House of Commons International Development Committee Inquiry - Promoting dialogue and preventing atrocities: the UK government approach

1) About Peace Direct


  1. This submission has been prepared by Peace Direct, a UK based international NGO dedicated to supporting locally-led efforts to stop violent conflict and build sustainable peace. Local voices and approaches are at the heart of all our work, which encompasses three core areas:
  1. Peace Direct defines locally-led efforts as ‘initiatives owned and led by people in their own contexts’. This definition, developed by Peace Direct almost ten years ago, has recently been adopted by the UK international development network, Bond, and its members as the working definition for locally-led development.[2]
  2. Peace Direct believes that supporting locally-led peacebuilding is not only the moral and ethical thing to do; it is also the most cost-effective, impactful and sustainable approach to addressing conflict and fragility. Although locally-led peacebuilding and atrocity prevention has gained more attention and traction in recent years, a radical shift is needed in the international sector to remove barriers to local leadership and create an environment where local peacebuilders are genuinely respected, heard and supported.
  3. In 2021, Peace Direct co-published an impactful report, ‘Time to Decolonise Aid’. The report set out the many unequal power dynamics and harmful practices in international development, including recommendations for international development donors, INGOs and policy makers, which are equally relevant to those working on atrocity prevention.[3] In addition to the recommendations below, we strongly encourage UK government and members of the IDC to consider, share and adopt these findings, including the need to acknowledge structural racism and address structural biases in global atrocity prevention work.

Atrocity Prevention

  1. Peace Direct also has a programme of activities dedicated to local atrocity prevention, including through our ‘Local Action Fund’ (LAF), a flexible and innovative funding mechanism that supports frontline peacebuilding efforts in some of the most complex and volatile conflicts worldwide. Through LAF, Peace Direct has funded organisations leading atrocity prevention and response interventions in various countries including Myanmar, Nigeria and Sudan.[4]
  2. In 2018, we published a report on the links between atrocity prevention and peacebuilding, based on a comprehensive, global consultation with 96 participants, on which much of the evidence in this submission is based.[5] This evidence also builds on our written submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) 2018 inquiry on ‘Responsibility to Protect and humanitarian intervention’, which joined the call for a specific Atrocity Prevention Strategy within UK government.[6]
  3. A large part of our atrocity prevention work has taken place in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where we collaborate closely with seven local partner organisations. Based on our extensive track record in the Great Lakes region, Peace Direct is currently co-recipient of a UK Aid-funded Jo Cox Memorial Grant, Strengthening Networks to Prevent and Respond to Violence (Jul 2019-Jul 2022), in partnership with Beni Peace Forum (BPF), Armed Conflict, Location and Events Database (ACLED) and Protection Approaches. The goal of this ongoing programme is to reduce the risk of identity-based violence and atrocities in the Great Lakes Region by strengthening civil society networks, supporting them to monitor and respond to violence, and providing duty bearers with data and recommendations for meaningful and comprehensive preventative action.
  4. Peace Direct has (co-)written and/or published three recent resources on atrocity prevention in the DRC, including:
  1. The purpose of this submission is to share the main findings from Peace Direct’s policy, programme and research work on locally-led atrocity prevention, with a particular emphasis on the DRC example. Our overarching recommendation is that the UK government’s global approach to atrocity prevention, including through any new Conflict Strategic Framework or National Atrocity Prevention Strategy, should recognise the vital contribution of local peacebuilders and result in further direct funding and other forms of support for locally-led atrocity prevention strategies.
  2. Peace Direct is a registered charity in England and Wales, charity number 1123241. For more information please see

2) Understanding atrocity prevention

  1. A key finding of our research to date is that in practice, in conflict settings, the distinction between atrocity prevention and peacebuilding matters little, since practitioners make use of the same goals, tools and approaches. As we heard repeatedly during a 2018 global consultation, it’s the work that matters, not the labels.[10] At the same time, the conditions that create risks for mass atrocities also contribute to violent conflict, necessitating a coordinated approach for both.
  2. This was particularly evidenced in Eastern DRC, where local organisations found the term ‘atrocity prevention’ to be useful mainly for describing their activities to the international community, or for accessing funding.[11] Where local peacebuilders did use the term ‘atrocities, it tended to refer to the gruesome nature of the act or the frequency at which certain types of violence occurred, incorporating killings, violence and attacks that would not meet a standard international conceptualisation based on scale and deliberate targeting.
  3. Unfortunately, as the two fields of ‘atrocity prevention’ and ‘peacebuilding’ are typically treated separately by international actors, the opportunity has too often been missed to promote collaboration across different agendas, which has had a concrete impact on local coordination and access to funding.
  4. Based on this, Peace Direct understands atrocity prevention to be the broad range of tools and strategies which aim to prevent the occurrence of mass killings and other large scale human rights abuses committed against civilians - including both acute issues of violence and underlying or structural factors.[12]


  1. In any future strategies, policies or programmes related to conflict or atrocity prevention, UK government and parliamentarians should:

             Be conscious of different definitions of ‘atrocity prevention’ and be led by local understandings and analysis wherever possible.

