The Jo Cox Foundation. Charity Number 1170836

Written Evidence Submitted to The International Development Committee Inquiry: Promoting dialogue and preventing atrocities: the UK government approach.


Executive summary

        The Jo Cox Foundation was established to continue the late Jo Cox MP's legacy and to highlight the issues she deeply cared about. It is for this reason we wish to submit evidence to this important inquiry.

        We would like to thank the chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion MP for launching this inquiry and understanding the importance and efficacy of Atrocity Prevention.

        Throughout her life, Jo worked tirelessly for a fairer, kinder and more tolerant world. Before becoming an MP, Jo spent 20 years working in international development as an aid worker supporting civilians threatened by war and genocide.

        Jo was elected in 2015 and immediately started work to advocate for civilians caught in the horrors of war in Syria and the need for UK leadership on the Responsibility to Protect. During her short time as an MP, she offered a variety of policy recommendations to the UK government which are detailed in this submission.

        Before Jo’s death, she began work on ‘The Cost of Doing Nothing’ report with Tom Tugendhat MP which advocated for the UK government to play a more leading role in the world. The report was finished by Tom Tugendhat MP and Alison McGovern MP and outlines specific examples where intervention has been successful and examples where a failure to intervene has had devastating consequences.

        The Jo Cox Foundation works closely with the FCDO on the Jo Cox Memorial Grants. The Grants, totalling £10 million, focus on two themes close to Jo’s heart: women’s social, economic and political empowerment and strengthening civil society capacity for early prediction of identity-based violence.

        By contextualising Jo’s contribution to atrocity prevention, the Jo Cox Foundation makes the following recommendations:

        The UK Government should adopt a National Atrocity Prevention Strategy.

        Atrocity prevention must be recognised as a matter for the National Security Council and for the Cabinet Office.

        Atrocity prevention should be a cross-party issue shared across Government bodies



1. Jo’s time as an aid worker

1.1. Before entering parliament, Jo worked around the world supporting civilians threatened by war and genocide. In her 20-year career as an aid worker, Jo had met survivors of genocide in Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan and Bosnia. Speaking about these experiences in 2015 Jo said “I have seen at first hand the horror of war and its brutal impact on civilian populations. I have met 10-year-old former child soldiers with memories that no child should have to live with. I have sat down with Afghan elders with battle-weary eyes. I have held the hands of Darfuri women, gang-raped because no one was there to protect them”.[1]  It was this lived experience that shaped Jo’s beliefs and led her to advocate for the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine by world leaders in 2005, and for action by governments to prevent atrocities in specific instances.  Jo had a deep connection to Bosnia and Croatia, visiting these countries every year to work with orphans from the war.


2. Jo’s time in parliament advocating for the protection of civilians

2.1. Jo was elected as MP for her hometown of Batley and Spen in 2015 and quickly set to work on her international interests. She established the All Party Parliamentary Friends of Syria Group with her Conservative colleague Andrew Mitchell MP and spoke often in the House of Commons about the need to protect civilians in conflict.  Speaking on the Syrian conflict, Jo stated “for too long, the UK government let the crisis fester on the ‘too difficult to deal with’ pile. There was no credible strategy, nor courage or leadership – instead we had chaos and incoherence, interspersed with the occasional gesture. It’s been a masterclass in how not to do foreign policy and a shameful lesson on what happens when you ignore a crisis of this magnitude.” In the same speech, Jo praised politicians ”who demanded action to stop the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and elsewhere”.

2.2. Jo also spoke about the need for UK leadership on the Responsibility to Protect. Speaking in 2016, Jo stated “I’m pro-humanitarian intervention. I think it’s got a proven track record of saving civilian lives, as something that I think should always be at the end of the range of available options in any response. But I spent nearly a decade advocating for the Responsibility to Protect civilians at the UN: if a state is unwilling to protect its civilians then the international community has got a responsibility to intervene. I’m a passionate believer in that. That doesn’t mean I think military intervention to change a regime or impose your values is the right course. That’s never justified.”[2]

2.3. Writing for The Fabian Society, Jo offered policy recommendations to the UK Government: “sadly, there is currently no explicit UK policy on the prevention of mass atrocities or on the UN’s responsibility to protect (R2P) norm. There is also currently no mechanism in the UK that supports and monitors the government’s commitment to, and implementation of R2P. As a result, UK thinking is confused and often late, and the UK lags behind countries such as the US where the Atrocity Prevention Board brings together key players to facilitate earlier and coordinated responses to R2P threats. One initiative that could have made a transformative difference is the establishment of a cross-party special adviser on mass atrocity prevention, and a mechanism across Whitehall to integrate their thinking. This focal point inside government would perhaps have catalysed earlier, and more effective, life-saving action in tragic crises.”[3]

3. The ‘Cost of Doing Nothing’ report

3.1. It was these ideas that led Jo to collaborate with Tom Tugendhat MP on the ‘Cost of Doing Nothing’ report.[4] The report, supported by Policy Exchange and Professor John Bew, was intended to be launched in July 2016 to coincide with the delayed Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. According to John: “Jo campaigned against the Iraq war, while Tom served there in the army, working alongside the Royal Marines. While they had different perspectives on a number of issues, they shared a concern that Britain was becoming more introspective and less engaged in the world.”  Following Jo’s murder in June 2016, the report was finalised by Tom Tugendhat MP and Alison Govern MP and released in January 2017.

3.2 The report argues the UK must also learn the lessons from Bosnian genocide in 1995 where the UK and international community sat back while hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed. The report argues “In both Rwanda and Bosnia, earlier and more decisive Western engagement – including militarily – could have prevented suffering and brutality on a horrific scale.” The report highlights events in Kosovo and Sierra Leone where Britain played an important and active role in stopping violence.

