The Aegis Trust is an international organization working to prevent genocide. Through education, Aegis works to build long-term peace by encouraging communities to change from mindsets of mistrust and prejudice that lead to genocide, to a position of shared responsibility for peace and stability. Aegis conducts and encourages research about how genocide comes about to improve the practice of prevention. We work on places where genocide is a current threat, campaigning for decision-makers to engage with protection of those most at risk. Our advocacy involves taking the voices of those at risk to politicians, the media and the public. Aegis also finds ways to support survivors to rebuild their lives.
Launched in 2000, Aegis developed from the work of the UK Holocaust Centre and has offices in London, UK and Kigali, Rwanda, where it is has been responsible for the Kigali Genocide Memorial since it opened in 2004. Standing in the heart of Rwanda’s capital at a site where some 250,000 victims of the genocide are buried, it comprises exhibitions, memorial gardens, educational facilities and the Genocide Archive of Rwanda.
The prevention of genocide and mass atrocities is a global mission, but Aegis does not currently have resources or capacity to address every situation relevant to that mission. Aegis therefore has to make carefully considered strategic decisions about where to focus its efforts.
For Aegis to run a project, programme or campaign in a situation where atrocities are a threat, a reasonable chance of success has to be identified that it will be able to make meaningful change in one or more of these areas:
1. Social change within the country where people are at risk, to build resilience against violence
2. Policy or structural change within the country, to reduce risk of violence (e.g. with a rule of law project)
3. Policy change among international or regional states or organisations, helping to bring about greater protection or better prevention strategies for people at risk.
To have a reasonable chance of success, Aegis also needs capacity and a conducive environment, which includes all three of the following:
A. The funding to undertake that project/programme or campaign
B . The expertise to undertake the project/programme or campaign
C. When working publicly in-country (i.e. 1 or 2 above) a political environment must exist that allows the organisation to work without hindrance.
Aegis is largely funded by a combination of private donations and government funding. It also operates several revenue-generating businesses. In 2012 income sources included:
- 38% – Donations from individuals, foundations and businesses
- 30% – Government funding received from Rwanda, the United Kingdom and Sweden
- 32% – Earned revenue (including social enterprises and conference fees)
Aegis has several social enterprises to help support its work. In Rwanda, Aegis operates a museum gift shop and café at the Kigali Genocide Memorial as well as a youth hostel in Kigali. In addition, it has two recycled clothing stores located in Nottingham, England.
Aegis started with an initial grant of $20,000. Since then, the organization has raised some $30 million and is now one of the leading authorities in the area of genocide prevention. Although relatively small, Aegis has accomplished substantial achievements and continues to support dynamic programs since it was founded in 2000.
- Bringing dignity and comfort to genocide victims: Aegis established the Kigali Genocide Memorial in 2004, at the request of the Rwandan Government. The Memorial receives 75,000 visitors a year, including local and many notable international visitors such as heads of state and celebrities.
- Changing policy by working with lawmakers:
- Parliamentary Network – Working with senior members of Parliament, Aegis established the UK Parliamentary Group on Genocide Prevention in 2005. This forum enables elected representatives from all political parties to share knowledge on genocide-related issues, to work together to push them up the political agenda, and to hold the executive to account for decision-making in this area. Aegis later supported the creation of the second such parliamentary group in Canada.
- Responsibility to Protect – Aegis took Holocaust and genocide survivors to world capitals with Oxfam in a successful campaign that supported the unanimous adoption of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ norm related to genocide and other atrocities during the 2005 United Nations World Summit.
- Legal Changes in the UK – The organization led the successful campaign for changes to UK law in 2010 on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, ending impunity of genocide suspects by enabling perpetrators of mass atrocities to be held to account in the UK.
- Developing youth peace ambassadors – Aegis Students was established in the UK and Rwanda in 2005 to engage young people in genocide prevention training during their formative years to support a new generation of leaders with the knowledge and skills to stand against the outbreak of such violence.
- Replicating a peace education model for communities at risk – In 2008, Aegis launched a unique peace education program to foster unity and reconciliation in Rwanda that has reached over 12,000 children since its inception. The program helps to increase awareness and empathy among youth to inoculate future generations against the outbreak of atrocities. Given its success, the program is being scaled up in Rwanda, and Aegis is looking to replicate the program’s success in other countries at risk of genocide.
- Developing processes and capacity to strengthen research and reconciliation – In 2010, Aegis launched the first digital repository of information about the genocide in Rwanda. Aegis is in the process of expanding the repository to create a national digital archive, incorporating the Gacaca, or community court, documents.
Much like health epidemics that can ravage communities and nations, there are risk factors, warning signs and underlying causes that lead to genocide. This also means that there are opportunities for early detection and prevention.
With co-founder James Smith’s experience as a medical doctor and surgeon, Aegis has been able to view the predictable causes and conditions of genocide as being akin to the predictable causes of disease, and – like health epidemics – the best solution to eradicating genocide is prevention.
Aegis applies a public health model to genocide prevention, through:
- Research and remembrance about the past, building resilience against genocide in communities through education, emphasizing individual responsibility. This mirrors primary prevention as per the public health model, prevention through identification of risk factors and early intervention.
- Evidence-based campaigns to prevent mass atrocities when at-risk groups are under immediate threat. This mirrors secondary prevention as per the public health model, of responding quickly and appropriately to current threats and incidents.
- Supporting survivors and communities to rebuild after genocide. This mirrors tertiary prevention as per the public health model, to reduce the effects afterwards and prevent re-occurrence.
The word ‘aegis’ is derived from Ancient Greek, meaning shield or protection: to come under the ‘aegis’ of something is to come under its protection.
Recognising that groups are at risk of being the targets of genocide when they fall outside of the obligation of their own society, their own government and the international community for protection, the organisation chose the name The Aegis Trust to underscore its goal of working protect communities vulnerable to potential genocide.
The organisation works to prevent genocide and help individuals and societies recover in its aftermath. Aegis is committed to remembering the atrocities of the past, investing in the peace-builders of tomorrow and advocating for those at risk of genocide today.
Aegis fulfils its mission by: (i) social change through education, public awareness and accountability; and (ii) policy change through advocacy. These are both underpinned by research.
Aegis’ work is drawn from its values, which are:
- A belief that it is possible to make social change
- Individual actions count
- Survivors are at the heart of prevention (and at the heart of Aegis)
- That key to prevention is to be upstanders against prejudice, exclusion and hatred in all forms.
In 1995, the Smith brothers founded the National Holocaust Centre in the United Kingdom to teach current and future generations to carefully examine and learn from past tragedies. However, as genocide and crimes against humanity continued through the 1990’s in places like Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo, the Smith brothers reached two conclusions:
1) remembrance of past atrocities, such as the Holocaust Centre, was not sufficient to prevent future genocides; and
2) there are predictable steps that lead to genocide and this holds the key to prevention.
With this information, they carried forward their deep commitment to the prevention of genocide and other atrocities by founding The Aegis Trust.
Aegis America, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in response to the interests of U.S. citizens committed to its mission. Aegis America supports the work of The Aegis Trust through fundraising, global engagement, outreach and education. Its founding committee is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois with local committees being organised in D.C., Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
While much of the work of Aegis has been operationally focused in Rwanda and the UK, the organisation has a global mission to work toward the eradication of genocide. Establishing a stronger presence in the United States through Aegis America is a key part of growing the body of support that will be needed to fulfil this mission.