Research Briefs

Research briefs have one of two main goals. First, an author can summarize the policy implications of their forthcoming or published article or book. Second, an author can summarize existing research on a certain topic with an emphasis on emerging insights. Note also that no matter the goal, the research briefs are not meant to provide actual policy recommendations unless they are based on research that includes policy recommendations.

White Genocide: Fear and Extremism in New Jersey

Veenit Singh & Alex Hinton

While many people think of white power extremism as something that exists in rural areas and in the South, it has a long history throughout the United States, including in New Jersey and the Tri-State area. Indeed, people and groups from New Jersey participated in the 2017 Charlottesville demonstration and in the 2021 Capitol Insurrection. At a time when polarization in the U.S. remains high and a surprisingly large number of people believe in the reality of white replacement – the idea the white demographic decline, sometimes also referred as “the great replacement” and “white genocide,” is being driven by nefarious, and often Jewish, actors – is real, it is critical to understand extremism in such less studied places like New Jersey. The Patriot Front, New Jersey European Heritage Association, and White Lives Matter are among the groups actively espousing replacement and other white power hate speech in New Jersey. Anti-government, militia, and far-right groups like the Proud Boys also remain active and take up these issues.

Political Instability and Continual Violence in the DRC

Naupess K. Kibiswa

The provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have witnessed incalculable violence and mass atrocities since 1996 following the invasion by Rwandan forces along with their Ugandan and Burundian allies. Since then, they wage war in the DRC using proxy militia groups making the instability chronic in those provinces. The violence worsened since 2021 due in large part to the incessant attacks by the Rwandan-backed Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), a group that perpetrates many crimes against humanity. Civilian populations bear the brunt of the continual violence, which claims the lives of millions of civilians, displaces millions of others, destroy peoples’ property, and sustains the plundering of the DRC’s natural resources, according to reports by United Nations Group of Experts (UNGoE). The UN must acknowledge the genocides going on there and cooperate with the DRC to bring perpetrators to justice.

Why We Shouldn’t Focus on Men with Guns to Stop the War in Sudan

Linda S. Bishai

On April 15, 2023, Sudan’s transition to democracy was derailed by an all-out clash of the two armies, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the former Janjaweed militia now known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), that had been nominal partners in the military junta ruling the country. International negotiators and organizations, including the United States alongside the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia (the “Quad”), had taken the generals at their word during months of talks leading up to a signed framework agreement that they would hand over the government to civilian leaders. This error in judgment comes at the expense of millions of Sudanese who are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Recent efforts by the US and Saudis to negotiate a cease-fire and commitments to observe the laws of war were immediately disregarded by fighting forces in Sudan. Current international responses consist of calls for further negotiations between warring parties and sanctions. The well-organized pro-democracy and civilian organizations who have been responding to the current conflict with efforts to distribute food, water, and other humanitarian aid have not been invited to the negotiating table. This is a very serious mistake, and it reflects standard but counterproductive practice to negotiate peace with the belligerents causing the war rather than the civilians who can build the peace. Sudanese democratic groups have been non-violent, persistent, and responsive to the needs of their communities. They legitimately represent the interests of many Sudanese and should be part of any discussions about the country’s future.

Why Do People Participate in Genocide?

Timothy Williams

Why do people participate in genocide? They are motivated by group dynamics within the perpetrator ingroup, ideological or emotional reactions to the victim outgroup, as well as opportunistic factors. These motivations are supported by psychological and ideological factors that make participation easier, and the genocidal context within which individuals are acting impacts whether perpetration is even considered a legitimate and thinkable form of action. My book The Complexity of Evil: Genocide and Perpetration (Rutgers University Press, 2021) discusses these factors and develops a model to explain participation in genocide. The book pulls from the interdisciplinary literature and research on various cases, as well as my own fieldwork with former Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to develop a comprehensive model of perpetrator motivations. This policy brief highlights main arguments from the book and the broader literature on this important question, distilling key implications for policymakers and practitioners.

