Profiles in Prevention

Dismas Nkunda


Dismas Nkunda is a longtime leader in Ugandan civil society and the Founder and Executive Director of Atrocities Watch Africa. Mr. Nkunda holds a Master of Arts degree in Humanitarian Assistance from Tufts University and has previously worked as a Program Officer for Africa Humanitarian Action in Uganda in addition to his career as a  journalist covering conflicts in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. Mr. Nkunda  features frequently as an instructor at AIPR activities and programs on the African continent and spoke at AIPR’s 2013 Alumni meeting in Arusha, Tanzania.

What actions and/or policies do you feel are the most effective in the long-term prevention of mass atrocities?

Early warning and early interventions are my preferred mode of long-term prevention. There must be a certain level to which we can predict and intervene instead of the usual knee-jerk reaction to commission of atrocities. And, in all cases where atrocity crimes have happened, the warnings have been clear. But, unfortunately, the intervention takes longer and by this time we are only regretting our inaction.

Why are you so dedicated to the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?

I have no choice!

Prevention is a calling I rudely had to engage in. I was a Senior Sub-editor for The Monitor newspaper-Uganda in 1994 where I covered the Rwanda genocide two days after the plane carrying President Juvenile Habyarimana was brought down in Kigali. I was there for much of the war until Kigali fell to the Rwanda Patriotic Front. But because I was not satisfied with this business of counting bodies, empathizing and documenting the dead, I decide to join the cause to fight the ugly form in which such atrocities happen and seek to fight their commission. Standing on the fence and counting bodies of those killed in such events cannot be an action to end such senseless killings.

So, mine was a baptism of fire. I saw the need for intervention and joined other crusaders to prevent atrocities.

Mr. Nkunda at the 2013 AIPR Alumni Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania
Mr. Nkunda at the 2013 AIPR Alumni Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania

What advice would you give to a government official just entering the field regarding effective work on prevention?

They should understand that the field of prevention requires a very keen eye: to follow actions that may mean nothing now but can actually became the catalyst of preventing atrocities from happening. Also, that it’s a field that is not against government, but rather one that works towards complimenting the government in having effective atrocity prevention.

The government should know that it can be the most effective body of early warning for any serious violations if it acts in a manner that helps society to be peaceful and to co-exist. The State being the primary “violator” in most cases, government would thus be better advised to act in a manner that does not tread the road to commission of atrocities.

Who or what motives you and inspires you in your work?

The victims. The dead. The lifeless bodies in pools of blood. The thousands that are killed and dehumanised because of who they are. The little girls suckling a breast of a dead mother for three days. The girl we picked from a pile of 300 bodies, who had been alive for three weeks feeding on human flesh in that church in Nyarubuye in Rwanda. The orphans. Those are my motivators. Yes, the victims.