             Support opportunities to increase collaboration and cooperation between the different agendas, to ensure atrocity prevention work does not become siloed.

3) Lessons learned in atrocity prevention from other contexts since the 1990s

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

  1. The Eastern DRC has for decades been one of the most conflict affected and fragile regions in the world, due to a number of interrelated factors, including the legacies of colonialism such as forced immigration, state violence, the proliferation of armed groups, conflict over land and resources, spill over of regional conflicts and proxy wars, inter-ethnic and communal violence, and the impact of the DRC’s largest ever outbreak of Ebola in 2018-20.[13] The region has seen a recent increase in tension and violence following a change of government in December 2018, leading the United Nations (UN) to describe the situation as ‘characteristic of crimes against humanity’ and ‘possibly even genocide’ in 2020.[14]
  2. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is mandated by the UN Security Council to contribute to protecting civilians and to support the stabilization and strengthening of State institutions. The mission has begun planning its exit strategy, with the publication of a transition plan in September 2021.[15] Donor governments and members of the UN Security Council, such as the UK, have a critical responsibility to support this process, helping to avoid a power vacuum with potential consequences for subsequent stability.[16]
  3. Peacebuilders in eastern DRC play a very important role in preventing and addressing violent conflict and atrocities, through a wide variety of activities, including: responding to and interrupting hate speech;[17] building early warning and early response (EWER) networks; coordinating restorative and traditional justice; and direct mediation and engagement with state and traditional authorities and armed groups. The main challenges for atrocity prevention reported by local peacebuilders in eastern DRC include, among others:[18]
  1. Despite the recent increase in violence, the challenges faced by local peacebuilders, and their vital importance in preventing violent conflict and atrocities, numbers recently published by UK government reveal a 60% cut in UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the DRC in 2021 as a result of last year’s decision to reduce the UK’s ODA budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI).[19] This calls into serious question the UK’s ongoing commitment to atrocity prevention in one of the world’s most fragile and conflict affected regions.

Case Study: Beni Peace Forum

  1. Beni Territory in North Kivu province, eastern DRC, has for a long time been strongly affected by violence driven in large part by attacks against civilian populations and fighting between the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) and armed militias and groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).[20] Identity is a key factor in how atrocities, violence and conflict develop in Beni, often based on strategic manipulation and exploitation of vulnerabilities.
  2. The Beni Peace Forum (BPF) is a network of local peacebuilding organisations, formed in 2016 as a way to coordinate a fragmented response to conflict in the territory. In 2018, BPF initiated a programme called Système d’Alertes Précoces et de Réponses Rapides (SAPRA) with support from Peace Direct. This initiative supported the creation of an Early Warning and Early Response (EWER) network and local protection committees (LPCs) made up of trusted community members.[21] This work has in turn enabled BPF to build essential relationships with key influencers, the national army, MONUSCO and local authorities and increase the level of trust between communities and leaders.
  3. Since 2019, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has directly supported these efforts via Jo Cox Memorial Grant funding, in turn helping to reduce the likelihood of atrocities and violence in the Beni Territory.


  1. In light of the significantly increased risk of atrocities and identity-based violence in eastern DRC, and the vital importance of peacebuilding as means to prevent atrocities at the local level, the UK government, via FCDO and the UK Embassy in Kinshasa, should:

    Urgently restore bilateral ODA funding for DRC to pre-2021 levels, ensuring any increases also contribute towards local peacebuilding and atrocity prevention activities in eastern DRC.

    Provide increased strategic and human resource support to the MONUSCO mission to facilitate a smooth transition and exit strategy, including concrete plans to enhance the capacity of local authorities and civil society.

    Directly support local peacebuilders with:

      1. Technical training, including for data monitoring and storage, documentation of human rights violations, access to grants and fundraising.
      2. Long-term, flexible financial support, through grants and support for organisational strengthening. This should include continued support for and investment in early warning and response (EWER) networks.
      3. The building of locally-led civil society networks, allowing for knowledge-sharing, coordination and harmonisation of efforts.

    Take steps, in collaboration with local actors, to avoid any possibility of funding organisations and groups that are being used to exacerbate identity-based and political violence and increase the risk of atrocities.