The Trouble with Sportswashing

Carrie Booth Walling & Stacey M. Mitchell

The 2022 Soccer World Cup in Qatar has been criticized as another example of “sportswashing,” a practice that has also been used by countries such as Russia and China. Sportswashing involves the use of sport as a public relations tool to distract attention from a country’s poor human rights record. Although Qatar’s human rights transgressions do not reach the same level as those of China or Russia, it is undeniable that the use of sporting events by any country to lessen the seriousness of its human rights abuses is a crucial matter that warrants worldwide attention, as well as a reevaluation of how worldwide sporting events are awarded to countries. Sponsoring organizations must look beyond the goals of neutrality and maintaining harmonious relations with host governments and place the protection of human rights at the forefront with their decision-making.

Using Economic Sanctions to Prevent Mass Atrocities

George A. Lopez & Beatrix Geaghan-Breiner

In theory, the punishing denial of resources and condemnation that international sanctions impose on targeted leaders should thwart their ability to kill their citizens. But history shows sanctions are often ‘too little, too late’ to prevent or to halt mass atrocities. The few, partial successes occur when early warning indicators of mass atrocities are recognized, lead to diverse, swift, and properly targeted sanctions, and these combine with other tools of a multifaceted strategy to end the killings.

Russia’s Political Misuse of the term Genocide as Pretext for Invading Ukraine

Alex Hinton & Sara E. Brown

The term genocide has been misused by political actors seeking to promote their agendas, sometimes at the expense of human lives. Russia is now doing so to justify its 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Specifically, Russia alleges that Ukraine is committing genocide against Russian speakers in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and that military action is required to stop it. This policy brief examines Russia’s contention and finds that it is baseless. Further, the brief situates Russia’s political misappropriation of “genocide” in the context of historical misuse of the term. This pattern of misuse illustrates how, despite all the good that it does, the term genocide is double-edged and, ironically, can be used to mask state crimes. This is exactly what is happening in Ukraine where, in the name of genocide prevention and human suffering, Russia has created a humanitarian crisis, violated international law, and, quite likely, committed atrocity crimes.

Mass Atrocity Triggers

Angela Chesler & Ernesto Verdeja

This brief analyzes events that can “trigger” mass atrocities. Although we know a great deal about the conditions that elevate the risk of atrocities, understanding the timing of atrocity onset is a crucial component of any prevention strategy. The brief discusses some general conceptual issues around triggers, presents the most common types of trigger events, and argues for their systematic integration into early warning models, while also noting limitations for their use in atrocity forecasting.

The Uyghur Tribunal Judgement

Stacey M. Mitchell & Carrie Booth Walling

Created in the United Kingdom at the request of the World Uyghur Congress, the​ ​People’s Uyghur Tribunal investigated alleged crimes, including genocide, perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) against Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang since 2016. On December 9, 2021, it rendered a judgment against the PRC for torture, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The judgment shines a light on the brutal conditions of incarceration and processes of indoctrination perpetrated by the Chinese government against minority Muslim groups to eradicate their identity, language, culture, and religion. The Tribunal’s brief describes a genocide by attrition and demonstrates how powerful countries use the guise of national security to evade​ ​responsibility for their perpetration of systematic and widespread crimes against marginalized populations within their borders. The Tribunal’s judgment highlights that genocide refers to the social destruction of groups and not only their physical annihilation. States and international organizations should take steps to stop the atrocity crimes underway in Xinjiang and punish their perpetrators.

The Implications of Genocide Designations

Carrie Booth Walling

Definitions matter in politics. They help policymakers understand causes of political problems, contextualize their dynamics, and identify appropriate policy responses. The Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin created the term genocide in 1944 to describe a horrendous crime that had no name. Lemkin argued that the intentional destruction of groups by people with power had to be named before it could be prevented, stopped, or punished through law or policy. Research by contemporary policy experts like Deborah Stone, demonstrate there is a direct connection between how a political problem gets defined by decision-makers and the policy options that follow. Carrie Walling’s research on United Nations Security Council responses to mass atrocity suggests that how decision- makers characterize the causes and possible solutions of mass violence shape the Council’s willingness to respond to it. Yet naming a situation genocide alone does not substitute for effective policy response. And debates about whether mass atrocity crimes meet the legal definition of genocide can detract from substantive policy debate about how to stop the killing. Whenever populations are at risk of atrocity, governments and multilateral organizations should quickly make an atrocity crime designation and pursue robust preventive and responsive action to save lives. When appropriate, genocide designations can follow.

