Written evidence submitted by Ben Willis (INR0020)




Executive Summary

  1.         This evidence submission addresses priorities for UK foreign policy strategy, the relationship of the FCO with other government departments, and issues of FCO resource prioritisation and capabilities, as outlined in the inquiry’s terms of reference. It argues that the Integrated Review is an opportunity to reform existing UK atrocity prevention policy as part of the broader national security objective of tackling conflict and building stability overseas.


  1.         The government has recently claimed that the third pillar of its Global Britain strategy is for the UK to be an “even stronger force for good in the world”. The appalling human cost of genocide and other mass atrocities is an affront to any such values-based foreign policy. A failure to prevent atrocities also threatens core UK security interests, undermines the legitimacy of the rules-based international order, and seriously diminishes UK soft power.


  1.         Explicit recognition of mass atrocity prevention as a distinct national security concern would improve UK efforts at tackling conflict and instability and should be an outcome of the Integrated Review process. By elevating an existing UK policy goal and giving top-level strategic direction to the FCO and other departments, it would enable reform of an atrocity prevention policy that is increasingly out of step with comparative international best practice.


  1.         The UK persists in conflating atrocity prevention with its longstanding conflict prevention work, and offers little evidence that it has successfully embedded the former into the latter. The conceptual and operational problems that result from this hinder the UK’s ability to make best use of its foreign policy resources, leading to disjointed and ineffective efforts at predicting, preventing, and responding to atrocity risks in countries of UK interest.


  1.         The FCO as lead department on mass atrocity prevention policy should therefore consider the following core recommendations for the Integrated Review:



  1.         Ben Willis is a PhD researcher in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds and an Associate Lecturer in the School of Law, Criminology, and Government at the University of Plymouth. He has previously submitted written evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry on the Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention and co-authored a number of policy papers on UK mass atrocity prevention with Protection Approaches co-director Dr. Kate Ferguson. He is also a member of the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. This evidence is submitted in a personal capacity.


Mass atrocity prevention is already an implicit UK national security interest

  1.         The Foreign Secretary has repeatedly stated in recent months that the UK should be an “even stronger force for good in the world”, claiming this to be part of the UK’s “national mission” and the third pillar of a proposed Global Britain strategy. The promotion of democracy, human rights and the international rule of law have been declared as “guiding lights” of post-Brexit UK foreign policy.[1]


  1.         The appalling human cost of genocide and mass atrocities is an affront to any such values-based foreign policy.[2] A failure to effectively respond to the risk of atrocity violence undermines the legitimacy of the rules-based international order and its core institutions. And it diminishes the soft power of the UK, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, global military actor, human rights champion, and development superpower.


  1.         Mass atrocities also pose direct and indirect threats to core UK national security interests more narrowly understood. The targeted destruction of human and physical capital can reverse development gains more substantially than regular armed conflict.[3] The economic and political consequences have the potential to destabilise entire regions, fuelling violent extremism[4], and generating massive forced displacement and protracted humanitarian need.[5] In extreme circumstances, the failure to prevent atrocities has also led the UK to deploy its armed forces, undertaking interventions in Iraq (1991), Bosnia (1992-1995), Kosovo (1999), Sierra Leone (2000), Libya (2011), Iraq (2014), and Syria (2018).


  1.     A broad agenda of ‘tackling conflict and instability overseas’ has been a major strand of UK foreign policy over the last two decades, underpinned by sustained cross-party support. The National Security Strategies (NSS) of the Labour government in 2008 and the Conservative-led Coalition government in 2010 both embedded this agenda, with the Coalition also introducing the Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) in 2011.


  1.     The 2015 NSS upgraded ‘instability overseas’ to a Tier 1 highest priority threat to UK national security interests. It identified the tackling of conflict and instability as a headline element of ‘projecting the UK’s global influence’ – one of three overarching UK national security objectives. It also committed to spending at least 50% of the DFID budget in fragile states and regions, and substantially increasing the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund (CSSF). The 2015 UK Aid Strategy adopted a similar focus on conflict and instability.


