Preventing Mass Atrocities

From responding to war crimes in Ukraine to the ‘re-education’ camps in China, a new approach is needed for the UK to address some of the world’s most shocking crimes.

For the UK to truly champion international justice, it is vital that we have a clear and strategic approach to tackling the atrocity crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. Recent governments have failed to develop a coherent UK response to these crimes. Time and again, the UK public hears of unspeakable crimes being committed against people around the world, but the UK’s potential to act is rarely utilised to its fullest extent. As we approach the next General Election, Labour must commit to a new plan for identifying, preventing, and responding to mass atrocities. These include:

  • Genocide: Efforts to destroy a group through various measures, including killing its members, preventing births within the group, and separating children from the group.
  • Crimes against humanity: Acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, including murder, enslavement, and torture.
  • Ethnic cleansing: Using force, terror or other coercive actions to remove a group from a specific area.
  • War crimes: Serious violations of International Humanitarian Law, such as the Geneva Conventions.

Securing accountability and justice for these crimes is as pressing today as it has ever been. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen horrific crimes committed against civilians. Under Chinese government policy, millions of Uyghur people have been detained in ‘re-education’ camps, alongside other inhumane policies including the mass sterilisation of women and the separation of children from their families. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people remain displaced and stateless as a result of the Myanmar government’s campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide against them. While these crimes are horrifying, current UK policy is inadequate for predicting, preventing, and responding to them when they do occur. Labour can change this.

Supported by the British public

This issue is important to the people of the UK. There is strong public backing for the UK to respond to China’s human rights abuses, as well as overwhelming public condemnation against Russia for its monstrous crimes against Ukraine’s people. It is clear that the British public want a government that will stand up to dictators and criminals and defend human rights around the world.

What Labour should do

Under a Labour Government, in 2005 the UK endorsed the pioneering Responsibility to Protect principle, recognising the unambiguous responsibility of states to prevent atrocity crimes. It is vital that the next Labour Government builds on this legacy by ensuring the UK is a world leader in identifying and acting on grave human rights violations. Labour has already shown strength in its approach to mass atrocities, including its commitments to designate the abuses in Xinjiang as genocide, to reforming the United Nations Security Council, and its staunch support for justice in Ukraine. More can be done.

 Ahead of the next UK General Election, we call on the Labour Party to:

  • Commit to a comprehensive strategy of atrocity prevention, with clear steps for identifying the early signs of mass atrocities, preventing them where identified, and taking punitive measures to respond and provide justice where other efforts fail.