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How heartbreaking images from Aleppo could actually change international norms

North America

How heartbreaking images from Aleppo could actually change international norms

Chiara De Franco

Huffington Post

12/22/2016

The siege of Aleppo is a mass atrocity with unprecedented levels of visibility. Confronted with the horrific images of a destroyed city, and the testimonies of wounded survivors using social media to reach out to the world, many have argued that a complete meltdown of humanity is unfolding.

Some have lamented that the post-Holocaust cry of “never again“ proved meaningless and that UN tenet of the responsibility to protect is based on empty words at best.

I dare to disagree. Yes, over the past five years, the responsibility to protect doctrine has failed to shape political interests and mobilise effective action to prevent tragedy in Aleppo. But it is important to understand that the best we can do for Syria or any other war-torn country is to improve and strengthen international norms for the protection of civilians.

The problem is not that norms such as the responsibility to protect are empty but that they evolve not just through consensus, but also through contestation; not just with the excitement of success but also with the emotional responses to failures to protect.

In the case of Aleppo, the images we have seen have had an impact on the political debate and international perception of the humanitarian situation. They also might have an important role in future discourses about the responsibility to protect.

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