  1.     The July 2019 FCO policy paper on the UK’s approach to mass atrocity prevention should be seen in this light. It builds on a series of previous ministerial statements in providing clear reaffirmation that the government considers mass atrocity prevention to be an intrinsic element of its broader work on tackling conflict and instability overseas.[6]


  1.     The 2019 FCO policy paper should also be seen as reflective of longstanding cross-party support for mass atrocity prevention as expressed through support for the principle of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) unanimously adopted at the 2005 UN World Summit.


  1.     UK governments of all stripes have repeatedly stated that they remain “fully committed” to R2P and that it serves as a “guiding principle” of their work on conflict, human rights, and development. The 2008 and 2015 NSSs both explicitly referenced R2P, and the government has gone so far as to claim that the 2015 NSS “puts the responsibility to protect at the centre of what we are doing continuing to drive toward global improvements”.[7]


  1.     In recent years, the Conservative Party has also adopted its own Kigali Declaration against Genocide and Identity-based Violence, stating that the prevention of mass atrocities is in the UK national interest and should be considered as a policy priority.[8] In the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP, and Green Party all stated their commitment to improving the UK’s approach to preventing atrocities.[9]


  1.     The prevention of mass atrocities is already an implicit UK national security interest and forms part of the government’s broader work on tackling conflict and building stability overseas. This implicit acknowledgement should be made explicit in order to provide strategic clarity on the matter and drive the necessary reforms to UK atrocity prevention policy.



Problems with existing UK mass atrocity prevention policy

  1.     The July 2019 FCO policy paper on atrocity prevention is certainly to be welcomed. It clearly acknowledges the cross-departmental nature of the issue and outlines various early warning, diplomatic, development, and defence tools that the government considers appropriate. However, the FCO paper was largely a bundling together of the disparate threads of its existing de facto policy, and a restatement of departmental and ministerial responsibilities, rather than any substantive refinement to the UK’s overall approach.


  1.     There are two fundamental problems with this approach that the Integrated Review should address. The first is that it relies on an outdated understanding of what mass atrocity prevention entails – conflating the prevention of atrocities with the prevention of armed conflict, and uncritically subsuming the former within the latter. The second is the absence of evidence that atrocity prevention has been integrated within the thematic or geographical workstreams of the FCO and partner departments.


Atrocity prevention should be recognised as distinct from conflict prevention

  1.     The FCO policy paper claims that as the “majority of atrocities occur in and around conflict, the UK has dedicated significant resources to addressing crises and conflict by means of a comprehensive cross-government response”. The government’s underlying position is also evident in its response to the FAC in late 2018, which claimed that: “Atrocity prevention is an important strand of our conflict prevention agenda […] Atrocities do not always occur in the context of armed conflict. But the tools to prevent and respond to both atrocity situations and armed conflict are substantively alike, and often the best way to prevent atrocities can be to prevent conflict” (emphasis added).[10].


  1.     The claims made here warrant further examination. There is consensus that a majority of atrocities do occur in conflict situations. However, the exact proportion is an underexamined assumption within the literature, and the frequently stated belief that conflict-related atrocities comprise two-thirds of all contemporary cases should be treated with caution.[11] The government also appears to suggest, however, that as a result it effectively follows a ‘triage’ approach to prediction, prevention, and response that is only concerned with addressing atrocities that occur in actual or potential conflict situations.


  1.     This suggests that the UK is not attempting to integrate atrocity prevention into its human rights work. This would mean that it does not have a coherent approach to the substantial proportion of atrocities that occur in peacetime situations - excluding, for example, not only systematic repression in Venezuela, North Korea, or Eritrea, but also violence against the Rohingya since 2012 or the early stages of violence in Libya and Syria in 2011. The latter also demonstrate a further concern with the UK approach – an assumption that armed conflict leads to atrocities, when the reverse can also be true. This fails to recognise that atrocity prevention can contribute to conflict prevention, rather than vice versa.


