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Tom Burn

Political Officer

Part of UK in Australia

27th March 2015 Canberra, Australia

Supporting R2P in Asia

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the establishment at the 2005 World Summit of the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The governments present agreed that they had a responsibility to protect civilian populations from genocide and mass atrocity events. This could be in three ways: a state protecting its own populations; a state asking other states for help in protecting its population; and, as a last resort, other states intervening to ensure the protection of a population.

Since 2005, the United Kingdom has been a strong supporter of R2P, as has Australia. I’ve been based at the British High Commission in Canberra for four years, and during that time have worked with Australian officials to ensure our respective governments can do what they can to promote R2P. I’ve also travelled outside of Canberra to talk about R2P with some of the very active and committed community of R2P supporters in Australia.

I’ve particularly valued the visits I’ve made to the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P, based at the University of Queensland. Its academic work and its outreach to Australia’s regional neighbours is outstanding, and of great interest to the UK’s R2P community. The workshops it runs across the Asia-Pacific are excellent examples of how to promote a potentially sensitive principle through dialogue and collaborative working. While R2P is a principle, it is also a tool – and the Centre’s outreach has helped a variety of Asia-Pacific countries develop capabilities to protect their own civilians, whether by themselves or with the help of neighbours.

These developments are important to the UK. We are already supporting peace and security in Asia, including through active support to the Mindanao Peace Process and to reform in Burma. Helping conflict prevention or resolution efforts wherever they are is of course worth doing. But doing so in the Asia-Pacific region is increasingly in the interest of broader global prosperity too, which increasingly depends on the strength of Asian economies and their ability to grow and freely trade with others. Work now to build up R2P capability is a valuable investment in security – at a very human level – for the future.

But where does the British High Commission in Australia fit into this? To show our support for the promotion of R2P in the Asia-Pacific region, and as an investment in the future, we secured funding to sponsor an Australian student to participate in a conference in Cambodia last month marking the tenth anniversary of R2P. It was organised by the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P and its regional partners, and aimed to review progress and chart a course for R2P’s second decade.

The British High Commission in Canberra ran an essay competition to find someone interested in R2P who could participate in the conference, and come away inspired to play a role in supporting Australia’s neighbours in protecting their civilians in the future.

Tom Burn with R2P essay competition winner Aneta Peretko
Tom Burn with R2P essay competition winner Aneta Peretko

We received some excellent essay entries. Our winner was Aneta Peretko of Adelaide, who skilfully identified the main R2P issues in the Asia-Pacific, and drew the links between R2P and an issue of particular focus for the UK Government: the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. Aneta joined us in Canberra for a day of R2P-based dialogue, before heading to Phnom Penh for the conference – a clearly rewarding experience which she reflects on in a blog post at the website of the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P.

The UK will continue to look for ways to support the promotion of R2P – and peace and security more generally – in the Asia-Pacific. If you have any suggestions, please get in touch!

About Tom Burn

Tom Burn is a Political Officer in the Foreign & Security Policy Team at the British High Commission in Canberra. He has been in Australia since November 2010, and has…

Tom Burn is a Political Officer in the Foreign & Security Policy Team at the British High Commission in Canberra. He has been in Australia since November 2010, and has previously served in Iran.

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