Tom and Alison go on to argue the UK cannot stand by and let war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide occur without acting. The report concludes “the rise of knee jerk isolationism, unthinking pacifism and anti-interventionism in Britain have dangerous implications for national security and the safety of civilians around the world.”

3.3. The report points to recent examples of where intervention has been successful:

        The establishment of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq in 1991 successfully protected the Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s genocidal air attacks;

        The 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo protected tens of thousands of civilians threatened by Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of ethnic cleansing;

        The British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000 helped repel the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) advance, paving a path to peace.

3.4. The report highlights examples of where failure to intervene has had devastating consequences:

        The inadequacy of UN missions in the former Yugoslavia meant they did not have the mandate to prevent ethnic cleansing in Croatia and Bosnia including the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.

        In 1994, the international community’s slow response to the breakdown of peace in Rwanda was unable to prevent the genocide of up to 1 million Tutsis.


3.5 The report highlights that “Responding quickly to unfolding events can save the most lives. Ethnic cleansing and mass atrocities often occur in the early phases of conflicts, as in Bosnia.” The Integrated Review and the merge of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office creates an opportunity to integrate atrocity prevention across UK’s international policy and its embassies. This could speed up the UK’s response to atrocities and potentially prevent atrocities

4. The Jo Cox Foundation’s work to honour Jo’s commitment to R2P

4.1. In addition to supporting the launch of the “Cost of Doing Nothing” report, the Jo Cox Foundation is honoured to work with the FCDO on the Jo Cox Memorial Grants. The grants, totalling £10 million, focus on two themes close to Jo’s heart: women’s social, economic and political empowerment and strengthening civil society capacity for early prediction of identity-based violence. The grants strengthen civil society capacity for early prediction of identity-based violence including mass atrocity crimes, amplifying and supporting early warnings in order to prompt timely and effective interventions that prevent escalation and better protect populations from the threat of violence.

Internews Europe was awarded a Jo Cox Memorial Grant in 2019 to support women’s networks to take a leading role in conflict prevention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the project’s primary aim is to increase their partners’ capacity to monitor grassroots-level conflict so they can provide early warning information, evidence came to light through this work regarding the important role of women in peace processes. The predominantly female Nyunzu Early Warning Group sensitively and actively contributed to the diffusion of a conflict, and increased economic stability in a particularly unstable context.[5]

4.2 We are confident and proud that the Jo Cox Memorial Grants represent Jo’s belief in the importance of upstream prevention measures. Yet, delays in decision making that were encountered during the design process of the Grants would have been alleviated by greater inter-departmental clarity on the UK government’s policy on preventing mass atrocities and the presence of a Government mechanism monitoring and supporting the implementation of R2P that Jo advocated for. Such a mechanism would have served to provide clear guidance and leadership during the design process.

5. Contextualising Jo’s contribution to atrocity prevention

5.1 Though we can never speak for Jo, her powerful legacy across a range of development issues continues to guide our views and informs the following recommendations. The Jo Cox Foundation believes that atrocity prevention is an integral part of international development. Protecting civilians from conflict and atrocities is vital for the growth of global economies and communities. We believe as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and in the interests of a secure nation, Britain can do more to confront the rising challenges of atrocity prevention.

The Jo Cox Foundation is a proud member of the Atrocity Prevention Working Group. The Group enables us to collaborate, share knowledge and bring forward Jo’s views to reflect the issues that lie before us. Together, the Working Group aims to improve the UK's prediction and prevention of mass atrocities.

5.2 The UK Government should adopt a National Atrocity Prevention Strategy. Jo’s article in the Fabian Society rings true today as “sadly, there is currently no explicit UK policy on the prevention of mass atrocities”. Such a strategy would put atrocity prevention at the heart of British foreign policy, and make it sustainable. It should provide a framework to draw from all parts of the Government whose work can contribute to decreasing the likelihood of atrocities. We believe this would be an integral step in protecting civilians and preventing mass atrocity crimes across the world. While able to criticise shortcomings, Jo was proud of Britain’s contributions to international development and the protection of civilians. She firmly believed Britain could and should be a leader in this space. The introduction of a national atrocity prevention strategy would be a fitting and lasting honour to Jo Cox.

5.3 Atrocity prevention must be recognised as a matter for the National Security Council and for the Cabinet Office. Jo understood that taking an anti-interventionist approach and retreating from international development undermines Britain’s ability to contribute to those touched by atrocities. Atrocity crimes, even when they take place in small and remote locations, reverberate around the world with devastating consequences for global stability, including domestic security. Jo believed that it was clearly in the national interest to protect civilians at home and abroad and that effective internal aid can safeguard the security of British citizens.

5.4 Atrocity prevention should be a cross-party issue shared across Government bodies. In her maiden speech, Jo famously said: "We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us." Jo was always willing to work with others towards common goals for the greater good. She crossed the chamber to work with Andrew Mitchell on the APPG Friends of Syria and worked with Tom Tugendhat on the ‘Cost of Doing Nothing’ Report. Throughout her speeches and articles, Jo understood the failures that those on both sides of the house had made with respect to atrocity prevention and urged parliament to come together to protect civilians.

The government should take the same approach as Jo to atrocity prevention. The Treasury should explore sanctions; the Home Office should consider asylum applications; the Department for Education should educate children. A collaborative, transparent and open approach to atrocity prevention could make Britain a global leader in this space.

5.5 We would like to end this submission by reminding members of the International Development Committee of Jo’s message in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment:[6]







[6] “As someone who spent over a decade campaigning for the world to adopt the Responsibility to Protect doctrine at the UN – we must now ensure that Governments the world over deliver on their promises on preventing genocide and other crimes against humanity. Never again can we let innocents suffer as they did in the Holocaust. Never again.”