  1.     The government also uses its policy position of focusing on conflict-related atrocities to suggest that “the tools to prevent and respond to both atrocity situations and armed conflict are substantively alike”. This is especially problematic.


  1.     The concern here is that while many of the tools are alike, they are not identical – and the manner in which they should be used differs substantially, depending on whether the goal is to prevent conflict or prevent atrocities. Their use to achieve the former can be counterproductive to achieving the latter. This is a vital distinction that the FCO paper and other previous government statements have failed to acknowledge.


  1.     Atrocity risk assessment, early warning mechanisms, long-term structural prevention, and the tools used to respond to imminent or ongoing atrocities all need to be viewed through an ‘atrocity prevention lens’ in order to be properly applied in context-sensitive fashion.[12]


  1.     The sharp end of response is where the two prevention agendas can particularly diverge. Whereas conflict prevention is typically impartial and focused on the consensual resolution of disputes, atrocity prevention is inherently partial and focused on protecting victims by dissuading perpetrators. A misplaced focus on conflict prevention may blind third parties to underlying atrocity risks, incentivise actors to commit atrocities to strengthen their bargaining position, and prevent victims from being able to protect themselves.


  1.     The UK is certainly not alone in operating under the misplaced assumption that atrocity prevention is synonymous with conflict prevention, and that it can be unproblematically addressed within the latter – rather than asking deeper questions about how the two agendas should co-exist. The Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities noted in late 2014, for example, a “fairly widespread view” in European policy-making circles that “conflict prevention encompasses mass atrocity prevention, as both involve ‘violence’ or ‘instability’, and therefore no adjustment is needed to existing policies [and] institutions”.[13]


  1.     The FCO claims that by addressing conflict and instability, its approach is “in accordance with the recommendations of the 2009 UN report”.[14] It is true that the 2009 report[15] makes no clear distinction between atrocity prevention and conflict prevention. However, this is reflective of an entrenched flaw in much early thinking on R2P. Since 2009, the academic and policy-oriented literatures have repeatedly stressed the need to differentiate the two agendas[16]. UN reports have repeatedly emphasised that they are “closely related [but] not synonymous”, that prevention measures “should be developed with that in mind”[17], and that “despite the obvious interlinkages between the conflict and atrocity prevention agendas, the latter should not be subsumed by the former” (emphasis added)[18].


Atrocity prevention is not integrated within existing UK conflict prevention work

  1.     A second fundamental problem with UK mass atrocity prevention policy is that, contrary to repeated assertions by government, there is an absence of evidence that it has been integrated within the conflict prevention work of the FCO and partner departments.


  1.     In its response to the FAC in late 2018, the government claimed that it was “already well-established within existing geographical and thematic workstreams”. This line was repeated in response to UK civil society follow-up in February 2019, where government lauded the “maturity” of its work on atrocity prevention and claimed that a new strategy “would be more appropriate for a new, untested policy initiative, which had not yet been fully developed. We have moved beyond that stage and AP is now firmly embedded in the day-to-day work across our internationally facing departments”.[19]


  1.     If this is so, we would expect to see evidence of ‘embedding’ in relevant departmental and cross-government strategies and programme documents. This is not the case, however.


  1.     The FCO paper usefully categorises cross-government UK prevention work via early warning, diplomacy, development, and defence tools. A brief survey of these four strands of policy, however, demonstrates the absence of explicit atrocity prevention integration.


  1.     The annual Countries at Risk of Instability (CRI) report, for example, is stated as a key global early warning tool. Government has long claimed that the Cabinet Office-led CRI process – including the quarterly CRI tracker for NSC priority countries – uses “indicators that highlight a higher risk of mass atrocities occurring”, and that the indicator set “reflects best practice” from similar NGO and partner government approaches.[20] However, there is no publicly available information that allows for external assessment of CRI risk modelling.