After Genocide: Memory and Reconciliation in Rwanda

Nicole Fox

In the wake of unthinkable atrocities, how do communities move forward without forgetting the past? Simply remembering the past can, in the shadow of mass death and other abuses, be retraumatizing. So how can such momentous events be memorialized in a way that is productive and even healing for survivors? Nicole Fox’s 2021 book After Genocide: Memory and Reconciliation in Rwanda (University of Wisconsin Press) investigates such questions through extensive interviews with Rwandan survivors decades after the genocide ended. Through qualitative research at national memorial sites throughout Rwanda, After Genocide reveals the relationship survivors have to memorial spaces and uncovers those voices silenced by the dominant narrative—arguing that the erasure of such stories is an act of violence itself.

Tigrayan Civilians and Oromo Detainees in Areas Under Ethiopian Government Control​

Bridget Conley, Alex de Waal, Deborah Mayersen, and Hollie Nyseth Brehm

The war between the Ethiopian government, its allied militias, and the Eritrean military against Tigrayan armed​ ​forces is now entering a new, extremely dangerous phase that presents a high risk of mass atrocity. As Tigrayan forces​ ​approach Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian government has begun taking action that raises alarms​ ​about potential mass atrocities in and around the city. Specifically, the Ethiopian government has escalated hate​ ​speech against Tigrayans, mobilized neighborhood militias to fight the war, and arbitrarily arrested at least 30,000​ ​Tigrayan civilians in Addis Ababa. These civilians—in addition to Tigrayan soldiers held in​ ​detention centers since​ ​the war began in November 2020, imprisoned Oromo political leaders, and Oromo civilians who refuse to join militias—are all at heightened risk of atrocities. Additionally, there are reports of ongoing massacres of Tigrayans who live in​ ​Western Tigray, which is still under government control. We call for the United Nations, the African Union, and all​ ​states that are parties to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to fulfill​ ​their obligation to act now by 1) Demanding all armed actors in Ethiopia abide by their obligations to​ ​protect​ ​civilians under international law; 2) Demanding an immediate end to hate speech, incitement to violence, and​ i​​nflammatory public statements, as well as the release of detainees; and 3) Imposing an arms embargo and calling out​ ​arms suppliers as potentially at risk of being accomplices to the crime of genocide.

Human-Induced Famine in Tigray: A Potential Act of Genocide​

Deborah Mayersen

Since the fighting erupted in Tigray in November 2020, there have been serious concerns regarding the commission of mass atrocities. The UN Human Rights Office, senior UN officials and NGOs such as Amnesty International have identified that war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing may have occurred or be underway. There have been credible arguments that the situation may comprise genocide. In late June, the US State Department advised that an assessment as to the appropriate term/s to describe the atrocities was well advanced, but no determination has yet been made public. Since then, however, the crisis has taken a dramatic and deadly turn. The Ethiopian government’s blockade of Tigray has prevented most humanitarian aid from reaching the region. Tigray was already experiencing famine as a direct result of the conflict, and it is now estimated that one person is dying of starvation every two minutes there. Calls by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and other senior UN officials to allow humanitarian access have been disregarded. There is a strong prima facie case that this blockade constitutes an act of genocide. The UN, AU, US and other relevant stakeholders should intensely focus on ensuring the Ethiopian government ends the blockade and allows immediate and unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray, in accordance with international humanitarian law and independent of any other developments with respect to the conflict.

