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USAID, Humanity United and OpenIDEO have partnered to pursue ways to prevent mass atrocities – that is, deliberate mass violence against civilians. Examples of mass atrocities include genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape. Often the perpetrators of these crimes try to conceal their actions – barring journalists and humanitarian organisations from entering the area, blocking internet and mobile access, etc. How might we better listen and respond to the needs of of victims in these situations even though physical access may be limited? How can we help gather information from these regions, given the challenges of actually being on the ground? Let's collaborate to explore this topic and propose solutions – which might include services, platforms, tools, products or approaches – to tackle this critical yet complex issue.

Understanding the Context

Sixty years after the Holocaust and despite a global effort to prevent future atrocities, millions remain at risk. Today, 1.5 billion people are living in countries affected by violent conflict. And since 1945, 67% of mass atrocities have occurred within the context of armed conflict, which makes these areas difficult to access. In certain areas, those in vulnerable communities lack the means to alert those who could help to protect themselves, relatives or neighbours from harm. They may live in areas with no internet access or even in areas where there are no mobile phone networks. Violent perpetrators are too often aware of this vulnerability and often try to further isolate their victims – blocking journalists and humanitarian aid organisations from entering specific areas and cutting off or limiting what internet and mobile networks do exist. Without any information emerging from these hard-to-access areas, it is highly challenging to prevent mass atrocities and human rights violations.

Visibility into these regions requires reliable and trustworthy information. And though 78% of those in the developing world have access to mobile technology, some of those in communities at risk do not have such access or may lack awareness of this and other available technologies. In addition, authorities blacking out communications can contribute to a chronic lack of information which makes it difficult to hold perpetrators accountable. Furthermore, many at-risk people and potential witnesses may not know how to contact those who can help – e.g. humanitarian groups, journalists, other governments, and intergovernmental organisations like the UN – when they need protection or may not trust them to help. Finally, in some situations, the problem is not the lack of information but an overwhelming deluge of information (on Twitter, YouTube and other social media channels), which makes it equally difficult to verify what is happening, especially as perpetrators themselves often try to spread misinformation.

The Opportunity

Technology advances from mobile phones to satellite imagery to social networks have led to the advent of many new tools and approaches to help monitor hard-to-access regions of the world. Our ability to connect globally presents the opportunity for new creative ways to help prevent atrocities.

  • How might we help those in remote areas inform the world that they or others around them are in danger?
  • How might we collectively design tools that offer transparency into areas of armed conflict?
  • How might we gather & verify information in these places to help prevent the violent actions from taking place, or to help respond to ongoing violence?
  • How might we explore local scenarios to create solutions applicable to specific situations?
  • How might we build upon local insights to propose solutions for parallel contexts?

Following the selection of winning ideas, Humanity United and USAID will work together to convene key voices, experts and practitioners on atrocity prevention to meet with winners and selected challenge contributors in order to further develop innovations and potentially help pilot bring these ideas in specific country contexts.

Meet the Expert Panel

Our expert panel will help to inform the challenge and ultimately, along with your activity in the challenge, will help us strengthen ideas as they evolve. Together, we’re keen to explore issues like:
  • How well does this gather and verify information from hard to access areas to help prevent atrocities? How suitable is it for various conditions such as lack of internet or mobile access?
  • How affordable and simple is it to begin piloting this? Has it already begun to be prototyped?
  • How easy is it to begin using this? Is training required?
  • How scalable is this across populations and regions?

About the Sponsors

The United States Agency for International Development is an independent agency that provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world.

Humanity United is a foundation dedicated to building peace and advancing human freedom. We lead, support, and collaborate with a broad network of efforts, ideas, and organisations that share our vision of a world free of conflict and injustice.

Reminder About Ideas on OpenIDEO

Please remember that OpenIDEO is an open platform and your contributions will be in the public domain. For more information check out the Guiding Principles for this challenge.

Community Cross-Pollinator

 Meena Kadri

This challenge is now over.
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