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Legal regulation of humanitarian assistance in armed conflict: Achievements and gaps

30-09-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 855, by Ruth Abril Stoffels

The author analyses the nature and limits of the right to humanitarian assistance during national and international armed conflict. She views humanitarian assistance as a right directly derived from the right to life and draws attention to recent practice of the Security Council which has explicitly acknowledged serious and systematic infringements of this rights and linked it with threats to international peace. The article concludes by proposing a number of possible solutions for such infringements and shows how humanitarian aid that conforms to the relevant international principles is protected by international law.

   

Ruth Abril Stoffels
The author is Professor of Public International Law at the Universidad Cardenal Herrera-CEU, Valencia,   Spain; and researcher at CEDIH, the Spanish Red Cross Centre for the study of international humanitarian law. The ideas put forward in this paper are taken from the book by the author: Ruth Abril Stoffels, La asistencia humanitaria en los conflictos armados: configuración jurídica, principios rectores y mecanismos de   garantía, Tirant lo Blanch, Valencia, 2001, which was awarded the 2003 Paul Reuter prize. 
 
Abstract 
 

In this article, the author analyses the nature and limits of the right to humanitarian assistance during national and international armed conflict. Her starting point is that humanitarian assistance is a right derived directly from the right to life and as such is protected both by international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

While neither existing mechani sms nor the branches of international law mentioned above are sufficiently effective in ensuring the exercise of this right, it is important to recognise the work of the UN Security Council in this area. In recent years, the Security Council has repeatedly made the link between serious, massive and systematic infringement of this right on the one hand with threats to international peace and security on the other.

It is also important to see how the practice of parties to a conflict illegally preventing the entry, transit and distribution of aid leads to a series of practical and legal problems. The article goes on to propose a number of possible solutions to these problems.

The author also shows how only aid that meets the criteria of humanity, impartiality and neutrality is protected by international law. Nonetheless, the current difficulty lies not only in defining these criteria, but in meeting them.

 

   
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