  1.     HMG also highlights the all source cross-government Joint Analysis for Conflict and Stability (JACS) as a “particularly useful tool”. This is intended to identify emerging risks in specific countries of UK interest. However, the 2017 JACS Guidance Note still does not direct analysts to consider atrocity prevention-specific concerns when formulating an understanding of conflict drivers and priorities for UK engagement.[21]. A reliance on JACS is also problematic because their initiation does not follow automatically from broader CRI risk assessment (or other means of flagging up atrocity risk). It is striking that there was no JACS commissioned on Myanmar, for example, until after violence erupted in late 2017.


  1.     The FCO also suggested in evidence to the FAC that its own internal early warning mechanisms were part of the prevention toolkit – the weekly Stability Monitor horizon-scanner, and quarterly Top Risk Register. However, as classified internal products, there is again no means of external assessment for how these integrate mass atrocity indicators.


  1.     The UK’s contribution to atrocity prevention through multilateral diplomacy is commendable. It is a vocal supporter of R2P concerns at the UN Security Council, Human Rights Council, and General Assembly. It supports the ACT ‘code of conduct’ on the non-use of the veto. And it is a longstanding member of the Group of Friends of R2P and International Atrocity Prevention Working Group. The problem here is that this is reflective of government’s narrow view that atrocity prevention, realised through its support for R2P, is a primarily multilateral activity, pursued almost exclusively through the UN.


  1.     UK bilateral diplomacy is more difficult to assess in systematic terms. The recent FAC and IDC inquiries on Myanmar, however,  both suggest that cross-government UK support for the ‘triple transition’ to democracy, peace, and development was not formulated with the insertion of a specific ‘atrocity prevention lens’ at any stage of the policy-making process.


  1.     This also affects the use of bilateral development tools. DFID operational plans and country development diagnostics do not factor in atrocity-specific concerns. And it is striking that the FCO policy paper and other government statements make no reference to DFID’s Building Stability Framework (BSF). This is surprising, as there is much of potential value within the BSF – although it also contains no explicit integration of atrocity prevention, nor considers this to be one of the “wider range of policy aims related to the causes and consequences of conflict” that the BSF helps DFID and other departments to achieve.[22]


  1.     The Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund (CSSF) is frequently highlighted as a key programmatic element of the UK’s work. As the government has noted in the past, these activities are “not always explicitly labelled as atrocity prevention”. However, there is no evidence that atrocity prevention has been integrated into programme design or delivery across any of the regional or thematic portfolios. The contribution is therefore entirely indirect. The only explicitly labelled work is via the multilateral ‘Championing our Values’ programme, which simply provides funding to the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and R2P.


  1.     The FCO policy paper also provides a nod to the combat and non-combat roles of the UK military. However, relevant strategic and doctrinal publications – such as the latest iteration of the MOD-FCO Defence Engagement Strategy, and JDP 05 on military stabilisation efforts – also address cross-cutting themes of relevance but contain no substantive discussion of how atrocity prevention is integrated into their work.[23]


  1.     The FCO paper and other government statements are similarly notable for what they do not discuss. There has been no indication that atrocity prevention is embedded into the country, regional, and/or thematic strategies of the National Security Council. The government has also offered no substantive consideration of the role of other UK departments besides the FCO, DFID, and MOD – such as the DIT, Treasury, Home Office, and Ministry of Justice – that are involved in shaping and implementing atrocity-related policy.


  1.     This is not to say that the UK does not already do much of value from an atrocity prevention perspective. Its early warning, development, diplomacy, and defence work contributes significantly – but the underlying problem is that this is an unintended and indirect effect of its conflict prevention work. It is not the product of demonstrable thinking on how to integrate atrocity-specific prevention work across or within government departments – where it may complement, compete with, or be undermined by other UK policy priorities.


  1.     The government needs to address the lack of conceptual and operational clarity in its mass atrocity prevention policy. It should elaborate on how its atrocity prevention work is differentiated from its conflict prevention work, and how this is being integrated and prioritised across the thematic and geographical workstreams of the FCO and partner departments.



Previous Select Committee recommendations for reforming UK policy

  1.     In recent years, increased scrutiny by the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committees have highlighted flaws in existing UK mass atrocity prevention policy and offered recommendations to government for much-needed reform.[24]


  1.     The December 2017 FAC report on the violence in Rakhine State, for example, criticised the FCO warning system for failing to raise sufficient alarm prior to what many regarded as an entirely predictable crisis. It also criticised the FCO’s “hesitation and equivocation” in identifying the violence as probable atrocity crimes. And it emphasised that the failures of cross-departmental policy should prompt “reflection” by the FCO, with a “clear need for the institution to learn lessons from the recent events in Burma about responding to signs and prioritising atrocity prevention in political and diplomatic conversations”.[25]


  1.     The January 2018 IDC report on the Rohingya crisis similarly recommended that the UK “should reflect on how to establish a more proactive approach to atrocity awareness and prevention” – including a more careful integrating of atrocity early warning into cross-departmental policy formulation, observing that “[t]he human, and financial costs, of not doing so seem to be again manifest in the current plight of the Rohingya.”[26]


  1.     The September 2018 FAC report on R2P and Humanitarian Intervention was conducted after airstrikes on Syria by the UK and partners. It recommended that: “Everything we have heard […] has strengthened our belief that an atrocity prevention strategy is now more vital than ever. The Government needs to act urgently to produce a comprehensive atrocity prevention strategy and implementation plan […] and we call on the Government to produce a draft strategy for consultation by April 2019” (emphasis added).[27]


  1.     The government rejected these various criticisms and recommendations. Notwithstanding the clarification offered by the FCO policy paper in July 2019, there has been no discernible change in the substance of UK atrocity prevention policy as a result of Committee scrutiny.


  1.     The FCO’s response to the recommendation that it set out specific lessons learned from Myanmar and elsewhere did no more than restate that the UK was “committed in its support for mass atrocity prevention and […] R2P”, “collaborates closely with a range of international partners to drive international policy”, and continues to fund the UN Office.[28]


  1.     DFID’s response to the recommendation that it reflect on how to establish a more proactive approach to atrocity prevention elicited partial agreement. However, the only commitment offered was that the UK was “constantly working to improve its early warning mechanisms as a means of identifying and reducing the risk of atrocity crimes and conflict”. There was no commitment on integrating this into programming and policy development.[29]


  1.     The FCO’s response to the recommendation that government produce a comprehensive atrocity prevention strategy was to reject this on three grounds. The first of these is a concern that developing a strategy “risks considerable duplication and diverting resources away from delivering existing atrocity prevention work”. The second is disagreement that “the simple existence of a ‘strategy’ necessarily improves delivery”. And the third is a need to “be realistic [that] the UK alone will rarely have the ability to prevent atrocities”. [30]


  1.     However, the first two grounds rely on the continued misconception that atrocity prevention is not and should not be conceptually or operationally distinct from conflict prevention – which, as suggested above (and by the experience of the US, see below), is a fundamental problem with the UK’s approach that needs to be addressed.


  1.     The government’s rejection of a dedicated atrocity prevention strategy as a means of delivering policy is therefore doubly problematic. Policy and strategy are interdependent. While policy sets the ‘ends’ to be achieved, strategy identifies the ‘ways’ and ‘means’ – identifying priorities and resources, establishing timeframes, and determining indicators of success or failure. The UK has a general policy goal of working to prevent and respond to atrocities as part of its broader work on tackling conflict and instability overseas. But without a clearly defined strategy underpinning this, and providing greater policy coherence, it is difficult to see how the UK can begin to gauge the effectiveness of its work.


  1.     All three grounds for rejection of an atrocity prevention strategy that the government offered – notably the UK’s ability to influence events overseas – also speak of the importance of political prioritisation. There are obvious resource and capability implications that would come with any reform of the UK’s approach. This is unavoidable.


