America Abroad – Syria and the Responsibility to Protect

Does the international community have a moral obligation to intervene more aggressively in Syria? We take a look back at past conflicts - Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq and Libya - through the eyes of those who both analyzed and experienced these crises first-hand. We also hear from Syrian refugees in Lebanon on the question of Western intervention.

The civil war in Syria rages on.

There are now more than one hundred thousand people dead and around two million refugees. And the rate at which civilians are fleeing the conflict, six thousand a day, hasn’t been seen since the Rwandan genocide.

And 57-year-old Hajj Mutee doesn’t understand why the United States won’t act to protect civilians in Syria:

“America is the most powerful country in the world. It has an army from where it can hit anyone, anywhere. It can destroy a nation from wherever it wants. So therefore why this neglect? Are the Syrian people valueless? We’ve been bombed, and hit with scud missiles and killed for the past two years, why do they do nothing?”

It used to be that world powers could more easily turn a blind eye to humanitarian crises. But then came instance where eight hundred thousand people were killed in just 100 days, back in 1994. And the world did nothing. Since then, the international community has said it will pay more attention.

The United Nations adopted a principle called the “Responsibility to Protect.” It says world powers need to consider doing something if they see mass atrocities being committed in another country.

What they do, though, is up to them.

And with Syria, there’s no clear answer.

“There is certainly a case to be made for intervention, but we are going to need a stabilization force, thousands of peacekeepers, billions of dollars. Yes, responsibility to protect, but also responsibility to put humpty-dumpty back together again,” said Aaron David Miller.

Host Madeleine Brand says, “In this next hour, should we intervene in Syria on humanitarian grounds? How has Rwanda and other past conflicts influenced our decision to act?

And if we don’t act now, what does that mean for our collective commitment to protect human rights in other countries?”

At a rehabilitation center in Lebanon, a few miles from the Syrian border, some 80 rebel fighters are being treated. Reporter Ben Gilbert brings us the scene.

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