Preventing Atrocity Stakeholder Workshop

Preventing Atrocity: Reasons to Engage with the Religion and Ethics of the Other

Stakeholder Workshop at the University of Edinburgh

June 16-17, 2014

A full report will be published in the near future.

Concept Note

This workshop aims to deal with key issues and opportunities arising for civilian protection programming in situations where conflict is associated with religion or with differences over religion and secularism. The encounter and exchange between academics and practitioners will be central to the event: it seeks to bring together decision-makers, educators working in security forces and specialists from across different academic disciplines.

Central Questions 

Religion is a salient force in many of today’s conflicts. In very different ways, it has shaped the approaches taken to military ethics of state and non-state combatants, of civilian populations, and of public voices prominent in debate about humanitarian and peacebuilding needs. This influence may be felt in subtle forms: religious legacies which shape notions of secular, universal or pragmatic ethics – as was acknowledged by the ICISS in generating the ‘responsibility to protect’ framework – or now-secular rituals through which legitimate action is conceived. The consequences for civilian protection of engaging with potentially divisive approaches involving religion are controversial and little understood, and call for a dialogue about responsible engagement between divergent parties, scholars and the range of communities involved. This stakeholder workshop is designed to investigate how a dialogue involving multiple stakeholders can advance options for credible and serious study and action.

  • What do humanitarian and human rights NGOs need to do in order to address the impact of religious actors and communities on their work? When compromises are demanded in exchange for humanitarian access, how may the religious components at stake best be dealt with?
  • How do militaries and governments respond to the impact of religious and post-religious division in embarking upon or engaged with civilian protection in the context of humanitarian and peacebuilding missions?
  • To what extent is civilian protection practice marked by conflicts over religion or secularism?
  • How do norms justified in terms of interreligious or religious-secular conflict affect breaches of humanitarian norms, and how do these norms impact on efforts to promote the protection of civilians?

Organisers: the Project on Religion and Ethics in the Making of War and Peace ( and the Just World Institute ( at the University of Edinburgh

This event is sponsored by the Political Studies Association of the UK and the British International Studies Association Working Group on Religion, Security and International Affairs. Co-sponsors from the University of Edinburgh include: the College of Humanities and Social Science, the Global Justice Academy, the Al Waleed Centre, the CTPI.


To engage practitioners and academics in a common effort to identify key issues and opportunities for civilian protection programming arising in situations where conflict is associated with religion or with differences over religion and secularism.

To reinvigorate the conceptual and political debate on preventing atrocities by linking practitioner insights with academic discussions.

To network practitioners and academics across disciplines and professions with an interest in exploring and discussing the practical and conceptual issues at stake.

To develop a rudimentary knowledge base and network between interlocutors which could serve as a framework for further discussion and collaborative research

To produce a report following the event for wide circulation, to serve as the beginning of further discussion of the practical challenges facing actors in religiously-charged situations who are promoting the norms associated with civilian protection.


Session 1 – What is at stake in invoking religious perspectives on civilian protection and humanitarian interventions?

Introductory intervention: Muhamed Jusic, journalist, social activist, prominent figure in the Bosnian Islamic community, genocide survivor.

Session 2 – What is at stake for humanitarian actors working with state and non-state combatant forces?

Introductory intervention: Ronald Ofteringer, ICRC, responsible for coordinating global work with regard to dialogue with Islamist groups, community and religious leaders, academics and others.

Session 3 – What is at stake for human rights work with state and non-state combatant forces?

Introductory intervention: Joe Stork, HRW Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division, author of a report on engaging non-state forces with civilian protection responsibilities under international law.

Session 4 – What is at stake for militaries in designing civilian protection in religiously-sensitive contexts?

Introductory intervention: Imam Asim Hafiz, Muslim Chaplain to the UK Armed Forces

Session 5 – What is at stake in designing humanitarian interventions in religiously-sensitive contexts? Diplomatic challenges

Introductory intervention: Gillian Kitley, UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect

Session 6 – How do religious factors influence the approach of development agencies to civilian crises?

Introductory intervention: Mike Battcock, DfID

Session 7 – Agendas for future work



Lunch and refreshments will be provided for all invited participants.

Chatham House rules will be applied to facilitate discussions.


  • International specialists working on civilian protection through diverse lenses, from humanitarian and human rights organisations, to diplomats, journalists and military ethics specialists
  • Academics from across the UK and from across academic disciplines and area specialisms

Topics for discussion to include:

  • The impact of local religious and political sensitivities on civilian protection interventions
  • Approaches taken within militaries and non-state armed groups to religion, military ethics and humanitarian law/law of armed conflict
  • The impact of religion on engagement between armed forces, local populations and humanitarian and human rights defenders, from education and awareness raising to building supporting communities and effecting practical interventions
  • Religious and non-religious influences on the diplomacy surrounding humanitarian interventions
  • Religious and non-religious influences on military ethics formation
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