Let’s face it: the civil war in Syria is only getting worse but the international community, particularly the U.S., turns a blind eye to those suffering in the war-torn country.

Crimes Against Humanity

The Syrian government has continually restricted humanitarian aid from entering the country.

President Bashar al-Assad is refusing to allow aid workers and medical volunteers to enter regions of the country where residents need help the most. He is also restricting emergency assistance from crossing Syrian borders, and what little aid that does come through has been funneled to Assad’s supporters in Damascus.

In short, the Syrian government is committing crimes against humanity, which should be recognized by the international community. TCF senior fellow Morton Abramowitz recently addressed this issue in the Washington Post.

Abramowitz calls out the American public and its government for turning away from what UN High Commissioner António Guterres calls the worst humanitarian disaster since the Cold War. While it can be argued that the U.S. has a moral obligation to provide aid to those suffering, there are other reasons why the U.S. must consider sending humanitarian aid to Syrians — such as the Responsibility to Protect.

An International Norm

After the human rights violations in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, the international community began discussing how to respond to humanitarian crises occurring in autonomous states.

In December 2001, the Canadian government released a report known as the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ISISS) that questioned when state sovereignty, an official standard of international law, should be unobserved because of the need to provide humanitarian aid to countries suffering from a crisis.

The ISISS created a norm known as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which former Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan started campaigning for immediately. In his 2000 Millennium Report, Annan asked:

“If humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica, to gross and systematic violation of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?”

At the 2005 World Summit, R2P gained increasing support from leaders around the world. Governments agreed that the international community has a responsibility to apply the appropriate diplomatic and humanitarian means to aid people who are being denied basic human rights. The World Summit concluded that when a country refuses to protect its citizens from humanitarian disasters, leaders around the world must get involved.

The principle of R2P can be applied to the situation in Syria because it is indisputably clear Assad is denying his people their human rights by restricting their access to humanitarian aid. Further, the global community knows the Assad administration is denying most Syrians humanitarian aid, but refuses to do anything about it. The U.S. should send help to Syria — and R2P provides the legal framework to do so.