Syria is not a black hole for international law

Even though the conflict in Syria violates so many humanitarian norms, such as the use of chemical weapons, the world can keep supporting the hospitality of nearby countries in hosting Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugees walk outside a makeshift settlement in Bar Elias town, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon March 28.

With the Syrian conflict entering its seventh year, United Nations officials are asking if the country has become a war zone empty of international norms. Chemical weapons are used in violation of international law. Aid is denied to millions of displaced civilians. Torture and other human-rights atrocities are commonplace. The death toll is now more than 400,000. And negotiations to end the war have so far been useless.

“How many times have we pleaded for the laws of war to be heeded or for a lasting political solution to end the conflict?” says Stephen O’Brien, UN emergency relief coordinator.

Yet amid a conflict that appears free of moral conventions, humanitarian law does have a strong foothold. Nearly 5 million Syrian refugees have spent years in nearby countries, welcomed with the type of hospitality toward strangers that is deeply rooted in the Abrahamic religions. Most of the refugees are in Turkey, but in tiny Lebanon they make up nearly a quarter of the population. And in an important measure of the world’s commitment to international law, a conference in Brussels this week resulted in new pledges of aid for Lebanon.

Helping Middle East countries host the refugees – and fight off any “compassion fatigue” – is a critical investment for the future of Syria. The war will end some day, and the refugees will return. Their treatment as guests in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and other countries will instill values such as diversity and tolerance, which will be important in rebuilding their country. Given the history of war and enmity in the Middle East, any lessons of hospitality must be supported.

A similar hospitality can be found in Tunisia toward Libyan refugees and in the neighboring countries of Nigeria toward refugees fleeing Boko Haram militants. Even though such conflicts largely ignore international rules of war, they are not “empty” of humanitarian law. The aid provided to Syrian refugees has helped them to retain their dignity. When given shelter and work, they feel control over their lives and prepare themselves to return home.

This is law in action, or humanity’s humanity at work. Rather than bemoan the absence of international law in Syria, it may be time to recognize where part of it already exists.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Syria is not a black hole for international law
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today