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Non-State Actors and the Evolution of Humanitarian Norms

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Implications of the Sphere Charter in Health and Nutrition Relief

image of Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies

The Sphere Humanitarian Charter, a self-regulation instrument of humanitarian non-State actors, establishes principles and minimum standards in the provision of humanitarian assistance in select vital life-saving relief activities, especially in nutrition and health. The Charter articulates principles and minimum standards for facilitating the achievement of rights and obligations enshrined in various international legal “soft law” instruments. Due to the multiplicity of international legal instruments, the Sphere Charter provides a tool for a coherent understanding and application of relevant obligations, and therefore increases accountability and efficiency. The Sphere Charter bold human rights based approach to humanitarian assistance, including its articulation of a right to receive humanitarian assistance, may contribute to the evolution of the international legal regime into a more “victim centered” system. The central argument postulated in this article is that although the Sphere Charter is not a binding legal instrument, it has significant normative value that may contribute to progressive developments in the legal regime governing humanitarian assistance, and is particularly helpful in improving accountability and quality in the provision of nutrition and health relief. The Sphere Charter framework for local participation is particularly viewed as significant in engendering accountability in relief activities.

Affiliations: 1: Associate Professor & Deputy Head (Student Affairs/Exchange) and Deputy Director, Program in Arbitration and Dispute Resolution, Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong. B.A., Stanford University; J.D. and Ph.D, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California at Berkeley,; 2: Senior Lecturer, Africa Nazarene University Law School. Ph.D. in Public International Law, University of Hong Kong; ll.M. and ll.B., University of Nairobi. Previous Research Fellow, Utrecht University,


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