Ben Willis

Ben Willis


My doctoral work explores the international response to the 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 the application of R2P to situations of armed conflict – as in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere – the case of atrocity crimes within North Korea has largely escaped sustained appraisal. Drawing on critical constructivist IR theory, my work explores how this frequently neglected case is able to advance our understanding of the political dynamics and conflicts of interpretation that continue to influence both the normative trajectory and pragmatic application of R2P.

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I returned to higher education as a mature student in 2009 and received MA and BSc (Hons) degrees in International Relations from the University of Plymouth. Prior to this, I had a varied employment history across the public and private sectors. I have previously held various research and editorial roles with SERIO, E-International Relations, and Amnesty International. In recent years, I have also worked as a researcher for Protection Approaches, a UK-based NGO that focuses on the prevention of identity-based violence and mass atrocity crimes. I am currently an Associate Lecturer in Politics and International Relations with the School of Society and Culture at the University of Plymouth.

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

European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (ECR2P)

British International Studies Association (BISA)

International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS)


Parliamentary evidence

  • Willis, B. 2020. Written evidence submitted to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea ‘Inquiry into Human Rights Violations, 2014-2020’. APPG North Korea. December 2020.
  • Willis, B. 2020. Written evidence submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry on ‘Xinjiang Detention Camps’. XIN0040. November 2020.
  • Willis, B. 2020. Written evidence submitted to the Cabinet Office consultation on the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy. August 2020.
  • Ferguson, K. and Willis, B. 2018. Written evidence submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry on ‘The Responsibility to Protect and Humanitarian Intervention’. RTP0002. June 2018.


Book reviews

  • Willis, B. 2019. Reappraising European IR Theoretical Traditions. Global Affairs. 5(1), pp.96-98.
  • Willis, B. 2017. The Oxford Handbook of the Responsibility to Protect. Global Affairs. 3(2), pp.182-184.

Policy papers

  • Ferguson, K., Willis, B., and Lucas, H. 2019. Europe’s Prevention Crisis: How Can Civil Society Respond? Protection Approaches. Occasional Paper. 23 October 2019.
  • 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.