European Human Rights and strengthening policy to prevent genocide

Submitting Institution

London School of Economics & Political Science

Unit of Assessment

Politics and International Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Law and Legal Studies: Law
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Philosophy

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Summary of the impact

Professor Karen E. Smith's research into European Union policy in the areas of human rights and the prevention of mass atrocities underpins the work of the European Foreign Policy Unit (EFPU). On the basis of this research, and as Director of the EFPU, Professor Smith has conducted a study of European Union human rights policies for the European Parliament and served as Co-Chair of the Task Force on EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities. These activities have stimulated and informed policy debate within the EU and improved public understanding of the issues of human rights and mass atrocities across Europe.

Underpinning research

Research Insights and Outputs:

Over the last decade, Professor Smith's research has explored the international relations of the European Union. It has sought to explain the policies the EU's foreign policy system produces, and to assess related issues of consistency, coherence and effectiveness of EU foreign policy [5]. In particular, she has examined the EU's pursuit of so-called 'ethical' foreign policy goals, including the EU's promotion of human rights [1,2,3,6]. This research has emphasised the limits to EU unity in emphasising ethical concerns: the EU's member states and institutions find it difficult to agree and maintain common positions regarding human rights in relations with third countries. Human rights jostle with other policy objectives, and there are disagreements over how to promote human rights in any particular case. The resulting inconsistency in EU policies (with some violations overlooked and others punished, for example) is one of the reasons why any policy cohesion among EU members is difficult to translate into influence in international institutions charged with developing human rights policies: the EU is accused of hypocrisy and double standards, limiting its external effectiveness. In addition, she found that EU member states must devote so much attention to resolving internal disagreements that they have little to spend building support for their common positions in the United Nations [1,2,3]. In 2007, Professor Smith's contribution was recognised when she received the Anna Lindh award for outstanding work in European foreign and security policy research. As a result of this research, Professor Smith was commissioned by the European Parliament's Sub-Committee on Human Rights to conduct a study of the role of the European Union in the Human Rights Council.

Professor Smith's interest in ethical foreign policy goals led to more recent research on European policymaking in the area of genocide prevention and response. This seeks to explain why Europeans have so often failed to reach agreement to either recognise or adequately address instances of genocide. Smith's convention-challenging research, set out in Genocide and the Europeans [4], found that despite Europe's historic experience of genocide in the Second World War, some European governments were hostile to the 1948 Genocide Convention, and European governments have been reluctant to use the term genocide to describe atrocities ever since. This work provided a systematic treatment of the reasons why European governments have rarely been able to agree on whether to call a situation genocide; and why their responses to purported genocides have often been limited to delivering humanitarian aid and supporting prosecution of perpetrators in international criminal tribunals, whilst more coercive measures such as sanctions or military intervention have typically been rejected. Governments fear that if they use the term `genocide' they will come under considerable pressure to respond, in ways that are inimical to their interests. Therefore they seek to avoid use of the term altogether. As a result of this research, the Foundation for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities asked Professor Smith to act as Co-Chair of its Task Force on EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities.

Key Researcher: Professor Smith has been at LSE since 1997.

References to the research

1. K.Smith (2010) 'The European Union at the Human Rights Council: Speaking with One Voice but Having Little Influence', Journal of European Public Policy 17(2) 224-41. DOI: 10.1080/13501760903561617


2. K.Smith (2006) 'Speaking with One Voice? European Union Coordination on Human Rights Issues at the United Nations', Journal of Common Market Studies 44(1) 113-37. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5965.2006.00616.x


3. K.Smith (2006) 'The European Union, Human Rights and the United Nations', in K. Laatikainen and K. Smith eds The European Union at the United Nations: Intersecting Multilateralisms Palgrave 154-74. DOI: 10.1057/9780230503731


4. K. Smith (2010) Genocide and the Europeans Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. LSE Research Online ID: 29674

5. K. Smith (2003) European Union Foreign Policy in a Changing World, Cambridge: Polity Press. LSE Research Online ID: 21595

6. K. Smith (2001) 'The EU, Human Rights and Relations with Third Countries: "Foreign Policy" with an Ethical Dimension?', in K. Smith and M. Light (eds) Ethics and Foreign Policy Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 185-203. Available from LSE on request.


Evidence of quality: publications in peer-reviewed journals and two books with a leading university press.

Details of the impact

Professor Karen Smith's research has underpinned two distinct impacts on EU policymaking and practitioner debate.

