Conciliation Resources submission to the International Development Committee inquiry:

Promoting dialogue and preventing atrocities: the UK government approach


Conciliation Resources welcomes the opportunity to respond to the International Development Committee (IDC) inquiry ‘Promoting dialogue and preventing atrocities: the UK government approach’.

Conciliation Resources is an international organisation committed to stopping violent conflict and creating more peaceful societies. We work with people impacted by war and violence, bringing diverse voices together to make change that lasts. We connect the views of people on the ground with political processes and share experience and expertise so others can find creative responses to conflict. We are a registered charity founded in 1994.

Many atrocities - systematic violence perpetrated against civilians - occur during violent conflict. Building peace and preventing conflict requires action over the long-term at multiple levels to address a broad range of factors causing and driving conflict. Atrocity prevention is more narrowly focused but in practice shares many of the same tools with peacebuilding, including gender-sensitive conflict analysis, dialogue and mediation, initiatives to deal with the legacies of violence and promote social cohesion, justice and reconciliation and early warning and action.

This submission draws on Conciliation Resources’ practice and research and focuses on what the government, and in particular the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), can do to support long-term conflict prevention approaches, including dialogue and mediation, reconciliation[1], early warning and early action.

Questions for IDC

Questions which members of the IDC may wish to explore are:

  1. How would the FCDO understand and approach atrocity prevention as part of a wider conflict prevention and peacebuilding strategy?
  2. How will the FCDO coordinate the development of its approach to atrocity prevention with international partners?
  3. What priority will the FCDO give to supporting dialogue and mediation efforts beyond formal, elite level, including those led by local non-state actors?


Our submission responds to the following questions in the IDC inquiry:

(1)   What role the FCDO should play in convening cross-government work on atrocity prevention; and (6) How the UK Government’s approach to atrocity prevention interacts with other government policies and areas of work, such as the FCDO’s approach to conflict prevention, the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative;

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

(3)   How atrocity prevention can be embedded in the work of UK Posts – for example, who should lead; what do staff need to assess and escalate when a risk is identified; what support/training should be provided to Posts; the effectiveness of current working tools available such as the Joint Analysis of Conflict and Stability (JACS).


(1) What role the FCDO should play in convening cross-government work on atrocity prevention; and (6) How the UK Government’s approach to atrocity prevention interacts with other government policies and areas of work, such as the FCDO’s approach to conflict prevention, the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative

Building peace and preventing conflict, while broader than atrocity prevention, helps address the conditions that can allow atrocities to happen.

  1. Developing a coherent approach to conflict prevention: The FCDO can facilitate and coordinate a cross-government and strategic approach to conflict, which sets out the government’s ambitions and policy on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. This was a commitment made in the Integrated Review published in 2021, and we understand work on a conflict strategy is underway.[2] The FCDO is home to a specialist cadre of staff in the Office for Conflict, Stabilisation and Mediation (OCSM) and the Mediation and Peace Process Support unit. They are well placed to facilitate this joined up and strategic approach, working closely with other parts of FCDO, such as the Open Societies and Human Rights Directorates, and the Ministry of Defence.
  2. Include Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and the broader gender, peace and security (GPS) agenda in conflict prevention strategies: Continued cross-government support for the WPS and broader GPS agenda is important as part of an overall conflict prevention strategy. Reducing social, political and economic exclusion, and promoting gender equality is central to the prevention of conflict and peacebuilding. The FCDO has provided valuable support to the visibility, roles and influence of women mediators, including through initiatives such as Women Mediators across the Commonwealth, and this should be continued.[3]
  3. Building capabilities for dialogue and mediation at multiple levels: the establishment of the Mediation and Peace Process support unit in the FCDO and the work on a mediation strategy is an opportunity to develop internal capabilities in dialogue and mediation, as well as UK support for multi-level dialogue and mediation work. Non-state actors and non-governmental organisations are often better placed than governments to engage people and reach places affected by conflict and marginalised communities. For effective conflict prevention, it is important that the FCDO focus on mediation goes beyond formal, elite level mediation and negotiation efforts and capabilities, and promotes and facilitates efforts led by diverse people at multiple levels of conflict-affected societies. One example of this is Conciliation Resources’ work in northeast Nigeria:

In northeast Nigeria young people have been at the heart of the conflict with Boko Haram – whether as perpetrators or victims of extreme violence. Yet, they are all too often excluded from formal and traditional responses to the violence and become increasingly disengaged from society and targets for mobilisation by Boko Haram and other armed groups. Conciliation Resources has worked with local civil society organisations to set up 12 Youth Peace Platforms who work with the most vulnerable and excluded youth in communities that were under the control of Boko Haram, or that faced repeated attacks. With over 1,000 members, these physical and digital networks give young people a safe space to talk, listen and to learn with other young people who have had similar experiences. They provide an opportunity for people with different views, faiths, or ethnicities to come together and begin to overcome the deeply entrenched misconceptions they have of each other.

  1. Initiatives to shift harmful narratives: Tackling the rise in disinformation and hate speech and their role in fuelling polarisation, tension and conflict should be a focus of the government’s approach to conflict prevention. Efforts to challenge and change harmful narratives in public discourse could take different forms and involve diverse groups, particularly young people. Conciliation Resources has, for example, supported filmmakers, media organisations and journalists to explore different ways of understanding the conflict and potential for peace in Kashmir. Filmmakers from both sides of the Line of Control made a series of unique films about life in Jammu and Kashmir. The process of jointly shooting and editing the film also transformed the attitudes and relationships of those who participated in the project.
  2. Building reconciliation into conflict prevention policy and strategies: Reconciliation should form part of the government’s strategic approach to conflict. Working to address the legacy of past violence and build a mutually-acceptable vision of an alternative future is an important component of the long-term prevention of conflict. As Lord Ahmad stated in the Security Council open debate on peacebuilding and sustaining peace in November 2019, reconciliation ‘has the power not only to resolve existing conflicts, but also to prevent future violence’. The FCDO could map HMG-supported reconciliation efforts in different contexts, including OSCM priority contexts, against the objectives of different parts of the FCDO and other government departments. This would serve to highlight the relevance and positive contribution of reconciliation work to conflict strategy and establish clear ownership for policy and programming across government.
  3. Develop guidance on reconciliation: Reconciliation operates at the interface of justice and peace. It aims to transform the distribution of power, and build relationships between people (horizontally and vertically) in ways that are critical to building more stable, inclusive societies. Cross-government guidance on reconciliation could help officials navigating competing policy considerations and priorities. Guidance should highlight the risks of particular approaches and provide a steer for policy and programming decisions in different contexts.
  4. Add value to wider efforts: The FCDO, through its diplomatic networks and development partnerships, is positioned to develop any UK approach to conflict and atrocity prevention in coordination with other states and donor countries. To determine the UK’s added value and strengths, and to avoid donor competition and duplication or undermining existing conflict prevention and reconciliation initiatives, the Government could map the contributions and comparative advantages of other donor governments in the field of reconciliation, as well as the efforts driven and owned by others in given contexts. Close coordination and sharing of analysis and early warning information is necessary for effective responses. 
  5. Self-reflection on the UK’s past: The FCDO could lead reflection across government on how the UK’s past and current actions abroad and at home impact on its potential to add value to reconciliation work. The Government would need to consider its own assumptions, biases and how it is perceived in different contexts. Decisions on UK involvement and visibility in reconciliation efforts need to be conflict-sensitive, taking into account positive and negative implications for all actors. This should include an assessment of the risks of perceived new forms of (post-) colonialism.

(2) 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. Develop the relationships that translate early warning into early response: Previous work by Conciliation Resources on early warning in conjunction with Saferworld showed the importance of trusted relationships in translating analysis and early warning data into early and effective conflict prevention. Early warning is not a purely technical, data driven exercise - prevention relies firstly on those in proximity to conflict with the insights and agency to anticipate and prevent it. This requires relationships and networks to be built in advance:

The ‘Capacities for Peace’ project focused not only on the technical aspects of early warning and conflict prevention, but also on the necessary conditions for responses to be taken forward. [4] The project focused on building collaborative relationships between civil society organisations, local and national authorities and international organisations, who are in a position to respond to tensions and conflicts; and on working with local communities, who are well placed to detect and respond to early signs of violence.

  1. Long-term and adaptive engagement: Effective conflict prevention and reconciliation work requires long-term, sustained engagement. For example, inter-generational dialogue on the past, present and future requires sufficient time and space for people to engage, time which needs to be built into programming. Looking back can help communities to acknowledge, and where possible repair the harms done to victims of past violence and society at large. Looking forward allows communities to identify who might fall victim to violence in future if relationships and structural conditions do not change. It is possible and necessary for programmes to work on reconciliation before, during and after a formal peace process, including during periods of active conflict, but reconciliation opportunities and challenges will vary at different phases.[5]
  2. Support for building reconciliation into programming: Relevant advisory and programming staff in OSCM, the Open Societies and Human Rights Directorates, gender advisors, legal teams involved in legal dispute resolution, as well as relevant country posts and embassy staff should undertake training sessions on reconciliation to build a common understanding of the concepts, terminologies and practices in the field. This would cover the range of terms used, including transitional justice, dealing with the past, and transformative justice. The FCDO could also develop and issue guidance on the design of reconciliation initiatives within conflict prevention and peacebuilding programming. This should include:
    1. explicit emphasis on both horizontal and vertical relationships to advance inclusion and future focus;
    2. criteria to guide choices on reconciliation programming, looking at when to prioritise specific reconciliation initiatives in a given context;
    3. identifying guiding questions to help assess meaning, approaches and entry points to reconciliation in a given context;
    4. exploring mechanisms and actors for linking initiatives from grassroots to high-level, and for working from the ‘middle out’;
    5. using stakeholder mapping to look beyond the usual suspects for people who can play useful roles, or who need to be included, and challenge assumptions and criteria for selecting interlocutors in a context;
    6. building in regular reflection activities, adding to the evidence base; thinking about the benefits and limitations of scalability, and about potential lessons from and applicability in other contexts;

Piloting smaller scale, reflective learning reconciliation projects in a context could also help test and build evidence for programmes in other contexts.

(3) How atrocity prevention can be embedded in the work of UK Posts – for example, who should lead; what do staff need to assess and escalate when a risk is identified; what support/training should be provided to Posts; the effectiveness of current working tools available such as the Joint Analysis of Conflict and Stability (JACS).

  1. Gender and conflict-sensitive programming: UK aid programmes that focus on the prevention of conflict and atrocities need to be gender- and conflict-sensitive. Strategies should be informed by analysis of conflict dynamics and the potential for actions to exacerbate conflict. Gender-sensitive conflict analysis helps surface hidden exclusions and inequality which can fuel conflict and undermine effective peacebuilding. The FCDO has developed tools for this including the Joint Analysis of Conflict and Stability framework.[6]
  2. These largely internal exercises should be complemented by nuanced insights gained from participatory conflict analysis, which involve or are led by those closest to and with agency to affect conflict dynamics at multiple levels of society.[7] FCDO should encourage the integration of participatory analysis into programming and it should be considered a conflict prevention activity in and of itself. The FCDO should also review the Joint Analysis of Conflict and Stability tool to ensure it integrates questions which prompt thinking around inclusive and meaningful participation in reconciliation work, and capture these points in the resulting analysis and policy and programming conclusions.
  3. Adaptive analysis, programming and funding: programming, and the analysis that informs it, needs to be adaptive in order to respond to shifts and volatility in conflict dynamics and to be able to seize opportunities for peace. The modalities of FCDO funding instruments matter in this regard: funding that is projectised, short-term and results-driven is not adapted to such dynamics. Instead, funding should be longer-term, allow sufficient flexibility for local and international organisations to sustain and adapt and cover the real costs of peacebuilding, in particular the time needed for inclusive processes and the building of relationships of trust. FCDO could also explore innovations in conflict analysis, including the potential for digital analysis.[8] 
  4. Promoting learning about reconciliation tools and techniques: FCDO could promote learning on reconciliation techniques and approaches in embassies and relevant Departments with practitioners and researchers from outside government. Officials should consult openly with civil society and NGOs with relevant practical expertise to help inform and develop government policy and practice. For example, a funded community of practice on reconciliation could serve as a forum for advice on context challenges, helping to identify entry points, and advising on programme design and risks. Similar examples are the Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN), which is jointly-owned and run by the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office and the European External Action Service of the European Union.[9]
  5. Research and knowledge on reconciliation: The UK should invest in long-term research to build an evidence-based understanding of reconciliation and how it can be used in achieving stable, peaceful and inclusive societies. This could include context-specific and practice-based case studies to inform learning, to understand how best external actors can support reconciliation initiatives and to identify further opportunities to use reconciliation in support of conflict prevention. Research and evidence gathering should draw on the experience and insights of governmental and non-governmental actors and local and international researchers and practitioners.

For more information on this submission, please contact Dr Teresa Dumasy, Conciliation Resources, Director of Research Advisory and Policy,


[1] Conciliation Resources (2021), Reconciliation in focus: Approaching reconciliation in peacebuilding practice


[2] Cabinet Office (2021), ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy

[3] Women Mediators across the Commonwealth (WMC) is a network which connects women with a broad range of mediation knowledge and experience. The network advocates for the increased recognition of women mediators, and their participation in peace processes regionally and internationally.


[4] Conciliation Resources and Saferworld (2016), ‘Effective local action: from early warning to peacebuilding’

[5] Conciliation Resources (2021), Reconciliation in focus: Approaching reconciliation in peacebuilding practice’.



[7] See for example

[8] See for example: Hirblinger, A., Morrison, M., Puig Larrauri, H., ‘Digital analysis Peacemaking potential and promise’ in Conciliation Resources, ‘Pioneering peace pathways’, Accord 29 (2020)

[9] Through the CSDN practitioners and policymakers develop joint themes and have a budget to involve practitioners from beyond the global north.