At the Hauser Global Law School Annual Dinner, IRC President David Miliband urges humanitarian action in Syria

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises with lifesaving resources. As president and CEO of the IRC, David Miliband is sounding the alarm about the escalating urgency in Syria. In a keynote speech at the Hauser Global Law School Program’s 19th annual dinner on March 10, he examined the challenges facing humanitarian efforts there and proposed a plan for greater effectiveness.

Rita Hauser, David Miliband, and Gustave HauserThe IRC has provided nearly 900,000 people in Syria with medical and emergency supplies, Miliband said. This fiscal year Syria will become the largest program the organization runs. “Without question, lives have been saved and improved,” he said. “But equally, I have to put to you that there is a growing gap between what we and other humanitarian organizations are doing in Syria and the scale of the need that is there.”

Before taking charge of the IRC in September 2013, Miliband was a member of the UK Parliament and was the nation's youngest Foreign Secretary in three decades. He emphasized that as serious as the situation in Syria is now, with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to other countries, it has the potential to become something far worse. He recalled previous crises—like Bosnia and Rwanda—in which international powers failed to help. “[T]he failure to meet humanitarian need with appropriate humanitarian action is the collective failure of this decade.”

While the West has, not surprisingly, been resistant to military intervention, he stressed that this reluctance to get involved has “also infected” the humanitarian effort. “The IRC raised more money in three weeks after the Philippines disaster than in three years for the Syria crisis,” Miliband said.

The thrust of his speech, though, was not only that Syria needs help. What is happening in Syria, he said, threatens the laws established around the conduct of war. These are meant to protect civilians, but the Syrian government’s failure to acknowledge the existence of “non-belligerents” means that Syria is becoming a “war without law.” That should be a concern to the international community.

Miliband proposed seven steps for changing the situation in Syria, among them suggesting that each member of the United Nations Security Council appoint a full-time humanitarian envoy, and that concentrated efforts be made to increase access to besieged areas and resettle the neediest into third countries. (You can read Miliband’s full remarks here.)

Dean Trevor Morrison described Miliband’s speech as “compelling and bracing.” Law School alumna Rita Hauser, co-founder of the program with her husband Gustave Hauser LLM ’57 and a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 2001 to 2004, remarked that the Syrian crisis is an example of the difficult practicalities of implementing the law—“international humanitarian law, human rights law, international criminal law, and the laws of war”—studied by members of the Law School. “This is a very practical and sad commentary on their application, or lack of.”

Earlier that evening, Hauser Global Program Faculty Director Gráinne de Búrca, Florence Ellinwood Allen Professor of Law, gave an overview of the multitude of projects the 2013-14 Hauser Global Scholars are working on, including their investment in research and clinics at the Law School. Among them, she cited the example of Michael Riegner LLM ’14, who in addition to volunteering for the Global Justice Clinic, is contributing to a paper on the UN mission in Libya prepared by the Center for Constitutional Transitions and presented a paper at the 2013 Yale Doctoral Scholarship Conference.

She also reflected on past scholar’s paths, noting that Shingira Masanzu LLM ’13, a member of last year’s class, is now associate counsel of the Legal Vice Presidency at the World Bank. She works in the East Asia and Pacific and South Asia regions, and although she’s only been there for six months, she has already worked on projects related to India, Sri Lanka, Bangledesh, Somalia, Nepal, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The Global scholars’ work was an encouraging reminder that there are eager and willing participants in change, answering the entreaty for greater engagement that Miliband closed his keynote with: “I hope that, in any way you can, you will join us.”

Posted on March 12, 2014