3) The role of UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) programmes in atrocity prevention

  1. As discussed above, for practitioners at the local level there is often little distinction in goals or approach between peacebuilding and atrocity prevention. Local peacebuilders play a very important role in addressing, responding to and preventing violent conflict and atrocities. In a global consultation with 96 participants published in 2018, Peace Direct repeatedly heard that stopping violent conflict can stop atrocities, by addressing the earliest stages and root causes.[22]
  2. Local peacebuilders conduct a wide range of different approaches and activities that contribute towards atrocity prevention in practice, including activities focussed on:
  3. Local peacebuilders have a significant added value compared to national and international inter- and non-governmental organisations (IGOs and INGOs), because they typically experience and assess the early warning signs of atrocities first-hand, long before other stakeholders become aware. They are also best placed to provide a vital context-specific understanding of situations, necessary for deciding on appropriate next steps and early response.[23] As a result, donors such as the UK can vastly improve their efforts by consulting and engaging with local peacebuilders at every stage of policy development, programme design and implementation.
  4. Even though women, youth and minoritised groups are often most at risk of being targeted in situations of conflict and atrocities, they are too often excluded from the design, planning and implementation of ODA-funded programmes.
  5. Local peacebuilders are usually severely in need of long-term, sustainable funding to support their activities. As identified in, “Time to Decolonise Aid”, the ‘localisation agenda or Grand Bargain, hailed as a major outcome of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, has been a major disappointment to local development and humanitarian organisations and groups.[24] Too often, donors fail to fund genuinely local actors, due to factors such as unnecessarily burdensome procedural barriers, lack of trust and structural racism in the system, choosing instead to fund trusted partners like international NGOs or agencies that may have a limited understanding of local context. The funding that is available is often short-term and project-based, not allowing local organisations to invest properly in longer-term programmes or organisational development. Donors, including the UK, could therefore play a transformative role in atrocity prevention at the national and community levels through ODA, if it is used to support local peacebuilders to set their own strategic direction and to promote local ownership and sustainability.
  6. Unfortunately, last year’s decision by the UK government to cut ODA from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) has already had a significant negative impact on the ability of the UK to respond to crises in countries most affected by conflict, fragility and risk of atrocities. Recent analysis by Saferworld reveals an overall cut last year to the UK’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) of £348.9 million, as well as deep cuts in bilateral funding to the most fragile and conflict-affected states and regions including the DRC and Somalia.[25] This reduction makes it all the more essential that remaining ODA spending intended to address conflict and atrocities goes directly to those local actors that can use it most effectively and sustainably.


  1. Recognising the essential role and value that local peacebuilders play in atrocity prevention, the UK FCDO should:

        Urgently restore bilateral ODA budgets for fragile and conflict affected countries (FCAS) most in need of support with atrocity prevention.

        Engage directly with local peacebuilders and communities in the design and implementation of ODA-funded atrocity prevention and peacebuilding programmes. Such consultation must include all minoritised groups, especially women and youth, in recognition of the fact that they are most likely to be targeted in situations of rising atrocities.

        Increase ODA funding going directly to local peacebuilders (including through targets) for addressing the earliest stages and root causes of atrocities. This can only be achieved by funding courageously - creating funding pathways that are more accessible and inclusive, reducing due diligence requirements for local organisations, and allowing for greater uncertainty.

        Support local peacebuilders to set their own strategic direction, priorities and programmatic focus through the provision of more flexible and long-term funding, core organisational support and rapid response funding instruments.

        Invest time and effort in understanding and challenging power imbalances and dynamics in the peacebuilding and atrocity prevention system, as well as listening to the related concerns of local groups and communities and encouraging a culture of openness to critique.[26]

4) Embedding atrocity prevention in the work of UK diplomatic posts

  1. The International Development Committee (IDC) Chair commented on the launch of this inquiry that the UK is a prime position through our Embassies to spot early warning signs and encouraging dialogue at every turn.[27] While this can be true, Peace Direct contends that this is only the case when staff in embassies and other UK diplomatic posts engage directly and consult with local peacebuilders and communities, and when training is provided on how to understand the early warning signs of atrocities.[28] Local actors are best positioned to see the signs of potential mass violence and advise on the best way to respond, by virtue of being closest to the situation and being able to witness emerging patterns.
  2. Also as discussed above, local peacebuilders are active in the establishment and coordination of Early Warning and Early Response (EWER) networks at the community level, many of which are supported by donors, national governments or INGOs. Such networks perform a crucial function by gathering data on potential rises in violence and atrocities - according to context-specific indicators - verifying and triangulating the information, and passing it on to community, national and international actors including the UN to enable a rapid, early response. As noted in Peace Direct’s 2018 consultation, such community-led EWER systems are especially well prepared to prevent violence before it breaks out and prevent atrocities (in peace or war times). They can be counted on for access to critical information in real time and for observing and documenting signs of impending violence.[29]
  3. They are also well-placed to inform diplomatic missions, including UK embassies, of rising risks and incidents, in turn strengthening the capacity of governments to deliver on atrocity prevention or conflict reduction strategies. With clear and systematic alert systems and communications protocols in place, UK posts would then be able to use this information to support atrocity prevention at UK the national level by sharing it across embassies, FCDO and Whitehall.[30]


  1. The proposed new UK conflict strategic approach, or any future Atrocity Prevention Strategy, should ensure that FCDO country teams and diplomatic staff working on atrocity prevention in fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAS):

    Are provided with atrocity-prevention training, including a well-sourced, designated staff person with responsibility for coordinating atrocity prevention matters.

