Natural disasters like the hurricanes Irma and Jose took a deadly path through the Caribbean and Florida, causing widespread destruction. Over the last decade, major natural disasters, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 hurricane Katrina, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, have focused world attention on the importance of having adequate national legal frameworks in place for disaster prevention and response. Legislation plays a crucial role in promoting and supporting disaster risk reduction as well as in guaranteeing the speed and effectiveness of disaster response. This blog explains in short the role and importance of international disaster response law.
Unlike armed conflicts, natural disasters have no legally binding set of regulations to govern the actions of those involved in aid and recovery. With the result of possibly inefficient delivery of aid, lack of accountability amongst humanitarian actors, and overall poor response to catastrophes. Humanitarian law applies when a natural disaster strikes during the course of an armed conflict; however, its coverage concerning humanitarian assistance is not applicable to other, non-conflict situations like natural disasters.
The need for a better synchronization and co-ordination of the codification activities and disaster prevention, management and recovery response has emerged.
Therefore the International Federation of Red Cross / Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has developed a complete set of International Disaster Response Laws (IDRL). The IFRC began its IDRL Program in 2001. The Program conducted studies of international norms, surveys of common problems faced by humanitarian actors, and regional consultations. In November 2007, the IFRC presented the “Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance” (the “IDRL Guidelines”), unanimously adopted by all High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions. The UN General Assembly adopted 3 resolutions at its 63rd session that encourage member states' compliance with the Guidelines, and has reiterated the need for such guidelines in several resolutions. In addition to the IFRC’s IDRL Guidelines, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) compiled the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) in 2005. The HFA is a 10-year plan outlining priorities and principles to foster coordination among governments, organizations, and humanitarian actors during disaster response.
The IDRL Guidelines are not legally binding in the way that a treaty is, nor do they govern inter-state relations. The Guidelines are recommendations to governments on how to best structure their domestic laws relating to disaster management. Their function is to promote uniform legislation throughout countries as a means of eliminating the hurdles found in recent natural disaster responses, among them: barriers to entry of goods and people; legal recognition of organizations to operate; and coordination among organizations and governments.
The key principles of the IDRL Guidelines reflect those humanitarian principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL): humanity, neutrality, and impartiality. The Guidelines call upon States to assist humanitarian actors through responsive legal structures adept at handling the influx of aid by adapting visa and entry requirements for personnel and goods and by providing them domestic legal status (the power to contract, etc.). The Guidelines affirm that the State holds the primary responsibility for its citizens; however, if the government cannot meet those requirements, it should call upon aid from the international community.
Model Act for the Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance
In 2011, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the IFRC, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union launched the pilot version of their “Model Act for the Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance”, with the intention of launching a finalized version by the end of 2012. The Model Act is an example of what a national law relating to disaster recovery should look like, utilizing the standards set forth in the IDRL Guidelines. It is intended as a tool for states who wish to implement the IDRL guidelines and unsure of language to use in any new legislation to be passed.
The “Model Act for the Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance” is intended as a reference tool for voluntary use, in whole or in part, by states that wish to prepare for the possibility that they may one day require international assistance to respond to a disaster on their territory. If such an event occurs, global experience shows that an affected state will benefit from a clear legal framework for the entry and coordination of international humanitarian assistance, which balances safeguard s for public security and safety against the urgent needs of those affected by the disaster. This Model Act, like the IDRL Guidelines, is intended to help states address some of the legal and regulatory issues that commonly arise concerning international assistance during disasters. These issues relate to the entry and operation of assisting international actors, and also to the coordination of their assistance, especially in the relief and initial recovery period.
Core ideas of the Model Act and Implementation
The IDRL Guidelines are designed to help governments to prepare for them before disaster strikes, and the Model Act is simply to provide a tool for states wishing to implement them. It is also not intended to describe a system for domestic disaster management. It is a model law to help states integrate assisting international actors into a coordinated response, as quickly as possible after the onset of a major disaster that overwhelms national capacity. The Model Act is based on the following core ideas:
- Domestic actors have the primary role in meeting the humanitarian needs caused by a disaster. The government of the affected state has the primary responsibility, while National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies and other domestic civil society actors play a key supporting role.
- International relief providers have responsibilities to provide their disaster assistance according to the principles of humanity and impartiality, as well as to meet minimum standards of coordination and quality in their relief goods, personnel and programmes.
- International actors need certain legal facilities, expedited procedures or other accommodations, to do an effective job responding to humanitarian needs. These may include expedited approval for disaster personnel, goods and equipment, facilitation of relief transport, exemptions from duties and taxes, and recognition of legal capacity to allow them to operate legally within the country.
- Some legal facilities for international actors should be conditional on their commitment to, and continuing implementation of, minimum standards of quality and accountability.
Given the diversity of legal systems around the globe, and especially the different domestic approaches to disaster management, it is well understood that not every clause in this model will be equally relevant to each country. In every case, it will need to be adapted to local circumstances. In some countries, it may not be possible or appropriate to adopt a single stand alone act embracing all of the topics included in this model. It should also be noted that the Model Act does not set out a system for coordinating domestic disaster response. It is assumed that such a system already exists under the disaster management legislation in the country enacting it.
Enhanced legal protection and regulation of disaster response will be critical in a future suffering from the effects of climate change. Natural disasters have increased substantially in recent years. Additionally, there has been a substantial increase in the number and type of aid responding to these disasters: international organizations; local NGOs; military; private individuals; and small non-profit organizations. Countries adhering to the IDRL Guidelines, and the Model Act, improving their domestic legislation and infrastructure, will be better able to facilitate fast and efficient recovery to an affected population within their borders.[number of readers: 2099]
A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection
- Breau, S.C. and K.L.H. Samuel, Research Handbook on Disasters and International Law, Cheltenham, UK, Northampton, MA, USA, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2016.
Caron, D.D., Kelly, M.J., and A. Telesetsky (eds.), The International Law of Disaster Relief, New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 2014.
- Hobson, C., Bacon, P. and R. Cameron, Human Security and Natural Disasters, London, New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.
- Jansen-Wilhelm, S., Accepting Assistance in the Aftermath of Disasters : Standards for States under International Law, Cambridge, Intersentia, 2015.
- Lyster, R., Climate Justice and Disaster Law, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2015.
- McDermott, R. and P. Gibbons, "Risk and Compliance with Normative Frameworks Relating to Disaster Management", in Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies, 2015 (6), No. 2, pp. 345-376.
- Sudmeier-Rieux, K., Fernández, M., Penna, I.M., etc. (eds), Identifying Emerging Issues in Disaster Risk Reduction, Migration, Climate Change and Sustainable Development: Shaping Debates and Policies, Cham, Springer, 2016.
- Thomsen, M., "The Obligation Not to Arbitrarily Refuse International Disaster Relief: A Question of Sovereignty", in Melbourne Journal of International Law, 2015 (16), No. 2, pp. 484-521.