Our Responsibility to Protect Civilians

In a report launched today for Policy Exchange, Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, and Alison McGovern, the Labour MP for Wirral South, argue that Britain must lead again in protecting civilians from mass atrocities.

They make the case that “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”.

In a statement published with the report, the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Theresa MP MP said, “There are few more complex questions than when to intervene overseas. Jo Cox was an inspirational humanitarian who cared deeply about preventing violence and protecting people around the world. It is a fitting part of Jo’s legacy that this paper will challenge politicians of all parties to consider how we can put such considerations at the heart of the decisions we take.”

In support of this report, Conservative Parliamentarians have issued a statement in support of the principle of the responsibility to protect civilians from crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and ethnic cleansing:

"We strongly support the Government’s commitment to the Responsibility to Protect civilians from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It is and should remain a guiding principle of Conservative foreign policy. It springs from our values, advances the national interest, and reflects our vision for the country’s role in the world.

The first responsibility for protecting its own citizens lies with national governments. But we have seen in Rwanda and in Srebrenica, in Darfur and in Syria that such structures can be torn down, and it is the innocent who too often pay the heaviest price. Each appalling mass crime against civilians scars our conscience and weakens the international norms on which our long-term security and prosperity depend.

As the UK and every other government agreed at the World Summit in 2005, when a State is manifestly failing to protect its citizens, the international community has a responsibility to take timely and decisive action, choosing from a wide range of actions including diplomatic means, sanctions and in the most extreme cases, military operations.

The UK helped create the rules-based liberal international order. We did so knowing that our security and prosperity and those of other countries are intertwined. As Conservatives, we believe that human rights, international humanitarian law, and good governance preserve stability and people’s ability to pursue their own prosperity.

It is right that we proactively seek to identify risks of violence to ordinary people before they escalate, that we use context-specific analysis to guide early, preventative engagement. It is right that we use all the tools of diplomacy and deterrence at our disposal to prevent mass atrocities, knowing that they will be most effective if backed up by a willingness to use military force as a last resort.

It is also in our interest to prevent mass atrocities. Genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity signify a wholesale breakdown of the rule of law and the presence of extremist ideologies. They destabilise countries, deepen grievances, and create ill-governed areas that allow violence and terrorism to grow. Atrocities cause major internal and regional population movements, eroding economic growth, social cohesion, and political stability. These consequences are not confined by national borders; they pose a threat to UK citizens both in the UK and overseas.

While each situation demands a bespoke response, we must remember that doing nothing has consequences, too. Inaction in the face of such human suffering allows it to continue and to spread, as well as undermining the credibility of British commitments to act in the future.

In our military, our intelligence services, our development effort, and our diplomats, we have a world class array of talent and resources with which to fulfil British responsibilities around the world. Out of compassion for those in grave danger and concern for stability in the world, we stand by our responsibility to protect the innocent from mass atrocities."

Andrew Mitchell MP

Tom Tugendhat MBE MP

Richard Benyon MP

Flick Drummond MP

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger, CBE

Kevin Hollinrake MP

Baroness Jenkin

Jeffrey Lefroy MP

Tania Matthias MP

Baroness Sugg