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A comprehensive atrocity prevention strategy more vital than ever, say MPs

10 September 2018

In its report, Global Britain: The Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention, the Foreign Affairs Committee considers the legal basis for military interventions under these concepts and their effectiveness in protecting civilians, with a focus on Syria.

Calls for independent inquiry into decision-making processes that led to non-intervention in Syria

Under specific circumstances, proportionate and necessary force should be available to use as a last resort to alleviate extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, says the Committee.

The Committee concludes that the absence of humanitarian intervention as a final recourse can result in grave consequences for civilian populations. The price of inaction in the case of Syria has been unacceptably high, says the Report.

The UK must bear its share of the responsibility for the atrocity crimes committed in Syria and examine the repercussions of its decisions not to do more on its own or collectively. An independent inquiry into the decision-making processes would enable lessons to be learned to prevent similar humanitarian crises happening in the future and offer a more effective response.

The Report calls on the Government to:

  • Act urgently to produce a comprehensive atrocity prevention strategy and implementation plan to ensure it moves beyond words and towards concrete actions; a draft should be available for consultation by April 2019;
  •  Commit to implementing France's 2013 proposal to refrain from use of the veto (at the UN General Assembly), where there is credible evidence of genocide, and encourage other P5 members to do the same;
  • Update its protection of civilians in armed conflict strategy to include a focus on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, including setting out measures to reduce the impact of these weapons on civilians and essential services such as healthcare;
  • Provide further clarification and definition in setting out the general conditions for when a humanitarian intervention can take place to help ensure it is undertaken for the right reasons and in appropriate situations.

Consequences of inaction can be devastating

The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, commented:

"The consequences of inaction can be devastating. The people of Syria show clearly that choosing not to act, standing aside, can have consequences every bit as real and horrific as the decision to act. During this inquiry we heard from those who have first-hand experience of what life is like in Syria right now and the impact the conflict there has had on people.  The Government must do more to protect civilians as part of its responsibility to protect.  With the situation in Idlib reaching crisis point, action to prevent mass atrocities is ever more urgent.
Prevention is always better than attempting to respond later. As the situation in Syria has shown us, waiting to respond can have devastating consequences. Everything we have heard during this inquiry – and our first inquiry into Violence in Rakhine State – convinces us of the need to prioritise atrocity prevention in political and diplomatic conversations. Now, more than ever, the Government needs to produce a comprehensive atrocity prevention strategy and implementation plan. The cost of inaction has been unacceptably high."

Further information

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