  1.     Resource prioritisation hinges in part on a cost-benefit question of whether neglecting to integrate atrocity prevention across government portfolios ultimately undermines much of the UK’s diplomatic and other security-related expenditure. Myanmar is an obvious case in point, but any number of countries could be noted. Prioritisation also speaks to the values underpinning UK foreign policy, and the less tangible question of whether the government wants to do more, within the constraints of limited resources and other policy priorities[31].


  1.     The answers to these questions lead back to the matter of realistic expectations about where the UK can make a difference. The government made specific reference to Syria when making this point, but it is important to recognise that high profile crises such as these already have the means to be addressed through Cabinet and the National Security Council.


  1.     The principal added value of an atrocity prevention strategy would be to improve the UK’s ability to predict, prevent, and respond to atrocity risks across the range of lower profile cases where it is able to leverage its substantial bilateral and multilateral influence. It would improve the ability to make co-ordinated and targeted interventions in countries and regions of interest prior to crises erupting, or, where necessary, shape the UK’s early response.


  1.     Select Committee scrutiny in recent years has highlighted fundamental concerns with existing UK policy. The government should revisit the grounds offered for rejecting Committee recommendations on integrating atrocity prevention within the work of the FCO and partner departments and the need for developing an overarching whole-of-government strategy.



Comparative lessons on embedding atrocity prevention as a national security priority

  1.     The UK can adapt lessons learned and examples of best practice from its own experience with other cross-cutting issues on which it has developed a reputation as a world leader, notably the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. The UK’s latest WPS National Action Plan for 2018-2022 serves as an excellent model for developing and implementing a whole-of-government UK strategy on the prevention of atrocities.[32]


  1.     The UK can also draw comparative lessons from the particular experience of the United States over the last decade. The Obama administration demonstrated an early commitment to incorporating atrocity prevention into its national security architecture through the 2010 National Security Strategy and Quadrennial Defense and Diplomacy & Development Reviews. In 2011, President Obama issued a Presidential Study Directive declaring the prevention of mass atrocities to be a “core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States”, ordering the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, and directing the National Security Advisor to lead a review of US atrocity prevention capabilities.[33]


  1.     A series of recommendations from the internal review were adopted in the comprehensive atrocity prevention strategy announced in April 2012. Along with measures for individual departments, the strategy formalised the cross-government Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). This comprised representatives from the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, and Homeland Security, USAID, US Mission to the UN, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, CIA, and Office of the Vice President. The APB was set up as a budget-neutral interagency process, chaired by the NSC Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, and convened monthly to oversee the development and implementation of US atrocity prevention policy. A working level sub-APB convened on a weekly basis.[34]


  1.     The UK can draw valuable lessons from the APB and broader efforts at integrating atrocity prevention across government. While facing inevitable difficulties, competing with other policy priorities and entrenched bureaucratic silos, Obama-era reforms have been credited with substantive achievements, both in elevating and institutionalising atrocity prevention, and shaping US policy in a number of lower-profile cases – Burundi, CAR, and Kenya being frequently cited examples – that were the core focus of the APB’s work[35].


  1.     Institutionalisation has continued under the Trump administration, contrary to initial expectations and often contradictory White House policy. Central to this was the signing into law of the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act in January 2019, which further codifies US policy on the prevention of atrocities as a matter of national interest.[36] The Act has also led to the creation of an ‘Atrocity Early Warning Task Force’ as a replacement for the APB, announced in the first annual implementation report to Congress. The Task Force is mandated to conduct global risk assessments, provide cross-government early warning, improve interagency co-ordination, and facilitate US government capacity-building.[37]


  1.     The UK should examine lessons learned from the mainstreaming of atrocity prevention under the Obama and Trump administrations, and consider how integration into the national security architecture, top-level strategic direction-setting, and bureaucratic institutionalisation should inform a joined-up government-wide UK approach..



Recommendations for the FCO and the Integrated Review

  1.     The FCO stated in its 2019 policy paper that its approach to preventing mass atrocities is “regularly reviewed and updated as new […] research on best practice in the field of atrocity prevention comes to light”. The Integrated Review provides a vital opportunity for the FCO to reflect on its current approach and the various recommendations offered in recent years.


