Five Claremont McKenna College students, working through The Center for Human Rights Leadership, are writing a paper addressing the world communities’ failure to act and protect the innocent Syrian civilians that every day are being murdered in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Melissa Carlson ’13, Bojana Bozic ’14, Sophia Heriot ’15, Mylene Fotso ’16, and Joel Kirk ’16, along with the Center’s director Professor P. Edward Haley and the Center’s Programand Research Coordinator Kirsti Zitar ’97, have for months been gathering information and discussing possible solutions to ending the violence which plagues Syria. The goal is to submit a paper to a conference with the hope that their analysis and the increased awareness that comes with their work will lead to the U.S. taking a greater role to end to the horrific violence and human rights travesties that have occurred in Syria for the past two years.
The core of the paper is addressing the failure of Responsibility To Protect (R2P) through the examination of the international response to the conflict in Syria. The Responsibility to Protect, signed by world leaders at the 2005 United Nations World Summit, was a response to previous failures to react against crimes against humanity. The Responsibility To Protect says “The state carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing” and also that “The international community has a responsibility to assist states in fulfilling this responsibility” using appropriate diplomatic means. The paper’s chief theme is, as Professor Haley describes it, “investigating how the Responsibility To Protect, which was presented as a new norm in world politics when it was first created, has failed in Syria.”
The importance of the work goes beyond raising awareness for Syria, and ties into the Center’s mission statement, which is to “prepare students for leadership in human rights regardless of academic major of career.” Junior Bojana Bozic was first hired as a research assistant last year and worked on publishing a paper about early warning signs of genocide using Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda as case studies. Now she is focusing on Russia’s influence and involvement in the Syrian crisis. Russia has 5 billion dollars worth of signed and under negotiation arms contracts with Damascus and has repeatedly vetoed UN Security Council, which has kept other nations from helping resolve the violence. Bojana has paid especially close attention to Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and his increasingly defensive and hostile attitudes when pressed about Syria.
Sophomore Sophia Heriot came to working on the paper a different way. A research assistant for The Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies, Sophia was assigned to the project by the Keck Center’s Director Professor Minxin Pei. Sophia is especially interested in “international policy and how governments of different nations work with one another,” which goes along with her work with the Center, where she is investigation international sanctions that have gone into effect in response to the crisis. A large element of this research is focused on the trade sanctions that have been placed on Assad’s government in Syria, and how, rather then weaken Assad, they have had a far more negative effect on Syria’s citizens.
The work at the Center has also led to the founding of Students for Syria, a Claremont Club open to all 5 C’s students that is working to increase on campus awareness and student involvement. Founded by Melissa Carlson at the start of the semester, the club is focusing on the humanitarian aspect of the conflict. “People here don’t realize what is actually going on over there. For example, only 6% of children enrolled in school are actually attending. This is becoming a larger and larger issue.” The students are spreading the word by asking students to write letters to their congressman, by putting up posters around campus, and by holding informational sessions which includes a short video that they have made which attempts to paint a picture of the realities of Syria.
This project continues the Center’s tradition not only of training future leaders in human rights, but also of conducting academic research. Last year Professor Haley, Ms. Zitar, and a group of research assistants studied and wrote a paper on the failed humanitarian response to the 2011 famine in Somalia. Their paper, titled “Never again, Yet Again” was presented at the 2012 conference of genocide scholars in San Francisco.
The conflict in Syria has gone on for over two years, and the world community has yet to react in a convincing or effective manner. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has estimated the death toll to be as high as 90,000, while other sources report the total number of refugees as nearly 1,000,000. One of the leading views of the students and the Center is for the United States to provide arms to the rebels, a stance that the government had previously opposed, but to which it has recently softened. Regardless of whether or not this position is adopted, the main message of the student’s and the Center’s work is that the World Community cannot continue to stand by and watch as thousands of Syrian’s are left to die.
–Joel Kirk, ’15