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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis: What More Can We Do?

Friday, September 23, 2016 - 10:30am


Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on the humanitarian crisis within Syria, and the options and dilemmas confronting policymakers concerned with civilian protection.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an estimated 430,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war between March 2011 and August 2016, of whom 86,692 were civilians. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) calculates that 4.8 million Syrians have been forced to leave the country, and 6.5 million are internally displaced – half of the country’s total population of 22 million. In 2016, 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, among them 6 million children and 5.47 million who are in hard-to-reach areas, including close to 600,000 people in 18 besieged areas.

This humanitarian crisis, the largest the world has seen since World War II, cannot be characterized as mere “collateral damage” of the civil war. Rather, the war’s belligerents, particularly the government of Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State, deliberately target civilians and actively oppose humanitarian efforts aimed to mitigate the crisis. Furthermore, the Syrian regime has prosecuted the war with complete disregard for international humanitarian law, as evidenced by the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs, the besieging of civilian populations, the systematic targeting of medical facilities and personnel, and the blocking of humanitarian assistance. The most recent partial ceasefire is at risk after the aerial bombardment of an authorized aid convoy. A negotiated end to the conflict does not appear to be in reach in the foreseeable future.

 In this context, the hearing will examine what is being done and what more could be done to protect civilians in Syria. Witnesses from organizations operating on the ground in Syria will discuss their efforts to assist civilian populations inside the country, what they have achieved, the obstacles they face and their recommendations. Witnesses from organizations that specialize in protection and accountability will discuss measures to reduce the vulnerability of civilians as the war continues and to create the conditions for accountability for war crimes in an eventual post-war context.

This hearing will be open to members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public, and the media. The hearing will be livestreamed via YouTube on the Commission website, For any questions, please contact Kimberly Stanton (for Mr. McGovern) at 202-225-3599 or or Carson Middleton (for Mr. Pitts) at 202-225-2411 or  

Hosted by:

James P. McGovern, M.C.
Co-Chairman, TLHRC
Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.
Co-Chairman, TLHRC

Opening Remarks


Panel I

Panel II

  • Sarah Holewinski, Senior fellow, Center for a New American Security, and Board of Advisors, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)
    Written testimony
  • Naomi Kikoler, Deputy Director, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Written testimony
  • Chris Engels, Deputy Director for Investigations and Operations, Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA)
    Written testimony





114th Congress