Atrocity Alert No. 305: Special Issue on Global Displacement and Mass Atrocities – World

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication from the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect that highlights situations where populations are at risk of, or experiencing, mass outrage.


On Monday, June 20, the international community marked World Refugee Day at a time when a record 100 million people have been displaced by persecution, conflict, violence and human rights abuses. The unprecedented number of people forcibly displaced reflects not only the escalation of conflicts with perpetrators targeting civilians, but also the persistence of crises that prevent displaced people from returning home. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), global food insecurity, the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine and protracted as well as new conflicts and crises are the main causes of this “dramatic milestone”.

The commission of atrocities not only has a severe impact on civilian populations, but often leads to mass displacement of civilians. At the end of 2021, more than 69 percent of the refugees came from just five conflict countries – Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar (Burma) – where various state actors and/or non-state armed groups have committed crimes against humanity or war crimes. Intensification of violence over the Central Sahel – Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – and ongoing inter-communal conflicts and violence following the October 2021 military coup Sudan continue to force hundreds of thousands of people to flee.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – which has been marked by possible war crimes and crimes against humanity – has caused the fastest growing and one of the largest displacement crises in decades, with more than 14 million displaced as of February 24. In just four months of violence, more people have been forcibly displaced by the conflict in Ukraine than are estimated to have fled during the 11-year conflict in Syria.


Three days before World Refugee Day, the international community celebrated World Day to Combat Desertification and Droughts. Many of the conflicts that lead to mass displacement and atrocities are exacerbated by the devastating effects of climate change, such as desertification and extreme weather events, including severe floods and droughts. The adverse impacts of climate change have become a significant driver of displacement and have been recognized as a “threat multiplier” for conflict and mass atrocities due to their potential to exacerbate existing threats. Climate extremes increase the risk of food and water shortages, sometimes leading to loss of livelihoods and increased competition for resources, which can trigger violence.

Severe drought – coupled with rising food costs due to ongoing conflict in Ukraine – is driving resource scarcity and increasing the risk of inter-communal conflict in the Horn of Africa. In the absence of a fourth straight rainy season, over a million people in the region have been uprooted in search of food, water and grazing land for their livestock, and millions are at risk of starvation. Millions of livestock have already died, threatening the livelihoods of herders and fueling community tensions as desperation mounts.

in the Somaliadecades of recurring conflict and instability have compounded climate-related vulnerabilities. More than 200,000 people are suffering from catastrophic hunger, while around 800,000 Somalis – mostly women and children – have been displaced. In May 2022 alone, UNHCR recorded more than 100,000 new internal displacements due to drought, lack of livelihoods or conflict and insecurity. The displaced are at increased risk of violence and robbery, including sexual and gender-based violence, by armed extremist groups such as al-Shabaab.

In the neighbor Ethiopia, two food emergencies have urgently needed 25.9 million people. In the northern regions of Tigray, Amhara and Afar, conflict and the commission of probable war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing have led to man-made famines. All parties to the conflict have targeted humanitarian convoys and storage facilities, destroyed farmland, killed livestock and targeted civilian infrastructure, including water systems.

Meanwhile, another 22 million people are at risk of starvation due to drought in Sudan and South Sudan, where recurrent conflicts, atrocities and political crises have made populations increasingly vulnerable to climate-related risks. South Sudan is facing its “hungriest year” since independence in 2011, with more than 70 percent of the population dependent on food aid, according to the World Food Program.

Sarah Hunter, Communications and Digital Media Officer at the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, said: “Urgently addressing the aftermath of another historic drought in the Horn is of paramount importance to prevent countless deaths. But help is not a long-term solution. To protect populations from atrocities and climate vulnerability, the international community must support holistic peacebuilding and political processes that lead to sustainable peace and empower populations to address environmental factors and build resilience to climate change.”


Today, one in 78 people worldwide is a victim of forced displacement. Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, stressed: “The numbers have increased every year for the past decade. Either the international community will come together to take action to address this human tragedy, resolve conflicts and find lasting solutions, or this terrible trend will continue.”

World Refugee Day should serve as a reminder that humanitarian assistance and refugee resettlement are no substitute for investing in conflict prevention and policies that build a state’s ability to prevent atrocities and protracted conflicts before they occur. Savita Pawnday, Executive Director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, said: “Our response to the unprecedented displacement crisis must be based on non-discrimination and international refugee law, including the principle of non-refoulement. The international community must step up collective action to better protect vulnerable populations and find solutions that will allow the safe, voluntary return of all displaced persons to their places of origin. When implementing conflict-sensitive strategies to combat the consequences of climate change, politicians must take the risk of atrocities into account in order to protect the population holistically.”

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