We need a national strategy to better predict and prevent mass atrocities across the world
The latest atrocities committed against civilians by Russian forces in Ukraine, which will likely prove to be crimes against humanity, are truly appalling. But mass atrocities are commonplace elsewhere in the world.
In Myanmar, we have seen the genocide of the Rohingya people; in Ethiopia, the war in Tigray Province has led to widespread violence against ethnic minorities and famine being weaponised as a likely crime against humanity; and in China, systematic oppression of the Uyghurs is likely genocide.
This is why the International Development Committee undertook an inquiry into the United Kingdom’s role in atrocity prevention internationally and looked at how it can be improved for the good of all concerned.
We need to tackle the supply chains that funnel weapons, and the porous borders through which they flow
In 2005 the UK committed at the United Nations, with other member states, to the principle of the Responsibility to Protect, that is, to help protect everyone from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It is time for us to live up to this commitment.
Key trends are heading in the wrong direction: climate change, democratic backsliding, and the involvement of non-state armed actors in conflict are propelling identity-based violence and mass atrocities. Recent years have seen the greatest number of armed conflicts worldwide since the Second World War. And atrocities do not only occur during wars. The widespread and systematic violence against Uyghurs shows that.
Moreover, these trends are deepening at time when multilateral action at the UN is being stymied by veto-wielding countries in its top decision-making body, the Security Council. I am referring to Russia and China.
Therefore, my committee is calling on our government to develop its own national strategy to better predict, prevent and respond to mass atrocities.
The Prime Minister says she is with us on this. She told my committee back in May, when she was Foreign Secretary, that it is morally right and “absolutely” in the UK’s strategic interest to prevent mass atrocities.
The UK needs its own, cross-government approach. We need, for example, to tackle the supply chains that funnel weapons, and the porous borders through which they flow. We need an uncut, unfrozen aid budget that can allow our embassies and civil society partners to do what they do best.
The Foreign Office is now building up a very welcome atrocity prevention team. But tackling supply chains and borders, for example, will mean pulling in expertise from other government departments as well. It is also welcome that the government has started work on securing justice for the victims of atrocity crimes in Ukraine. But we need a coordinating strategy, and we need that leadership to start at the top.
Our report recommends giving much higher priority to atrocity prevention by addressing it at the government’s recently created top policy body, the Foreign Policy and Security Council. We should prioritise atrocity prevention training for our diplomats so they are better informed and prepared and allocate sufficient funds and staff to the new atrocity prevention team in the Foreign Office. Our foreign aid budget should be used to help prevent situations which can encourage atrocities.
Many of us across Parliament feel strongly about these issues. There is a strong desire for the UK to more effectively uphold its responsibilities to better predict, prevent and respond to mass atrocities. Our report provides very practical steps for the UK to take a lead in preventing and ending mass atrocities around the world. I look forward to working with colleagues towards this goal – and I cannot think of a more positive set of actions our new government could take.
Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham and chair of the International Development Committee.
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