An aerial drone view of gravestones in the Srebrenica–Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide

An aerial drone view of gravestones in the Srebrenica–Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide

The UK urgently needs to adopt a national strategy for preventing and responding to mass atrocities that result from global conflicts and human rights crises, a new report has said.
The International Development Select Committee publication – From Srebrenica to a safer tomorrow: Preventing future mass atrocities around the world – highlighted the need to confront recent suspected mass atrocities in many regions of the world.
It comes as Russia is suspected of committing likely war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, and alongside concerns that the United Nations Security Council is increasingly being prevented from acting by its veto-wielding members.
The report comes at the end of a year-long committee inquiry which heard evidence from international experts, charities and other organisations.
Among those to provide written evidence to the inquiry was Ben Willis, Associate Lecturer in Politics and International Relations in the School of Society and Culture, and an expert in international security and human rights.
His research focuses on the range of political, legal and ethical issues surrounding the prevention of mass atrocities, and how those issues are represented in UK Government policy.
Ben Willis, Associate Lecturer in
Politics and International Relations
Ben Willis
Speaking about the new publication, which includes substantial references to his written evidence, he said:
"This report builds on the invaluable work of parliamentarians, civil society, and academia over recent years. It makes clear the vital role that the UK has to offer as a 'development superpower' in helping to predict, prevent, and respond to genocide and other mass atrocity crimes, which remain an all-too-common feature of the international system. Most importantly, the committee sets out an ambitious but realistic agenda for reform, and rightly emphasises the longstanding need for the UK government to adopt a comprehensive atrocity prevention strategy."
In his evidence submission, Mr Willis said the UK’s promotion of thematic and country-specific atrocity prevention work at the United Nations is commendable.
However, he highlighted limitations in the government’s existing approach to the prevention of mass atrocities, and said broader UK atrocity prevention policy is characterised by an ongoing conflation of atrocity prevention with conflict prevention.
“This leads to disjointed and reactive policy that fails to make best use of the UK’s early warning, development, diplomatic, and defence tools.” 
he said, adding that his recommendation would be for a whole-of-government UK atrocity prevention strategy to be introduced.
This theme was included in the committee report, which also highlighted trends that can fuel future violence, including the strains caused by climate change, threats to democracies, hate speech online and the role of non-state actors in conflict.
It judged that, without concerted action, “mass atrocities are likely to become more common, which will constrain global development”.
The Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion MP, said:
“The last decade has seen terrifying scenes in China, Ethiopia, Syria and Myanmar – to name just a few – and has shown clearly that atrocities don’t only happen in conflict settings. The deep divisions at the top of the United Nations mean we are living in what appears to be an era of impunity when it comes to persecution, segregation and abuse of civilians.
“The UK is perhaps uniquely placed to be the ‘world’s canary’ when it comes to alerting others around the world of possible atrocities. That means looking out for hate speech or laws that marginalise or segregate certain groups from society. We can and must focus the international community’s attention to de-escalate these situations.”

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