We have worked on both small arms and light weapons proliferation and community security projects where communities assess their security challenges and work with authorities to address them. Our research highlighted the importance of having a long-term strategy and investment for conflict and atrocity prevention, and investing in local communities to address the causes of violence. In 2010, research by Saferworld and the Nansen Dialogue Center Sarajevo identified long-term drivers of conflict as ‘the unresolved question about what kind of state BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] is/should be; the lack of dialogue or common understanding about what happened during the war; deeply institutionalised ethnic divisions; and a biased and politicised media’.[20] The report pointed to mitigating factors, that at the time were preventing a slide towards violence, including ‘international and regional pressures to maintain BiH’s unity; the fact that most politicians currently seem interested in preserving stability and the status quo; and a deep aversion to violent conflict among the vast majority of citizens. The police are seen to make a positive contribution to people’s day-to-day security.’ The report called for support to civil society to address the drivers of conflict and ensuring that international programming was sensitive to conflict dynamics.[21]
  2. Young people from the region also identified barriers to reconciliation and long-term peace as well as solutions. Research on young people’s perspectives carried out by Saferworld, Conciliation Resources and Nansen Dialogue Center Sarajevo expressed concern that in schools sensitive subjects such as religion, languages and literature, history and geography, were taught in ethnically-segregated classes using different curricula, undermining a sense of common citizenship. But many young people talked favourably about opportunities they had had to meet young people from other ethnic groups and wished for more frequent opportunities to do so. While the report did identify concerns about protecting identity and discrimination from other groups, this demonstrated a strong desire for dialogue to help ease tensions.[22]
  3. Research by Women Organizing for Change in Bosnia and Herzegovina of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom also underscores the need to ensure that post-conflict reconstruction in Bosnia and Herzegovina is gender sensitive. They use a feminist political economy analysis to assess the role of financial reforms, in part driven by donors and international financial institutions. They concluded that a lack of focus on socio-economic rights was worsening structural inequalities, jeopardising the peace as during the conflict personal economic instability was one of the drivers pushing men to join armed groups. The exclusion of women from the post-conflict economy also put women at risk. They called for alternative approaches that focus on promoting the economic empowerment of women which would help to confront male violence and prevent its spread in the aftermath of a conflict where ‘gendered inequalities make women vulnerable to violence and to being targeted as markers of ethnic identity’.[23]
  4. Saferworld does not have current programming in Bosnia and Herzegovina but more recent analysis by Saferworld suggests many of these dynamics are still relevant and the Dayton Accords have failed to fully address the underlying causes of conflict and atrocity. Importantly for the committee, our past work does suggest a couple of criteria to judge past and contemporary UK actions in the region: addressing the root causes of conflict, violence and atrocities; making the response gender-sensitive and; consulting and supporting civil society from the region.
  5. In assessing the UK and wider international community’s approach to atrocity prevention in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Committee should explore whether the UK tried to address the root causes of atrocities and conflict, how it incorporated an understanding of gender dynamics and how it consulted communities and engaged civil society from the country to do so.





[1] Peace Direct (2017), Atrocity prevention and peacebuilding Key insights and lessons from a global consultation convened by Peace Direct Executive Summary, p 3 (

[2] Peace Direct (2017), Atrocity prevention and peacebuilding Key insights and lessons from a global consultation convened by Peace Direct Executive Summary, p 3 (

[3] See for example: Saferworld (2021), ‘Promoting peace and resilience in Unity state, South Sudan’, 22 February (; Saferworld (2021), ‘Enhancing people’s resilience to resolve conflicts in Western Bahr el Ghazal state’, April (; Saferworld (2021), Amplifying people’s voices to contribute to peace and resilience in Warrap, South Sudan, March (  

[4] See for example: Saferworld (2021), Amplifying people’s voices to contribute to peace and resilience in Warrap, South Sudan, March, p 2 (  

[5] Mlinarević G (2017), A Feminist Perspective on Post-Conflict Restructuring and Recovery: The Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Women Organizing for Change in Bosnia and Herzegovina of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, July, p 28 (

[6] United Nations (2014), Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes A tool for prevention, pp. 16 & 19 (

[7] Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (2021), ‘The UK’s national security machinery: First report of session 2021-2,  HC231, HL68, 13th September, p. 46 (

[8] Saferworld (2021), Submission to the International Development Committee Inquiry: The Philosophy of Aid, September, para 11 (

[9] Bond (2021), ‘What we know and don’t know about the aid cuts: Preliminary analysis of the FCDO’s FY21-22 ODA budget’ (

[10] Ellis M (2021), Conflict, Stability and Security Fund Allocations 2021/22, Written Statement, House of Commons, 15 December, (

[11] HM Government (2021), ‘Conflict, Stability and Security Fund: Annual Report 2020/21’, 15 December, pp, 20-22,

[12] Saferworld’s analysis has also been published here: Worley W (2022), ‘Impact of Funding cuts to UK’s CSSF revealed’, Devex, 7 January, (

[13] OECD DAC (2022), ‘DAC gender equality policy marker’, accessed 14 January 2022 (

[14] HM Government (2021), Conflict, Stability and Security Fund: Annual Report 2019/20, January, p 6  (

[15] Saferworld, Conciliation Resources, International Alert (2021), Joint Conciliation Resources, International Alert and Saferworld statement on the impact of UK aid cuts on peacebuilding efforts and our partners around the world, 15 June (

[16] Brooks L (2021), ‘Playing with matches? UK security assistance and its conflict risks’, Saferworld, October, p 40 (

[17] Walpole L, Karlshøj-Pedersen M (2020), ‘Forging a new path: Prioritising the Protection of Civilians in the UK’s Response to Conflict’, Oxford Research Group, July, pp 23-9 (

[18] Trade Policy Update, Statement UIN HCWS449, made by Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Secretary of State for International Trade, 8 December 2021,

[19] Human Rights Council (2020), ‘Situation of human rights in Yemen, including violations and abuses since September 2014: Report of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen’, A/HRC/45/6, 28 September ( HRBodies/HRCouncil/GEE-Yemen/2020-09-09-report.pdf)

[20] Hvidemose (2010), ‘The Missing Peace: The need for a long term strategy in Bosnia and Herzegovina’, Saferworld and Nansen Dialogue Centre Sarajevo, August, P ii (

[21] Hvidemose (2010), ‘The Missing Peace: The need for a long term strategy in Bosnia and Herzegovina’, Saferworld and Nansen Dialogue Centre Sarajevo, August, P ii (

[22] Saferworld and Conciliation Resources (2012), People’s Peacemaking Perspectives Bosnia and Herzegovina, February (

[23] Mlinarević G (2017), A Feminist Perspective on Post-Conflict Restructuring and Recovery: The Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Women Organizing for Change in Bosnia and Herzegovina of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, July, p 28 (