The Countries Most at Risk of Genocide

The Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, a think tank connected to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, has created a tool called the Early Warning Project that aims to forecast the risk of state-sanctioned mass killings around the world. The following map displays the countries with the greatest probability of succumbing to genocide.

Courtesy of Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum / Washington Post

Most of the countries at risk of government-sponsored murder are in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The ten most troubling hot spots identified by the center are as follows:

  1. Myanmar
  2. Nigeria
  3. Sudan
  4. Egypt
  5. Central African Republic
  6. South Sudan
  7. Democratic Republic of Congo
  8. Afghanistan
  9. Pakistan
  10. Yemen

Note that most of these countries are either in a state of war, or are undergoing several civil and interethnic strife; usually, it is a dangerous combination of the two, made all the more risky by the presence of vulnerable and historically-maligned minority groups.

The findings are based on a composite of models that factor in various indicators and conditions — such as previous incidents of mass killings, authoritarian government, and exclusionary ideology — that identify signs of a looming genocide. This statistical assessment is combined with an “opinion pool”, which consists of crowd-sourced surveys of regional experts. You can learn more about the methodologies here.

This system is intended to be used by scholars, advocates, policymakers, and anyone else with a stake in preventing this scourge from resurfacing once more. Even so, the Simon-Skjodt Center is careful about the applications of this unique tool:

The Early Warning Project provides an assessment of the risks for potential mass atrocities. Our early warning system does not focus specifically on genocide, nor do we claim to be able to anticipate exactly when and where crises will occur. Instead, our system is designed to assess countries’ risks for onsets of mass killing, some of which could evolve into genocides.

The distinction between mass killing and genocide is a legalistic one: in practice, they are both the same, but a mass killing is labeled a genocide only when it meets special criteria laid out in international law — namely by the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines genocide as an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. This can range from murdering the targeted group, to forcing them out of a certain area.

The project defines a mass killing as occurring “when the deliberate actions of state agents, or other groups acting at their behest, result in the deaths of at least 1,000 noncombatant civilians in a relatively short period of time, usually a year or less.” So while a genocide is a very specific kind of mass killing, it will most likely occur in areas where large numbers of people are being targeted by the state. (The center acknowledges that while many non-state actors also engage in this war crime, the dearth of historical data on which to base a predictive model makes it harder to assess this particular risk; this goes to show how the act of genocide nearly always relied on the actions or complicity of the state.)

Whatever its shortcomings or limitations, the Early Warning Project is a sadly necessary tool in the 21st century, and one that should be heeded very seriously.

Map courtesy of The Washington Post

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