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An Analysis of Soft Law Applicable to Humanitarian Assistance: Relative Normativity in Action?

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image of Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies

There is limited binding international law specifically covering the provision of humanitarian assistance in response to natural and human-made disasters. Yet a variety of authoritative soft law texts have been developed in the past 20 years, including the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the Red Cross Red Crescent Code of Conduct and the Sphere Project’s Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. While such ‘non-binding normative standards’ do not carry the weight of international law, they play an essential role in the provision of humanitarian assistance albeit subject to their limited enforceability vis-à-vis intended beneficiaries and to their voluntary application by humanitarian actors. Notwithstanding a lack of legal compulsion, certain non-binding normative standards may directly influence the actions of States and non-State actors, and so obtain a strongly persuasive character. Analysis of texts that influence the practice of humanitarian assistance advances our understanding of humanitarian principles and performance standards for disaster response. As the International Law Commission debates draft articles on the Protection of Persons in the Event of Disasters, such non-binding normative standards are crucial to the development of an internationally accepted legal framework to protect victims of disasters.

Affiliations: 1: University College Cork, Ireland,


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