  1.     An internal review of existing UK atrocity prevention policy and its contribution to broader national security objectives should form part of the ‘global issues’ workstream of the Integrated Review. The FCO as lead department – along with DFID, MOD, and other relevant stakeholders – should consider the following core recommendations:


  1.     Acknowledgement of mass atrocity prevention as a distinct national security interest in the next UK National Security Strategy (or equivalent output of the Integrated Review)

Elevating mass atrocity prevention as an explicit national security concern would embed it as a policy priority for achieving the core UK national security objective of tackling conflict and instability overseas. It would provide strategic direction for the FCO and partner departments to develop and integrate a more coherent whole-of-government approach to prevention.


  1.     Commitment to formulating a mass atrocity prevention strategy and implementation plan, as previously recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee in September 2018

A dedicated strategy would give clearer guidance to government departments on integrating existing atrocity prevention policy into their work. It would provide measurable strategic objectives and associated performance indicators, ensure systematic internal evaluation, and should commit to annual reporting to parliament and regular consultation with UK civil society.


  1.     Consideration of establishing an institutional home for mass atrocity prevention, to ensure strategic oversight, direction, and co-ordination across government departments

An appropriately resourced body would ensure shared ownership of strategy and drive implementation, promoting cross-departmental coherence, consolidating expertise, and addressing duplication and co-ordination problems. The feasibility of an FCO-based Joint Unit, or cross-government steering committee and working group, should be explored.




May 2020



[1] Statements to the House of Commons on 13 January 2020 and 3 February 2020. ‘Foreign policy’ is used below to cover the range of diplomatic, defence, development, and other tools used to project UK influence overseas.

[2] ‘Mass atrocities’ is a non-legal term generally understood as referring to deliberate and large-scale attacks on civilians. It encompasses the legal categories of genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious war crimes.

[3] D. Soudis et al., ‘The Macroeconomic Toll of Genocide and Sources of Economic Development’. C. Anderton and J. Brauer (eds) Economic Aspects of Genocides, Other Mass Atrocities, and Their Prevention, OUP, 2016.

[4] S. Green, Tools and Strategies to Prevent Mass Atrocities by Violent Extremist Organizations, CSIS, July 2016

[5] BBC News, UN says Syria refugee crisis worst since Rwanda, 16 July 2013.

[6] FCO, UK approach to preventing mass atrocities, 16 July 2019.

[7] Statement delivered by the UK at the UN General Assembly Panel Discussion on R2P, 26 February 2016.

[8] Available at https://www.andrew-mitchell-mp.co.uk/.../Kigali-Declaration.pdf

[9] See the various responses to a November 2019 open letter to party leaders from the UK Civil Society Atrocity Prevention Working Group, available at https://protectionapproaches.org/ap-working-group

[10] Global Britain: The Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention: Government response to the Committee’s Twelfth Report, HC1719, 19 November 2018, p.5.

[11] Bellamy (2011) is the primary cited study (see n.16). However, this only classifies episodes of mass killing in excess of 5,000 civilian deaths. This omits all cases in which killings are below this threshold or not a principal means of violence (excluding those which rely on the use of forced population transfers and other egregious acts). Both the Yazidi and Rohingya genocides may fail to qualify under such criteria. Bellamy’s study also does not claim to be definitive and only covers the period from 1945 to 2010. Recent trends may differ substantially.

[12] See in particular Alex J. Bellamy, ‘Operationalising the “Atrocity Prevention Lens”: Making Prevention a Living Reality’. In S. Rosenberg, T. Galis, and A. Zucker (eds) Reconstructing Atrocity Prevention, CUP, 2015.

[13] EU Task Force, The Distinction between Conflict Prevention and Mass Atrocity Prevention, September 2014.

[14] Foreign and Commonwealth Office (RTP0016), written evidence submitted to the FAC inquiry on Global Britain: The Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention, May 2018.