1) Study for the Directorate General for External Policies of the Union, `The European Union and the Review of the Human Rights Council'

On the basis of her research in the field of EU human rights policies, and in the context of a review of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Professor Smith was commissioned by the European Parliament's Sub-Committee on Human Rights to analyse the EU's role in the Human Rights Council since the latter's creation in 2006, and to consider the EU's role in the review process. Building on research by Smith that highlighted the failures of the EU's human rights record within the UN system, the report [A] argued that the EU urgently needed to improve its capacity for outreach. It further emphasised the need to better coordinate the EU's human rights positions with its other external relations policies, so it could become more ambitious in its approach at the Human Rights Council.

Professor Smith's report, reinforced by her oral evidence to the meeting of the Human Rights Sub-Committee [B], was instrumental in determining how the Sub-Committee evaluated the EU's record at the United Nations, and shaped the European Parliament's policy response to the review of the UNHRC. The study was used extensively by the Committee's political group advisors in their preparation of the European Parliament's recommendation to the Council on the HRC review [C]. The resulting resolution [D] to a great degree reflected the substance of Professor Smith's recommendations, and endorsed Professor Smith's proposal for the EU to support the use of `independent triggers' and call for improvements to the transparency and oversight of Special Procedures.

2) Task Force on EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities

The Foundation for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities launched a Task Force on EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities to assess the EU's capabilities in the area of the prevention of mass atrocities. As co-Chair, Professor Smith co-authored the report of the Task Force [E], which has had impact on debate and policy at both EU and member state levels, as well as at the UN.

The process of drafting the report involved significant collaboration with the policy community [F]. Three meetings, in Berlin, Paris and Brussels, attended by national and EU policy officials, were used to discuss drafts and test and build support for the Task Force's recommendations. These meetings built on months of individual discussions with officials and the wider policy community which provided specific and detailed input and feedback, both verbally and in writing [K].

A draft of the Task Force's report was circulated widely throughout relevant units in the European External Action Service and some EU member states' foreign ministries in December 2012, resulting in substantive feedback on the report's conclusions [K]. The final report identified core problems impeding the ability of the EU and its member states to prevent mass atrocities and made a number of recommendations to strengthen the EU's capacity for mass atrocity prevention.

Following the report's Brussels launch, a programme of systematic dissemination and engagement followed, including media op-eds and interviews, and presentations of the report to the UNHRC and policymakers in London, Geneva, Rome, Berlin and Budapest, with events in other capitals scheduled for autumn 2014 and spring 2015 [F]. At the European Parliament, the Rapporteur of the Foreign Affairs Committee gave comments on the draft of the Task Force Report [G], which guided the writing of the Committee's own Report containing a proposal for an EP resolution [H], which was adopted by the Parliament in April 2013 [I].

At the UN level, Adama Dieng, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, has publically endorsed the Task Force [J]. Similar pressure has also come from individual states, including the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which raised the report at EU level, having been closely engaged with the drafting process and welcoming its recommendations. Mark Simmonds, the minister responsible for conflict issues in the FCO, has asked Professor Smith to brief departmental officials in person [K].

In tandem, the Report has been extensively utilised by civil society groups to lobby at member state level. These governmental impacts have been buttressed by sustained media coverage of the Report's conclusions and recommendations, which has generated wider consciousness in the general public of the issues raised [L].

Sources to corroborate the impact

All Sources listed below can also be seen at:

Review of the Human Rights Council

A. Study: The European Union and the Review of the Human Rights Council.

B. Video of Karen Smith's oral evidence to the Human Rights Sub-committee. (15:28)

C. Email correspondence from Responsible Official in the Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union. Confidential source: available on request.

D. EP resolution.

Task Force on EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities.

E. The Report of the Task Force.

F. List of officials and policymakers that were directly consulted in the drafting process. Source files:

G. Comments of Rapporteur on a draft of the Task Force report. Source files:

H. Documentation of the direct suggestions that were incorporated and how the final wording of the EP resolution reflected Task Force's report. Source files:

I. European Parliament's adoption of FAC Report.

J. Video of the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide endorsing the Report (about 2 minutes). In general his whole presentation reinforces our findings and recommendations: see especially 24.30 to 25.30.

K. Selected email correspondence, letter from Minister for Africa, the Overseas Territories and Conflict Issues. Confidential sources: available on request.

L. Media coverage. Source files: