Ben Willis

Ben Willis


My doctoral work explores international reaction to the ongoing human rights situation in North Korea through the prism of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Broadly speaking, I am interested in examining how international society has conceived of its various protection duties in relation to chronic peacetime abuses within North Korea over the last decade - abuses which the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report characterised as crimes against humanity, intrinsic to the fabric of a state that 'does not have any parallel in the contemporary world'.

While much scholarly attention to date has been focused on R2P-related issues surrounding conflict situations such as Libya and Syria, the case of atrocity crimes within North Korea has largely escaped sustained appraisal. Drawing on critical constructivist IR theory, my research is aimed at exploring how this frequently neglected case is able to advance our understanding of the wider political dynamics and conflicts of interpretation that continue to influence both the normative trajectory and pragmatic application of R2P.

Websites: Twitter | LinkedIn | Google Scholar | European Centre for R2P


I returned to higher education as a mature student in 2009, and received MA (Distinction) and BSc (First Class Hons) degrees in International Relations from the University of Plymouth. Prior to and alongside this I had a varied employment history across the public and private sectors.

Along with the PhD I am a Research Associate with Protection Approaches, a UK-based NGO that focuses on the prevention of identity-based violence and mass atrocity crimes. I have also previously held research and editorial roles with SERIO, E-International Relations, and Amnesty International.

Research interests

Atrocity prevention; Responsibility to Protect; North Korean human rights; international criminal justice; UK foreign policy; constructivist and English School IR theory.

Professional Memberships

British International Studies Association (BISA)

European International Studies Association (EISA)

European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR)


Parliamentary evidence

  • Ferguson, K. and Willis, B. 2018. Written evidence from Protection Approaches submitted to the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry on Global Britain: The Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention. RTP0002. June 2018.

Policy papers

  • Ferguson, K. and Willis, B. 2018. Towards a national approach to atrocities: A response to growing scrutiny. Protection Approaches. Briefing Paper. 14 May 2018.
  • Ferguson, K. and Willis, B. 2018. Atrocity Prevention and UK Policy: RUSI event. Protection Approaches. Outcome Document. January 2018.
  • Ferguson, K., Willis, B. and Hiles, M. 2017. Protecting populations from identity-based violence: A review of the 2017 general election manifestos. Protection Approaches. Briefing Paper. 31 May 2017.
  • Ferguson, K. and Willis, B. 2017. Maintaining momentum in a changing world: Atrocity prevention in UK policy. Protection Approaches. Occasional Paper. 8 May 2017.


  • Willis, B. 2020. From Progress to Paralysis: North Korean Human Rights at the UN Security Council. European Centre for R2P. 17 February 2020.
  • Willis, B. 2017. How careful human rights diplomacy is finally putting real pressure on North Korea. The Conversation. 25 January 2017.
  • Willis, B. 2015. Crimes Against Humanity: Our Collective Responsibility to Protect. European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea. 6 January 2015.

Book reviews