[15] Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: Report of the Secretary-General, A/63/677, 12 January 2009.

[16] Key early publications are Alex J. Bellamy, Mass Atrocities and Armed Conflict: Links, Distinctions, and Implications for the Responsibility to Prevent, Stanley Foundation, 2011; Lawrence Woocher, ‘The Responsibility to Prevent: Toward a Strategy’. In: Knight and Egerton The Routledge Handbook of R2P, 2012.

[17] State Responsibility and Prevention: Report of the Secretary-General, A/67/929, 9 July 2013.

[18] Prevention of Genocide: Report of the Secretary-General, A/HRC/41/24, 8 October 2019.

[19] Letter from Lord Ahmad to the UK Civil Society Atrocity Prevention Working Group, MIN/33171/2018.

[20] See e.g. the answer provided by Baroness Anelay of St Johns to written question HL988, 13 July 2015.

[21] Jason Ralph, The UK and Atrocity Prevention, European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Jan 2020.

[22] DFID, Building Stability Framework, 2016.

[23] See e.g. MOD/FCO, International Defence Engagement Strategy, February 2017; MOD, Joint Doctrine Note 1/15: Defence Engagement, August 2015; MOD, JDP 05: Shaping a Stable World: The Military Contribution, March 2016. JSP 1325 also qualifies its discussion of Protection of Civilians (POC) by noting that this “does not refer to Responsibility to Protect”. See MOD, JSP 1325: Human Security in Military Operations, January 2019.

[24] This section is limited to recent FAC and IDC reports that feature explicit discussion of UK mass atrocity prevention policy. Limitations of space preclude discussion of additional inquiries of relevance. Parliamentary and Select Committee scrutiny has also been informed by sustained civil society advocacy; see in particular Jason Ralph, Mainstreaming the Responsibility to Protect in UK Strategy, UNA-UK, 2014; Alexandra Buskie, From Promise to Practice: Strengthening the UK’s Approach to Atrocity Prevention and R2P, UNA-UK, 2015; Kate Ferguson and Ben Willis, Maintaining Momentum in a Changing World: Atrocity Prevention in UK Policy, Protection Approaches, 2017; Kate Ferguson and Ben Willis, Towards a National Approach to Atrocities: A Response to Growing Scrutiny, Protection Approaches, 2018.

[25] Foreign Affairs Committee, Violence in Rakhine State and the UK’s Response, HC435, 11 December 2017.

[26] International Development Committee, Bangladesh & Burma: The Rohingya Crisis, HC504, 15 January 2018.

[27] Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Britain: The Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention, HC1005, 10 September 2018.

[28] Foreign Affairs Committee, Violence in Rakhine State and the UK’s response: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report, HC868, 6 March 2018.

[29] International Development Committee, Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis: Government Response to the Committee’s Second Report, HC919, 28 March 2018.

[30] Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Britain: The Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention: Government response to the Committee’s Twelfth Report, HC1719, 19 November 2018.

[31] In October 2018, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested in response to the FAC report on R2P that the government was “absolutely committed” to “do[ling] more within our budget on atrocity prevention”. See https://www.una.org.uk/news/una-uk-welcomes-foreign-secretarys-commitment-atrocity-prevention 

[32] FCO, DFID, and MOD, UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security 2018-2022, January 2018.

[33] The White House, Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities, 4 August 2011.

[34] The White House, Comprehensive Strategy and New Tools to Prevent and Respond to Atrocities, April 2012.

[35] See the assessment of the former APB chair, Stephen Pomper, Atrocity Prevention Under the Obama Administration: What We Learned and the Path Ahead, February 2018. For external assessment, see T. Alleblas et al., In the Shadow of Syria: Assessing the Obama Administration’s Efforts on Mass Atrocity Prevention, 2017.

[36] The Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act received overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress, passing the House by 367 votes to 4 and receiving unanimous consent in the Senate.

[37] The September 2019 report is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-press-secretary-regarding-release-elie-wiesel-genocide-atrocities-prevention-report/