The Ongoing Genocide of South America’s Guarani-Kaiowa​

Antonio Augusto Rossotto Loris

The ongoing genocide of the Guarani-Kaiowa indigenous people demonstrates a disconcerting face of export-oriented agribusiness production in the center of South America. Although it often fails to attract the same headlines as terrorism, climate change or religious fundamentalism, indigenous genocide remains a recurrent and devastating problem especially in mining and agribusiness frontiers. The opening of new economic frontiers typically involves a combination of greed, power and intolerance that, depending on the circumstances, can lead to the annihilation of the native population. Important to emphasize that the occurrence of an indigenous genocide, as in relation to frontier-making, is independent of the deliberate intention or explicit purpose to eliminate indigenous communities. Indigenous genocides presume a brutal mechanism of ‘othering’ through arbitrary ethnic and social references that exclude and penalize those considered to be inferior. Consequently, as much as addressing the causes of and responsibilities for indigenous genocides, it is necessary to investigate its genesis and space-time junctures.

What Can We Learn from Making a Forgotten Massacre in Budapest in 1944 Visible?

Andrea Pető

On October 15, 1944, Piroska Dely led a paramilitary unit to kill and rob Jewish inhabitants of Csengery 64 in Budapest. Although the massacre was memorialized by the first private Holocaust memorial erected in Budapest on October 15, 1945, little work has been done to create a full accounting of the incident, in particular, a gendered one. The stories of Piroska Dely and the other female participants in the massacre have been largely forgotten. Much of this is attributable to the way their prosecutions were handled by the people’s tribunal of Hungary following World War II. In The Forgotten Massacre: Budapest 1944 (DeGruyter, 2021), Andrea Pető uncovers the gripping history surrounding the violence that unfolded in Csengery 64. By examining the contextual factors that influenced the shaping of the history of this event, Pető contributes to the creation of a much-needed gendered explanation about a controversial segment of Hungary’s past. In so doing, she expands our comprehension of the conditions that continue to impact Hungary’s understanding of its past.

Communal Self-Protection during Genocide

Deborah Mayersen

In “‘Is Help Coming?’ Communal Self-Protection During Genocide,” Deborah Mayersen examines whether communal self-protection offers a viable strategy for vulnerable groups attempting to mitigate the impact of genocide. Communal self-protection is defined here as cooperative communal activities undertaken by civilians to avoid or mitigate genocidal oppression. Despite recent initiatives in atrocity prevention, including the Responsibility to Protect principle, vulnerable groups continue to experience genocide. Some, such as the Yazidis in Iraq in 2014, have attempted to mitigate the impact of genocide through self-protection strategies. Yet communal self-protection is only feasible as a strategy in limited circumstances. Even in a best-case scenario, attempts at self-protection can only offer a temporary and highly precarious reprieve from genocide. Ultimately, groups attempting self-protection are reliant upon external rescue for survival, which may or may not be forthcoming. Therefore, communal self-protection should not be considered as a viable strategy to mitigate the impact of genocide in any circumstances. This is an important consideration for policymakers and practitioners responding to genocide, or the threat of its imminent onset.

Rethinking Peace Processes: Promoting Engendered, Sustainable Peace and Security

Stacey M. Mitchell and Úrsula Oswald-Spring

In “A New Paradigm: Engendered-Sustainable Peace and Security,” Úrsula Oswald Spring and Stacey M. Mitchell propose a new way in which to conceive of peacebuilding, different from the conceptions of peacebuilding proposed by policymakers and scholars influenced by Realism, Liberalism, Constructivism, Cosmopolitanism, and even Feminism. From a policymaking perspective, thinking of peacebuilding through the lens of a holistic engendered, sustainable peace and security (ESPS) improves on extant paradigms that approach peace largely as a matter of institutional change, norm revision, the absence of conflict, and/or neoliberal economic reforms, and all through a worldview created and dominated by men. By shifting the focus towards addressing the larger, systemic causes of violence and inequality, an ESPS provides the framework for a gender-egalitarian positive peace.

Research Brief Editorial Board

Adam Henry
Kristina Hook
Deborah Mayersen
Stacey M. Mitchell
Emily Sample
Ernesto Verdeja
Eva Willems