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Appreciating the dark lessons of history without being responsive to the future world violates the memory of the past. Thus, with profound compassion for the victims of genocide and other mass atrocities, we pursue our work with scholarly rigor, passion and commitment.”

—Sheri P. Rosenberg, Founding Faculty Director, CLIHHR and the
Benjamin B. Ferencz Human Rights and Atrocity Prevention Clinic


The Atrocity Prevention Legal Training (APLT) Project is part of the Cardozo Law Institute on Holocaust and Human Rights (CLIHHR) at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.  The Project is directed by Jocelyn Getgen Kestenbaum and supported by CLIHHR’s Program Coordinator, Ali Cain.

Atrocity prevention recognizes that serious human rights abuses can lead to mass atrocity crimes, which are processes with many interconnected, circuitous, and often intentional measures, along causal pathways, which include potential mitigation points. Thus, the APLT Project:

  • Works to improve an understanding of the legal causes of political, social and economic instability and conflict, which increase the probability of authoritarianism in governance, structural violence, and other widespread human rights violations. 
  • Supports the development of law students’ critical thinking and practical skills by mainstreaming an atrocity prevention lens in legal education to identify and analyze sources of structural discrimination. 
  • Strengthens lawyers’ abilities to recognize identity-based discrimination; to see and confront violence when they encounter it in their professional lives; and to prevent unwitting complicity in abuse and misuse of power.


The Atrocity Prevention Legal Training (APLT) Project develops teaching modules for law school faculty to incorporate into their course syllabi. The modules focus on cases and doctrines regularly taught but reorient discussion through an atrocity prevention (AP) lens. The AP lens has four intersecting and overlapping facets to identify sources of escalating identity-based violence that undermine civil/human rights and the rule of law: (1) context history, (2) governance, (3) social fragmentation, and (4) economic conditions.

The APLT Project identifies the way the law and the legal profession can perpetuate and sometimes generate structural discrimination.

Identity-based polarization is a core factor that can lead society down a path toward mass atrocity. When manipulated, or willfully ignored by those with power, such polarization can move along a pathway of escalating human rights violations and group-based violence, toward atrocities, such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Project contributes to the understanding that atrocities are a series of processes, not single catastrophic events.

Recognizing mass atrocity as the product of intentional measures on a continuum creates opportunities for earlier and more effective legal intervention. By scrutinizing the roots and triggers that may lead to violence, lawyers can better anticipate and address the causes of atrocities and prevent unwitting complicity in the abuse and misuse of power. Incidents are less likely to become ordinary, and people will be less likely to become inured to incremental acts of violence. 

The APLT Project concentrates on domestic law and legal practice. Identity-based polarization is far more common than are atrocity crimes. The legal profession is self-regulating, and lawyers often play critical roles in preventing, mitigating, or even enabling identity-based polarization—as officials and professionals in government, and inter-governmental capacities; as judges and litigators in courts at all levels; as defenders of individual and group rights; as corporate counsel and executives; as educators and supervisors.  By applying an AP lens to analyze the historical, political and socio-economic context of early legal doctrine, and courts’ reasoning in upholding laws that may seem to contribute to social fragmentation, law students may critically consider current laws and doctrines.  Lawyers can influence the dynamics of structural discrimination, group-based polarization and violence within the contexts in which they operate. 


The APLT Project’s teaching modules are designed with an Atrocity Prevention lens, examining sources of escalating violence and social instability that permeate the domestic legal system and practice. To identify and analyze such sources, the atrocity prevention lens applies four intersecting and overlapping facets*: (1) context history; (2) governance; (3) social fragmentation; and (4) economic conditions. Each module approaches its topic(s) with that framework, interrogating lines of continuity from historical to present-day cases, to understand why and in what ways the past influences present legal doctrine. 
  * Adapted from James Waller, CONFRONTING EVIL: ENGAGING OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO PREVENT GENOCIDE, p. 150-151, Oxford University Press (2016).

The first facet of the AP lens, Conflict History, is characterized by long-term, slow-moving processes, measures, conditions, structures; history of identity-related tensions; prior genocides or politicides; past cultural trauma; legacy of vengeance or group grievance; institutionalized by legal means, habituation, political or military force
  • The ways that a country’s conflict history is remembered, taught, processed, understood are indicators of risk factors and preconditions for societal instability and mass violence.
  • Case law facilitates or obstructs impartial narratives in conflict history.  
  • The recording of human rights violations, and the way in which it is done, often affects the public’s perception of a conflict
 Regime type; state legitimacy (deficit); rule of law; strength or weakness of state structures; identity-based polar factionalism; systematic state-led and structural discrimination.
  • States with a lower degree of democratization have fewer institutional constraints on executive power, thus leaving power holders unaccountable for their decision-making and leading to further erosion of trust in public institutions
  • Discrimination against a minority group can include removal of civil liberties, restricting educational access, arbitrary detention or imprisonment, torture as state policy and so on.
  • The degree to which the state follows the rule of law is a clear indicator of the relative strength or weakness of its state structures.
  • Political exploitation of exclusionary ideologies - often nationalistic and based on the supremacy of a particular identity, which compromises legitimate and effective governance.
Identity-based social divisions; demographic pressures; unequal access to opportunity, and to basic goods and services (e.g., health, education, water, sanitation, communications and infrastructure); gender inequality; political instability; reverse victimhood; demonization of “others.”
  • Social identify manipulated by power holders to create or deepen societal divisions and advance their own partisan interests.
  • Domestic gender inequality is correlated with a state’s greater use of violent military solutions to resolve international disputes.
  • Internal or external threats to a state’s authority or legitimacy that can intensify social fragmentation.
Discriminatory and unequal economic development and economic distribution; lack of macroeconomic stability; economic deterioration; informal economies and black market.
  • Opportunity tied to socio-economic status and other intersecting identity factors.
  • The allocation of risks and rewards, as well as how these decisions are being made, can intensify economic grievances against groups.
  • Those that benefit from an economic risk will be better off than those who bear the burden.
  • Who chooses/participates in the creation of law structuring and governing the [social] organization/[economic] entity will impact distribution.
  • Opportunity costs and whether they are equal for all people can lead to “othering” and heighten discrimination.


 The first unit of modules is on U.S. Constitutional Due Process and Immigration Law and will be published soon.

Ali Cain, Program Coordinator
55 Fifth Avenue, Room 907
New York, New York 10003