Public Health, Mental Health and Mass Atrocity Prevention Workshop (New York, 9-10 June 2019)

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On 9 – 10 June 2019, GSDM associate Dr Ellie Smith attended the “Public Health, Mental Health and Mass Atrocity Prevention” workshop. The event, which was held in New York, was co-hosted by the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights and the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together a group of expert practitioners and academics with particular experience of working with conflict and trauma in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, public health, health systems and law, in order to explore the role of public and mental health strategies and approaches in mass atrocity prevention. In addition to representing a wide variety of professional and intellectual fields, participants were drawn from around the world, reflecting a wide and diverse expertise within the area.

The event was designed to encourage the exchange of ideas between intellectual fields and to begin to build a body of knowledge on the subject, to include an edited volume and the identification of specific practice-related initiatives designed to deliver and operationalise the findings within a broad range of contexts.

Taking the notion “there can be no peace without justice” as her starting point, Dr Smith considered, for the purpose of the workshop, what the notion of “justice” meant for victims of international crimes. Drawing on primary psychological evidence, she sought to identify the parameters of survivor justice, and by reference to psychologic al research methods, advanced a means by which a sense of justice in victims might be measured, and hence the efficacy of transitional justice mechanisms evaluated from a victims’ justice perspective.

Participants at the workshop also explored the meaning of concepts including “mass atrocity”, “public health” and “mental health” from their respective fields with a view to identifying areas of both difference and divergence and so to enable consistent application in practice. Specific consideration was also given to the identification of potential risk factors or triggers for the perpetration of mass atrocities, and the recognition of points for potential interventions to avert atrocity perpetration.

The role of poor mental health was considered in relation to the initiation of violence and conflict, including possible reescalation of violence in the aftermath of conflict. Multiple strategies of reframing conflict and trauma were also discussed, including public health and mental health approaches to forgiveness, peacebuilding and reconciliation.

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