    Are required, in their objectives and job descriptions, to engage directly with local peacebuilders, including them in all atrocity prevention strategies and dialogue and peace processes. This should also include the most marginalised voices, particularly women, youth and other minoritised groups.

    Trust and invest in local knowledge and evidence-building, especially information coming from local EWER networks, helping to link such information to the national and international levels where relevant and appropriate.

5) The effectiveness of UK diplomatic engagement on atrocity prevention at multilateral and international level

  1. Influential governments such as the UK have a responsibility to use their voice in intergovernmental forums such as the UN to raise attention to atrocities and massive violations of human rights wherever they occur. At the same time, the UK government has, and continues to, pursue foreign policies and investments that help fuel atrocities and create conditions of rising fragility and conflict – which can include:[31]
  1. At the same time, other UK stakeholders, including INGOs, civil society, media and politicians have an important function in drawing attention to incoherencies in the UK’s foreign policy and in holding UK government to account.



  1. UK government should commit, as part of its new International Development Strategy, conflict strategic approach or any future Atrocity Prevention Strategy, to use its voice on the world stage to draw attention to atrocities and highlight the vital importance of local actors, including peacebuilders, in atrocity prevention. It should also commit to a full review of its foreign policies and investments to identity and curb the ways in which its wider activities can exacerbate atrocities and violent conflict.
  2. UK stakeholders, including parliamentarians and civil society, should wherever possible hold UK government to account where its wider foreign policies are contributing to violent conflict and atrocities, and back solidarity campaigns that support the messages and hopes of local peacebuilders.

[1] Peace Insight.

[2] Peace Direct (2020). Towards locally-led peacebuilding: Defining ‘local’.

[3] Peace Direct, Adeso, the Allice for Peacebuilding, and Women of Colour Advancing Peace and Security (2021). Time to Decolonise Aid.

[4] Peace Direct. Myanmar.; Peace Direct. Local Action Fund.

[5] Peace Direct (2018). Atrocity prevention and peacebuilding.

[6] Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) (2018). Written evidence from Peace Direct.




[10] Peace Direct (2018). Atrocity prevention and peacebuilding.

[11] Peace Direct and RISD (2021). Escaping “Perpetual Beginnings”: Challenges and opportunities for local atrocity prevention in the DRC.

[12] Peace Direct (2018). Atrocity Prevention and Peacebuilding.

[13] Peace Direct and RISD (2021). Escaping “Perpetual Beginnings”: Challenges and opportunities for local atrocity prevention in the DRC; RISD and Beni Peace Forum (2021). Political actors and identity-based violence in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo.

[14] OHCHR (2020). DRC: inter-ethnic violence in Ituri may constitute “crimes against humanity”.; Al (2020). UN: 1,300 Civilians Killed in DRC Violence, Half A Million Flee. news/2020/06/1300-civilians-killed-dr-congo-millionflee-200605091341816.html 

[15] UN Security Council (2021). United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Report of the Secretary-General.

[16] Peace Direct and RISD (2021). Escaping “Perpetual Beginnings”: Challenges and opportunities for local atrocity prevention in the DRC

[17] Peace Direct. One Piece of the Puzzle: Interrupting Hate Speech.

[18] Peace Direct and RISD (2021). Escaping “Perpetual Beginnings”: Challenges and opportunities for local atrocity prevention in the DRC; RISD and Beni Peace Forum (2021). Political actors and identity-based violence in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo.

[19] Devex (2022). Impact of funding cuts to UK’s CSSF revealed.

[20] RISD and Beni Peace Forum (2021). Political actors and identity-based violence in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo.

[21] Peace Direct. One Piece of the Puzzle, a mini-series.

[22] Peace Direct (2018). Atrocity prevention and peacebuilding.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Peace Direct (2021). Time to Decolonise Aid.

[25] Devex (2022). Impact of funding cuts to UK’s CSSF revealed.

[26] Peace Direct (2021). Time to Decolonise Aid.

[27] UK parliament (2021). Inquiry seeks to prevent atrocities in Bosnia and beyond.

[28] Protection Approaches (2021). Linked up and linked-in: Networking local-international early warning and early response in eastern DRC.

[29] Peace Direct (2018). Atrocity prevention and peacebuilding.

[30] Protection Approaches (2021) (Page 48). Linked up and linked-in: Networking local-international early warning and early response in eastern DRC.

[31] Ibid.