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The UK's Approach to Operationalising Mass Atrocity Prevention

Date: Wednesday 13 December 2023 Time: 11:00-12:00 (UK time)

Location: Virtual. Register here.

Speaker: Gillian McKay, University of Leeds, School of Politics and International Studies.

Title: The UK's Approach to Operationalising Mass Atrocity Prevention

Abstract: The UK government’s approach to preventing mass atrocities has been subjected to close scrutiny for several years, prompting institutional changes in the foreign office at a country level in 2019 and later at a departmental level in 2022. Nonetheless, research has revealed a lack of clarity around what atrocity prevention looks like for the UK in practice, and no in-depth academic study of the government’s operational approach has been conducted to date. In this presentation, I provide an overview of my thesis which seeks to address this gap by offering empirical insight into the way the UK has responded to the risk and commission of mass atrocity crimes in different contexts over time. The first part is primarily concerned with the UK’s approach broadly speaking, including the operational impact of conceptual shifts and institutional changes as well as the prospects for internalising the Responsibility to Protect. The second part sheds empirical light on the UK’s approach in four different contexts using four distinct tools, namely: targeted sanctions in Myanmar, defence cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the context of its war in Yemen, multilateral military assistance through MINUSMA in Mali, and bilateral development programming in Kenya. In doing so, I unpack an approach which is not only vulnerable to inconsistencies but also one which has been pervasively more responsive to the commission of atrocities than to the risk they might occur. This, I suggest, points to a reactive and incoherent approach to operationalising mass atrocity prevention. Having said that, recent developments are expected to facilitate a pivot towards a more proactive and coherent approach going forward. These findings therefore come at an important time for the government as it seeks to define and operationalise a new approach to preventing mass atrocities.


Bio: Gillian McKay is a PhD Candidate in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. Her research is focused on the United Kingdom’s approach to mass atrocity prevention, supervised within the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Her academic background is in psychology and human rights law, and she has previously worked in the humanitarian and development sectors.